We missed out on a lot of things in 2020 due to the pandemic, and while the Home Run Derby may not rank very highly on a lot of people’s personal lists, count me among those excited to have the contest back. All-Star week’s marquee event — I’d rather watch dingers than a meaningless exhibition game — has been “saved” many times in the past two decades, but the recently implemented timer format has been a godsend. Also, shoutout Vladimir Guerrero Jr. for single-handedly turning the 2019 Derby into must-watch TV.
As always, DraftKings will have a free-to-play pool for Monday’s festivities. To play, head over to the DraftKings Sportsbook Pools page. The contest starts at 8:00 p.m. ET on July 12. Let’s break it all down.
Who Will Win The Home Run Derby?
We’re just gonna get straight to the point, eh? Right now on the DraftKings Sportsbook, Shohei Ohtani is the favorite to take this thing down at +350. In a vacuum, it’s hard to argue with that choice. Coming into play on Friday, Ohtani leads all of baseball with 32 home runs, while he also leads the league in barrels per batted ball event (25.9%) and average exit velocity on fly balls and line drives (100.8 mph). All told, he’s a perfectly designed home run hitting machine.
However, MLB’s bracket is not set up to Ohtani’s advantage. Yes, Juan Soto has the fewest long balls of anyone participating in this event (11), but a .243 career ISO is far more indicative of the 22-year-old’s power. Then, if Ohtani survives the first round, he’ll most likely be congratulated with a matchup against reigning Home Run Derby Champion Pete Alonso.
With a much easier draw and equally stimulating batted ball data, I think I’m actually leaning towards Joey Gallo, who might just have the most raw power of any player in the game.
Choice: Joey Gallo
How Far Will Ohtani Advance?
I already covered most of this above, but I just think Ohtani loses this war of attrition at some point. If the bracket truly unfolds as Soto-Alonso-Gallo, I simply don’t believe he’ll have the energy left to battle the latter in the final round, as Gallo will likely have needed far fewer home runs to make his way through his side.
For the sake of watchability, I’ll say Ohtani wins two rounds and is eventually ousted by the Rangers’ slugger, but even making it past Alonso won’t be easy. The Mets’ first baseman isn’t having a statistical season that would blow you away from a surface perspective in 2021, but he does sit 99th percentile in max exit velocity and 93rd percentile in average exit velocity and barrel rate. There’s a reason he survived Guerrero’s aforementioned showcase in 2019.
Choice: Eliminated in Finals
How Many Home Runs Will Ohtani Hit In The Quarterfinals?
This question is essentially “Will Shohei Ohtani hit at least 16 home runs?” Well, if we go back to 2019, we know that five of the eight competitors were able to reach this threshold, with the average round one tally clocking in at 18.6 long balls. I think it’s also worth noting that Guerrero Jr. and Ronald Acuna averaged 27.0 home runs in the first round of that Derby, two insane talents with profiles very similar to Ohtani’s.
Additionally, there’s the matter of bonus time. An extra 30 seconds will be awarded if a player can hit a home run that measures at least 475 feet. Ohtani comes into this event with the fourth-longest max home run distance this season (470 feet), which is the highest mark of any player in the Derby field. With the humidor out of service in Colorado on Monday, I’d be shocked if Ohtani doesn’t flirt with a 500-footer.
Choice: Over 15.5
How Far Will Alonso Advance?
Well, we already have Ohtani making it to the finals, so Alonso’s fate for our purposes is either lose to Sal Perez in the quarterfinals or lose to Ohtani in the semifinals. I’d suggest that the second option is the more likely of the two.
However, allow me this opportunity to not sell Perez short. The backstop is having a phenomenal season, and his Statcast data is a lot better than you’d assume. The veteran is 98th percentile hard hit rate, 94th percentile average exit velocity and 92nd percentile max exit velocity. Plus, from a stamina standpoint, there are few catchers in the league that suit up as often as Perez does. There’s a reason being the backup catcher in Kansas City is known as the easiest job in MLB.
Choice: Eliminated in Semifinals
How Many Home Runs Will Alonso Hit In The Quarterfinals?
This is a fun question because Alonso needed all four minutes to hit the 14 home runs required to best Carlos Santana in the quarterfinals of 2019’s event. Technically, batters won’t have as much time at their disposal in 2021, but that’s probably just a matter of semantics. Each participant will get three minutes in the opening round plus an additional 30 seconds at the end of each three-minute regulation period. Then, as mentioned already, there’s the opportunity to earn another 30 seconds of bonus time on top of that.
At Coors Field, I’m just going to assume that Alonso reaches the bonus. He’ll have four minutes and he’ll hit more than 15.5 home runs.
Choice: Over 15.5
Who Will Advance Further? (Trey Mancini vs. Juan Soto)
Even with the spectacle that is Shohei Ohtani, the best storyline of this Derby is the presence of Trey Mancini. The Orioles’ slugger missed all of 2020 after he was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer 16 months ago and now he’s back and hitting well enough to be the six-seed in Monday’s contest.
Still, Mancini shouldn’t be too much of a match for Matt Olson. In fact, since the beginning of June, Mancini has registered just a .133 ISO with an 82 wRC+. I think he goes down in the quarterfinals, as will Soto to Ohtani.
Who Will Advance Further? (Trevor Story vs. Matt Olson)
Credit to Story, who will have home-field advantage at this year’s Derby, but I’m just not sure how we’re expecting the shortstop to slip past Gallo. I’m not trying to undercut Story — the 28-year-old has a career .307 ISO when hitting at Coors — but the batted ball data for 2021 just doesn’t stack up. Story is 71st percentile in average exit velocity, while the Rockies’ infielder is also just 42nd percentile in hard hit rate. For reference, Gallo is 95th percentile max exit velocity. He’s also hit as many home runs since June 22 as Story has for the entire season. Advantage Gallo.
As for Olson, he skates by in the first round thanks to an appealing matchup of his own.
Choice: Matt Olson
Who Will Advance Further? (Sal Perez vs. Joey Gallo)
If you’ve made it this far, you know the answer to this. I have Gallo winning the whole thing and I have Perez (respectfully) bowing out in the quarterfinals to Pete Alonso. Heck, even if Perez is able to upset the reigning Champion, he’d likely have to then beat Ohtani in the semifinals. It’s just the harder side of the bracket. The group of death, if you will.
Choice: Joey Gallo
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