Commentary

Home Run Derby tale of the tape

Eight sluggers, including defending champ Prince Fielder, versus Citi Field

Originally Published: July 15, 2013
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

Perhaps you were asking yourself: What's Prince Fielder doing in this Home Run Derby?

OK, so you probably weren't asking yourself anything remotely like that. We're talking, after all, about a two-time Home Run Derby champ, about the only man to win a Derby as a representative of each league, about the guy who won last year's Derby.

So come to think of it, it's pretty clear what the Prince is doing in Monday night's 28th edition of the All-Star Home Run Derby.

But you know what? Whether you were asking that question or not, we're going to answer it anyhow. If there were no such thing as the Home Run Derby, we'd have to create one -- just for humans like Prince who can do stuff like, well, this.

[+] EnlargePrince Fielder
AP Photo/Charlie RiedelPrince Fielder captivated Kansas City with his mammoth blasts last year, defeating Jose Bautista to win the Derby title at Kauffman Stadium.

That, says ESPN's Home Run Tracker, is what a 460-foot home run looks like.

Wow.

Even if you closed your eyes and just listened to the voice of the Tigers, Mario Impemba, describe it -- with words such as "thunderbolt" and "monster" and the awesomely evocative phrase, "Oh, he killed it" -- you could tell this was something special to see.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why the Home Run Derby exists. It doesn't mean anything. It doesn't "count" for anything. But who cares? Stuff will happen, before your eyes, that fits under the category: Something Special to See.

And isn't that what we love about baseball the most -- the chance to see something that will rattle around our memory banks for weeks, or months, or maybe even decades?

So we hope we speak for all of North America when we say: We can't wait. And to help you get stoked for Derby No. 28, here come all the cool Derby notes and numbers it was safe to round up in one place, with the invaluable assistance of our friends at ESPN Home Run Tracker:

The All-Masher Team

The five longest bombs hit this year by your eight Derby contestants, according to the Home Run Tracker -- and we bet you'd never guess who's No. 1:

     1. David Wright, 464 feet, May 3, against Atlanta's Craig Kimbrel
     2. Prince Fielder, 460 feet, May 10, against Cleveland's Corey Kluber
     3. Pedro Alvarez, 456 feet, May 17, against Houston's Hector Ambriz
     4. Pedro Alvarez, 454 feet, April 18, against Atlanta's Julio Teheran
     5. Robinson Cano, 442 feet, July 1, against Minnesota's Scott Diamond

The tale of the tape

Which of these eight thumpers consistently hits those poor, innocent baseballs the farthest? We can actually pass along that sort of life-changing info, thanks to Home Run Tracker.

But as we get ready to present the average true home run distance of your eight Derby combatants, see if you can guess where they rank, 1 to 8. We bet you can't!

     1. Yoenis Cespedes, 407.9 feet
     2. Pedro Alvarez, 407.1 feet
     3. Michael Cuddyer, 406.8 feet
     4. Bryce Harper, 406.5 feet
     5. Chris Davis, 403.9 feet
     6. David Wright, 404.7 feet
     7. Robinson Cano, 401.5 feet
     8. Prince Fielder, 396.2 feet

Now here's the really fun fact to come out of that list: The two guys who have actually won a Derby in their careers -- Cano and Fielder -- rank seventh and eighth.

So remember that when you're picking your winner, all right? It's not how long. It's how many. Still.

Lords of the flies

Now here's now another way to look at this field -- by the percentage of fly balls these men hit that come down in somebody's nachos plate.

We've ranked our contestants, 1 through 8, based on highest home run-to-fly ball ratio, as compiled by FanGraphs. At least this is a list you might be able to predict with more accuracy.

     1. Chris Davis, 35.6 percent
     2. Pedro Alvarez, 32.0 percent
     3. Bryce Harper, 23.2 percent
     4. Robinson Cano, 21.6 percent
     5. Michael Cuddyer, 20.8 percent
     6. Prince Fielder, 13.6 percent
     7. Yoenis Cespedes, 13.6 percent
     8. David Wright, 12.5 percent

Ballparks play a big part in this, obviously. Prince's ratio, back when he played in bopper-friendly Milwaukee, was 20.3 percent overall and 22.7 percent just at Miller Park.

