“Back, back, back, back, back” “That’s a five-backer!”
Chris Berman’s booming voice marks what has become a staple of the Midsummer Classic – The Home Run Derby. Some of the most powerful sluggers on the planet convene in one ballpark one evening every summer for a night that consists of mammoth blasts and tape-measure bombs. The Derby has evolved into a fan-favorite, with ticket prices soaring into the hundreds as eager spectators try to nab a home run from the stands. In an attempt to make the Derby more watchable this year, the format has been significantly changed.
Instead of the classic “10 outs” format, this year it will be timed. Hitters will have 5:00 to go yard as many times as they can. Additionally, hitters can earn extra time for the distance of their hits. If a batter hits two balls 420’+ during one turn, they earn an extra minute. If a batter hits a ball 475’+, they earn an extra 30 seconds. Personally, I think this is a welcome change, as hitters will be less inclined to take pitch after pitch, waiting for that perfect strike to connect. Also, it is following a bracketed format where the participant with the most home runs this season is matched up against the player with the least. They square-off, the winner advances, and so on.
While it is disappointing that sluggers Giancarlo Stanton and Bryce Harper will not be participating in Cincinnati this year (broken hamate bone and personal decision, respectively), along with the two-time defending champion Yoenis Cespedes, the event still promises to be chock-full of entertainment with the A-list that is set to take part. Because of the popularity of the event, I thought it would be beneficial to provide those watching with just about all the information they could need in regards to being prepared for what they see.
First, we will take a look at the stadium.
Great American Ball Park
Located along the Ohio River just a short walking distance from Paul Brown Stadium (home of the NFL’s Bengals), the Reds played their first game at Great American in 2003. Affectionately known as the Great American Small Park due to the prolific amount of home runs hit there, Great American has seen quite a number of baseballs fly over its walls over the past 12 and a half seasons. At one point there was even a streak of 70+ games with a home run hit.
The dimensions of the stadium are relatively generous, especially to the gaps. It’s only 328′ to left, 325′ to right, and 404′ to center. However, while in most stadiums the gaps are where it’s hard to muscle out a home run, it’s only 379′ to left-center and 370′ to right center. Along with what many believe to be a breeze that blows out towards the river from downtown, we can take a look at the park factor to see just how hitter friendly Great American is. In the 2014 season, GABP (Great American Ball Park) had a park factor for home runs of 113 according to FanGraphs. This was second only to the Rockies’ Coors Field of 116. Essentially what this means is that there are 13 more homers hit at GABP than the average Major League field. For righties, GABP had a home run park factor of 114, once again second to the Rockies at 115. Lefties on the other hand were just slightly less successful, something that will be interesting to note on Monday night as the three lefties attempt to hit a ball out of the stadium and into the Ohio River. GABP ranked fourth at 112 for lefties.Many watching will be waiting to see if any balls leave the stadium. I have included video from two times that it has been done during a game. Adam Dunn holds the record for farthest home run hit at GABP: a 535 foot behometh in 2004 that promptly exited the stadium in Center field. A second 500’+ shot was recorded by Juan Francisco in 2011 and left the stadium over the right field stands (watch it here).
According to the distance calculator provided by the Reds, it looks to require about 500′ of power to blast one into the river. Hitting one into the river also means another significant accomplishment: hitting the ball into another state, as the Ohio there is actually owned by the commonwealth of Kentucky. Next, we take a look at the competitors.
#1 Albert Pujols vs. #8 Kris Bryant
It’s a match-up of experience vs. youth. Master vs. apprentice.
To be fair, Bryant hasn’t been in the majors all season to compile a larger home run total, as he made his debut on April 17th for the Chicago Cubs. His 12 home runs pale in comparison to Pujols’ 26, but Bryant definitely does not lack power. He has mashed some of the season’s longest, including this 477 footer off the Wrigley Field jumbotron. That dinger happens to be the second-longest of derby contestants; second only to Josh Donaldson’s 481′. A third of his home runs have come in the first two pitches of his at-bats. Nine of the twelve have been to either left or left center, a good indication for what is to come on Monday. He is considered a part of the new generation of power-hitters, along with the likes of Trout, Harper, Puig, and now Joc Pederson and Joey Gallo.Albert Pujols is entering his fourth Home Run Derby and enters as the #1 seed, but he has never won the event. He performed admirably but lost in the final round in 2003 to Garrett Anderson. He made an early exit in his two other appearances, 2007 and 2009. There’s more info on Pujols because of the much larger sample size, and especially at GABP. From his days on the Cardinals in the NL Central, Albert has visited Cincy and has played many a game in the Small Park, and has knocked 20 homers over his time there. Pujols has been on an absolute tear lately, hitting homer after homer; 18 of his 26 have come since May 27th. Pujols hit the 11th longest four-bagger at Great American with a distance of 477′ in 2003. #2 Todd Frazier vs #7 Prince Fielder
Todd Frazier comes into the Derby as by far and away the crowd favorite since he is the hometown hero in Cincinnati.
