2008 Home Run Derby

Chase UtleyPhillies second baseman Chase Utley will be making his Home Run Derby debut tonight, attempting to make it three Phillies in four years to win the Derby. Bobby Abreu won it in 2005 and Ryan Howard won it in ’06.

Utley’s 25 dingers is the third-most in the Majors, behind teammate Howard with 28 and Adam Dunn of the Cincinnati Reds with 26. Among the eight contestants (listed below), Utley arguably has the best swing.

For those of you who don’t want your team’s player in the Derby because it may mess up the swing, check out Ryan Howard’s first- and second-half splits in 2006:

First half: 28 HR/.341 OBP/.582 SLG

Second half: 30  HR/.509 OBP/.751 SLG

I think it can be reasonably stated that Howard has a swing that’s highly prone to bad habits, and he had a legendary second half after participating in the Home Run Derby. Granted, my citation of Howard is a cherry pick and you could just as easily cite Bobby Abreu’s second half of 2005 as a counter-point, the point is that a correlation between Derby participation and second-half success or failure has not been found.

Here’s the list of the eight contestants with their 2008 HR totals…

Chase Utley, 2B, PHI: 25 HR (3rd-most in MLB)

Dan Uggla, 2B, FLA: 23 HR (T4th-most in MLB)

Ryan Braun, OF, MIL: 23 HR (T4th-most in MLB)

Grady Sizemore, OF, CLE: 23 HR (T4th-most in MLB)

Lance Berkman, 1B, HOU: 22 HR (8th-most in MLB)

Josh Hamilton, OF, TEX: 21 HR (T11th-most in MLB)

Evan Longoria, 3B, TBR: 16 HR

Justin Morneau
, 1B, MIN: 14 HR

Four of the hitters are left-handed and another (Berkman) is a switch-hitter who will probably hit lefty. Yankee Stadium is 314 feet down the right field line and 318 down the left field line, so there’s a very slight advantage to left-handed hitters. Due to how shallow it is down the lines, line drive hitters will have a bit of an advantage as well.

Here’s a look at the contestants’ LD% this season…

Utley: 23.9%

Hamilton: 23.7%

Longoria: 21.6%

Morneau: 19.4%

Sizemore: 17.8%

Braun: 17.7%

Berkman: 17.2%

Uggla: 14.0%

The LD% of past derby winners…

2007: Vladimir Guerrero, 15.6%

2006: Ryan Howard, 21.9%

2005: Bobby Abreu, 24.1%

2004: Miguel Tejada, 19.4%

2003: Garrett Anderson, 20.2%

2002: Jason Giambi, 25.4%

With an exception to Guerrero, it appears that there’s some correlation between LD% and winning the Derby. This is a huge over-analysis of a meaningless event where the hitters are essentially taking glorified batting practice, but it’s interesting to look at.

My prediction: Utley vs. Hamilton in the finals with Utley winning it.

Feel free to leave your predictions in the comments.

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  2. MoonDog

    July 14, 2008 09:47 AM

    You’ve got to like the lefties in this derby, considering the short porch in right. If I can find someone dumb enough (Costas, Stephen A.) to bet with me, I’ll guarantee Berkman will hit from the left side.

    What’s interesting about this collection of players is that none of them are classic home run hitters. I like Berkman because of his stroke.

  3. Bill Baer

    July 14, 2008 01:09 PM

    Moon, Berkman hit from the right side in one of the HRD’s. It was probably when it was in Houston because of the short porch in left field.

    Berkman hasn’t fared too well in two of his three previous Derby appearances. In 2002, he had one dinger; in 2006, he had three.

    He had 21 total and went up against then future teammate Miguel Tejada in the finals in ’04 when it was in Houston.

  4. Ernie

    July 14, 2008 02:04 PM

    Even though he had that power outage in the second half of 05, Abreu at least still got on base like a MOFO. You can also cherry pick Mark Mcgwire. Before the All Star game he was hitting .266/.422/.606, and after he bombed, like, 25 home runs in the derby, he hit even better, with a line of
    .293/.426/.810. I guess my point is, it affects some people, and others not so much. Still dreaming of a derby with Adam Dunn. Probably never going to happen, though. Because people are still hung up on batting average.

  5. John G

    July 14, 2008 02:35 PM

    judging from what i have heard around the league about the shows that josh hamilton puts on in batting practice, i gotta believe this is his night. they say that no one in the game can hit the ball as hard or as far as he can, and this is comming from his peers around the league who watch him and play against him. this will be his first time and all eyes will be on him so if he can control his nerves, and just relax and do what he does every day in batting practice then none of the other contestants will be able to put up much of a fight. go get em hammer!

  6. Bill Baer

    July 14, 2008 02:46 PM

    Ernie, good points. I’ve been dying to see Dunn in a Derby and have been disappointed each year. It’s a shame that so many people view batting average as the holy grail of statistics.

    John, there’s no doubt in my mind that what the players are saying about Hamilton is true, if a bit exaggerated, but I’d be remiss to say that these are the same type of Major Leaguers who voted Jason Varitek into the All-Star Game. 🙂

  7. MoonDog

    July 14, 2008 03:07 PM

    Bill, you are correct about Berkman in Houston. That’s why I believe he’ll hit from the left in Yankee Stadium.

    The power alley in left is quite a hefty distance and even though the line in left is 318 as you pointed out, it’s more common for the right handed hitters to stroke it towards the alley.

    I think it’s safe to say the winner will be someone hitting from the left.

  8. Lee

    July 14, 2008 03:43 PM

    Yea I agree Dunn would crush these guys, he might not get a hit but he is the most powerful slugger in the game

  9. Bill Baer

    July 14, 2008 07:55 PM

    Rarely will I agree with Joe Morgan but I think he was right in saying that Utley was too conscious of over-swinging. Let’s hope that the next four don’t hit more than 5.

  10. Ernie

    July 14, 2008 08:01 PM

    I like when he said that Grady Sizemore was fighting on the swing he took, as it sailed past the upper deck in right. When informed of it, he said “where did it go”? Which only proves FJM’s point, that he does not, in fact, actually watch games.

  11. Bill Baer

    July 14, 2008 08:49 PM

    Wow. Josh Hamilton just broke Bobby Abreu’s Home Run Derby record of 24 HR in a round. He finished with 28.

    Abreu still holds the record for the most hit in an entire Derby with 41, but Hamilton still has two rounds left.

  12. Ernie

    July 14, 2008 09:24 PM

    yeah, holy shit. who needs dunn, when you have hamilton. i mean, I knew the guy could hit, I just didnt know he was such a beast. I think he topped out at 518ft. Here I thought this was going to be a terrible home run derby, but, these guys surprised me, especially Sizemore. He definately hit his fair share of moonshots.

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