Since he pulled into not-so-bopper-friendly Detroit, those figures have plunged to 16.4 percent overall and 16.6 percent at Comerica Park. Coincidence? Yeah, sure it is.

But on that note, it's time to delve into …

Socks and the Citi

[+] EnlargeCiti Field
AP Photo/Julio CortezPortions of Citi Field's outfield walls were moved in and lowered following the 2011 season.

Speaking of ballparks, there's a good chance you'll never hear Citi Field and the phrase "home run paradise" in the same sentence anytime soon -- certainly not from any Mets hitters. But you might be surprised by this stunning revelation:

This park is actually ranked by ESPN's park-factor calculations as being the 12th-easiest stadium in baseball to hit a home run in this season.

Yes, really.

Citi Field also ranked 12th last year, by the way, after the Mets so graciously moved the fences in. In the two previous seasons, in its less lovable Copper Canyon alignment, it ranked 28th and 27th respectively.

So we're going to permit only medium-volume grumbling about the size of the park over the next couple of days, as opposed to the near-deafening, hold-your-ears, high-decibel grumbling that would have been allowed if the Derby had visited two years ago.

New jack Citi

But wait. We're not finished with our shocking Citi Field revelations.

We went back through the past nine Derbies and looked at where the host ballparks ranked in ESPN's Park Factor calculations at the time. And guess what?

This will be actually the second-easiest park to hit a home run in out of the past nine Derbies.

Yes, really.

Here come those park rankings, by home run factor, in the season in which they hosted the Derby:

So come to think of it, only really mild grumbling about this park will be permitted. Whispers, maybe. Now we know. Citi Field actually makes Busch look like Williamsport.

That's life in the big Citi

Here's another fun game you, too, can play with the ESPN Home Run Tracker:

How many home runs have these eight guys hit this year that would not have been out of Citi Field? Fewer than you think, actually. Want to play? Check out the Pedro Alvarez page. Then click on the "Overlay" tab and scroll down to "Citi Field." And voila.

So how would playing at Citi Field have affected our Derby-ites? Here ya go:

Have an apple

Just for fun, would you like to see the longest home run ever mashed at Citi Field? Jump in our Way-Back Machine to May 16, 2011: Giancarlo Stanton (then known as Mike) at the dish, a 465-foot missile coming right up.

While we're on the subject, could we please get the great Giancarlo in the Home Run Derby once before he retires? Thank you. Now back to our program.

Special Pedro Alvarez tribute

[+] EnlargePedro Alvarez
Victor Decolongon/Getty ImagesSixteen of Pedro Alvarez's 24 home runs have traveled 400 feet or more.

We're not sure how many folks who do not live near the confluence of the Ohio, Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers have ever seen Pedro Alvarez let that bat of his fly. But it's something to see, all right. Take a look.

How often do you hear the expression, "Clear the deck -- cannonball coming," at a sporting event? But it fit splendidly in this case. "Alert the Coast Guard" also would have worked for that shot, by the way.

But Alvarez's opposite-field power might be even more awe-inspiring than his pull-one-into-a-river power. That's why Pirates general manager Neal Huntington says his two favorite Alvarez rocket launches came last Sept. 16 at Wrigley Field, when he did something very few left-handed hitters in history could possibly have done:

Hit two balls that returned to earth on Waveland Avenue, beyond the left-field bleachers. Check out the second of those two blasts. Crazy to think a human being could hit a baseball here!

Just goes to show you, Huntington said, "how dangerous he can be to all fields when he focuses on being a hitter with power" -- as opposed to just a "power hitter," if you know what he means.

Special Yoenis Cespedes tribute

Then there's the lunar orbiter known as Yoenis Cespedes. Ever seen the first home run he hit in the Coliseum in Oakland after joining the A's last year? Here it is -- all 462 feet of it.