As Brandon Phillips slowly phases out of the game, and Joey Votto sees patches of struggle, Frazier has evolved into a face of the franchise for the Reds. Frazier knows Great American better than any of the other contestants. He knows its nooks and crannies, he knows the power alleys, and, on top of that, he was the runner-up in the Home Run Derby last year in Minneapolis. In that Derby, it seemed Todd just seemed to do what was needed in order to advance. He only hit 10 total home runs, compared to the winner Cespedes’ 28. In round 3 and the final round, he only hit 1 homer in each round.
Frazier enters with 25 home runs and with an average true distance of 398.4′, according to the ESPN Home Run Tracker. Frazier will feed off the energy of the crowd, and it will be interesting to see how he uses his home park to his advantage as he tries to accomplish what he failed to last year. Frazier holds 4 of the 20 longest recorded home runs at GABP.Prince Fielder has been there and done that. The #7 seed has won the event twice, in 2009 and 2012. He also has the fourth-most total Derby homers of all-time with 68, and he has a chance to take over first place this year if he hits a total of 10. Fielder’s 13 bombs this year have an average true distance of 411.1′. He also has 12 career home runs at GABP. *Lefty alert* Be on river watch #3 Josh Donaldson vs. #6 Anthony Rizzo
Former Oakland A’s standout Josh Donaldson has been a catalyst of the Blue Jays explosion of an offense this season. ESPN’s Home Run Tracker puts his average speed off the bat at 105.2 MPH, with an average true distance of 408.1′. Donaldson holds the longest home run of derby competitors after launching one 481.2′. His powerful swing will look to do damage as he seeks his first Home Run Derby title.The second Cub and the second lefty we take a look at is Anthony Rizzo. His average true distance is just over 400′ at 402.1′. Six of his 87 career homers have come at GABP. With a top exit velocity of 112 MPH (third to last among participants), Rizzo is also seeking his first HRD crown. *Lefty alert* Be on river watch #4 Joc Pederson vs. #5 Manny Machado
This is the power match-up I’m really looking forward to watching, and I hope it doesn’t disappoint. As mentioned in the beginning, Pederson, who made his debut late last season, is one of the most powerful young swingers of today’s game. So far this season, he holds the farthest average home run distance over all of MLB, even farther than Giancarlo Stanton. His 2o have averaged 431′ and he is also the only one in the field to have hit one 475’+. I think Pederson is the best bet to put one in the Ohio River, and I’m excited to see him mash. Here’s to hoping he doesn’t pull a Puig from last year and throw up a goose egg. *Lefty alert* Be on river watchThe Orioles’ third baseman, Manny Machado, is known more for his dazzling defensive spectacles, but he has been known to put a charge into one. While his home runs don’t always travel to the moon, he hits a decent amount. Machado has only hit one homer of 430’+ in his career, while Pederson has notched has already notched 11 of such a distance in 2015 alone. Machado does have the top exit velocity of 114.9 MPH. Predictions
For those of you that are 18 years or older and are interested in winning $5,000, you can fill out a Home Run Derby bracket by clicking here. For what it’s worth, I’ll share what I think will happen, so if you’re making a bracket, you can be sure the opposite of whatever I predict will probably happen.
In the first round, I see all four top seeds moving on. I think the only real toss-up is Pujols and Bryant, because Bryant could really put on a display, show up Pujols, and knock him out early. Just not sure this is going to happen.
I have Pederson moving on taking care of Pujols in the second round, and Frazier besting Donaldson to move on to the finals.
My winner will be Joc Pederson. While it would be fun for the Cincinnatians to see their guy Frazier take home the title, I think he comes up just short again this year. However, Frazier is the betting favorite.
Regardless of my predictions, I am fully expecting one of the best home run derbies of recent memory. It will be a sight to see these power sluggers putting their strength on display in the Great American Small Park. So be sure to tune in to ESPN at 8 PM Eastern on Monday Night. And keep your eyes out for excitement besides the hits too; you never know, one of those shaggers may make another crazy catch.