There are a lot of things some people don’t like about the current state of baseball. Maybe you’re against the National League now having a DH. Maybe you’re against the shift. Maybe you’re against the Cubs playing night games at Wrigley. People like to complain!
However, I think we can all agree that the Home Run Derby has been fixed and it is once again the crown jewel of the MLB All-Star break. I mean, look at this field of bats. Juan Soto. Jose Ramirez. Ronald Acuna. Julio Rodriguez. Two-time defending Champion Pete Alonso. Oh yeah, my blood is pumping.
Let’s get to the bets.
All odds provided by DraftKings Sportsbook and all odds subject to change.
Ronald Acuna Jr. (+650)
While it is a little jarring to see that Acuna’s only hit eight home runs in his 260 plate appearances in 2022, his underlying numbers are still extremely positive. The outfielder comes into Friday in possession of an underwhelming .154 ISO, yet a .398 expected wOBA is far more in line with his career rates. As are a 98th percentile max exit velocity (116.6), a 93rd percentile barrel rate (15.0%) and a 91st percentile expected slugging percentage (.559).
Really, the biggest red flag in this wager is simply Acuna’s first-round matchup: Pete Alonso. However, we’ve seen these two titans face each other before. Back in 2019 — a contest mainly remembered for fellow phenom Vladimir Guerrero Jr. — Acuna followed up 25 first-round long balls with 19 more in a semi-final tilt with Alonso. Unfortunately, the Mets slugger hit his 20th dinger of the second-round as time expired. It was that close. Acuna was that close. I’m banking on the revenge narrative in this year’s Derby, and once Acuna gets past Alonso, who’s left to stand in his way? With experience in this format, there’s value here with the Braves’ All-Star.
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Ronald Acuna Jr. Beats Kyle Schwarber (+1900)
We just broke down why I think Acuna will make it this far, so let’s swing our focus to the other side of this bracket. For my taste, the three biggest threats to challenge Acuna for this crown are Alonso, Julio Rodriguez and Kyle Schwarber. Well, only the latter has a chance to actually face Acuna in the final and Schwarber’s potential run to the third-round doesn’t seem all that treacherous. This new Derby format is a young man’s game — even Juan Soto was exhausted by the semi-finals in 2021 — so I don’t think 42-year-old Albert Pujols will put up much of a fight. A looming matchup with the aforementioned Soto or Jose Ramirez is a little more daunting, but I still give Schwarber the advantage.
The man was simply constructed in a laboratory to compete in home run contests. Schwarber sits in the 100th percentile of qualified players in barrel rate (21.7%), the 98th percentile in expected slugging percentage (.645) and the 96th percentile in average exit velocity (93.0). His 51.9% fly ball rate is the highest mark of any hitter in the National League in 2022 and his 17 home runs since the beginning of June are four more than any other player in baseball. In layman’s terms: He’s an animal.
So much so, that I’d also look into Schwarber to make the final at +135 and Schwarber and Acuna to both make the final at +750. You know, just to hedge a little.
Player Total Home Runs
Albert Pujols Under 18.5 (-110)
As mentioned above, I think Pujols falls to Schwarber in the first round of the Derby. But instead of betting the Philles’ outfielder as a -340 favorite in the matchup, let’s just bet Pujols’ personal home run prop instead. While Dodger Stadium has been kinder to right-handed hitters than left-handed hitters in 2022, I have serious concerns about Pujols’ endurance level for this type of contest. I mean, he’s literally the oldest active player in the majors right now. This is a three-minute swing sprint. Not ideal.
So, if we agree that Pujols is only going to be here for a Derby cameo, taking the under on his total is a no-brainer. If we go back to the 2019 Derby — I don’t think 2021’s edition at Coors Field bears much weight in Los Angeles — only three contestants hit over 19 home runs in the first round: Guerrero Jr. (29), Acuna Jr. (25) and Joc Pederson (21). Two of those three men are generational talents that, at the time, happened to be half the current age of Pujols. If Albert isn’t getting to the semi-finals, there’s no way he’s hitting 19 bombs.
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