But heck, that's just a popup for this guy, compared with the satellites he launches in batting practice every day.

"He hits balls regularly up into the suites in our park in BP," said A's assistant GM David Forst. "He hit one in BP to dead center field that went over the batter's eye, into one of the upper-level suites, way up above that batter's eye. He hits balls into the left-field suites all the time. But that's the longest one I've ever seen him hit.

"There are plenty of guys who put on a show in batting practice," Forst said. "But this guy's in a class by himself."

So will that translate into Home Run Derby glory? It'll be a blast finding out.

What are the odds

Shockingly, you can place a small wager on this Home Run Derby at certain establishments. Shockingly. Now, we would never endorse that sort of thing. But if you're curious, here are the current odds on who's going to win, courtesy of Bovada LV.

     Chris Davis (Orioles), 11-4
     Prince Fielder (Tigers), 15-4
     Yoenis Cespedes (Athletics), 11-2
     Bryce Harper (Nationals), 11-2
     Pedro Alvarez (Pirates), 11-2
     Robinson Cano (Yankees), 6-1
     David Wright (Mets), 9-1
     Michael Cuddyer (Rockies), 12-1

What's the pitch

You know why Home Run Derby Day is a great time to be a pitcher? Because it's the one day all summer the pitchers don't have to face these guys. But that didn't stop us from recruiting one pitcher who has played in both leagues to give us superlative reviews of the biggest bats in the field:

Harper: "I don't think you'll see him hit a lot of balls that go 450, 500 feet, but he might hit a whole bunch [of homers]. He's got such a short, compact swing, he's not going to get as tired as the guys who swing a little harder. He's a hard guy to predict. He could hit zero -- [but] once he hits one, he might hit 30."

[+] EnlargeDavid Wright
Ron Vesely/MLB Photos/Getty ImagesDavid Wright's average home run distance this season is 404.7 feet, which ranks ahead of Robinson Cano, Josh Hamilton and Prince Fielder.

Fielder: "He fills up a lot of the batter's box, I'll tell you that. But it's not just his girth. He's also pretty tall. Or at least he feels tall in the box. He gives the impression he's just a gargantuan human being. For him to [enter the Derby] every year and never turn down an opportunity, it tells you a lot about his stamina. He knows what it takes to last through the contest, and he knows it won't mess him up for the rest of the year. He's one guy who doesn't have to change his swing for the Home Run Derby."

Cano: "He's the guy I think I'd pick to win it. I think last year was tough on him because he got booed all night. But there will be enough Yankees fans there this year that instead of the crowd being against him, he'll have a lot of the crowd for him. Remember him when he won two years ago? He just put that short, easy swing on every ball, and it was like: 450, 430, 430, 450, every homer. So I think he'll be the guy who will win it but not the guy who puts on the best show."

Davis and Cespedes: "These are two guys who could hit 500-foot homers, but they might only hit six [altogether]. They might hit some balls that generate the most oohs and aahs. But I don't know if they could do it 25 to 30 times over the course of the evening."

Cuddyer: "What always impresses me most in games is his opposite-field power, but I don't know how well that plays in a Home Run Derby. Anybody who runs off a 27-game hitting streak, it's not because he tries to pull the ball all the time."

Wright: "He's such a good hitter. But he's kind of like Cuddyer. He's not going to hit a bunch of 500-foot homers. But if he gets in a good rhythm, you know he'll get the crowd behind him. He might be the kind of guy who could hit eight to 10 per round."

Alvarez: "I can't believe how hard he swings the bat. When he swings, it's like he's trying to shatter the bat, just by hitting the ball so hard. Just a violent, explosive swing. And when he connects, it's just majestic to watch."

Asked what he'd advise Alvarez's Derby pitcher, our mystery pitcher laughed and said: "Throw it on the inner third and down -- and then make sure you duck behind that L screen."

Pedro Alvarez is a fine choice to put on the evening's most memorable show, all right. But whether it's him or Bryce Harper, Chris Davis or the Prince of Long Balls, it's a show just waiting to happen. So fasten those seat belts. It's almost Derby time.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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