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Who is Going to Win the 2023 Home Run Derby?

The 2023 Home Run Derby bracket has been finalized as we look toward the All-Star break. The Derby is must-see TV with no lack of storylines to run with. Last year, it was Pete Alonso’s quest to be the first player ever to win three consecutive titles, but instead, Juan Soto walked away with his first after battling it out with rookie Julio Rodriguez. In 2017, it was rookie Aaron Judge’s first and only appearance in the event, where he crushed four balls over 500 feet in an unforgettable, and likely once-in-a-lifetime, performance from Judge. You can go back even further to see Yoenis Cespedes win back-to-back Derby titles, becoming the first non-All-Atar to win the event in 2013. Although I didn’t see it with my own eyes, one of my favorite moments of the Derby came from Ken Griffey Jr hitting the warehouse at Camden Yards back in ‘93.


The Home Run Derby has been romanticized by all of baseball for decades, and it is shaping up to be another historical battle Monday. In this article I look to break down each first-round matchup in this year’s event, evaluating the participants based on 2023 metrics that correlate to home runs. Here is the updated first-round schedule for the competition:





It is important to mention that the Home Run Derby is a completely different animal than in-game home runs. Players train a fair amount for the Derby, adjusting for the pace and endurance the event takes, and many have speculated for years that it disrupts a participant’s swing headed into the second half. Having said that, metrics from this year can tell us a lot about the power and tendencies of the participants and will lay out a rough idea of how in-game metrics might translate to the Home Run Derby. Here are the numbers and how they might play into Monday night’s action.


*This is a table displaying the season numbers for each participant in each category, ordered by seeding in the bracket; data updated 3:44 PM 7/6/2023*



Matchup: Robert vs Rutschman


#1 Seed: Luis Robert Jr.



After the first 6 participants were named for the Derby, many were clamoring for White Sox outfielder Luis Robert Jr. to get one of the last two spots. Luis is in the midst of a stellar age-25 season that is starting to warrant the hype he received as a young prospect and player. He certainly has the credentials to be this year’s #1 seed in the bracket, tied with Pete Alonso for the most home runs so far this season amongst the field. Robert is on pace to reach the 50 HR mark at the season’s end, and the metrics support him getting there. On Baseball Savant’s Home Run page, they calculate a metric called xHR, which is the number of home runs a player should have as opposed to the number they have. Pierre Camus of RotoBaller explains:


The xHR stat is one of the simpler Statcast metrics. The distance of each long fly is measured against every Major League ballpark to determine whether it would have cleared the fence or not. They are then categorized as a No Doubter which would be a home run at every single park, Mostly Gone which could have been a homer at anywhere between 8-29 parks, or Doubter which would be gone at seven parks or fewer. The total number of ballparks that would have counted as a homer are summed up and then divided by 30 and voila, xHR is born and tallied throughout the season.

Luis Robert Jr. ranks 1st among participants in xHR, 2.3 more than the next closest xHR (Betts). He also sits in the top 3 for no doubter percentage, as well as average and max home run distance. When he does get a hold of a ball, it’s leaving the yard more times than not. One concern with Robert is his lack of consistency, ranking towards the bottom of the Derby field in exit velocity and hard hit %. A key to success in the Home Run Derby is consistency, and Robert could run into some trouble if he can’t get into a rhythm, repeatedly hitting the ball hard. With that being said, Robert deserves the #1 seed and shouldn’t see any problem getting past Adley Rutschman in the first round.



#8 Seed: Adley Rutschman



Former #1 overall pick Adley Rutschman has been the staple behind the Orioles' success this season, providing a commanding presence not just with his play but also in the locker room. The 25-year-old, dubbed ‘Captain America,’ looks to be the next face of the catcher position following the likes of Joe Mauer and Buster Posey. However, he isn’t known for his power, and the MLB’s move to include him in this year’s event surprised most. Despite his switch-hitting prowess, Adley projects more as a 20 HRs-per-year kind of player, and the metrics sing much of the same tune. He ranks dead last among this year’s field in 5 of the 10 categories and fails to crack the top 4 in all but one. The dead giveaway is his disappointing 11 HR tota,l which earned him the 8th seed. The only chance Adley has to move past #1 seed Robert in the first round is to take advantage of his switch-hitting abilities somehow. Otherwise, Rutschman should be a quick out in his first Derby appearance.



Matchup: Arozarena vs Garcia


#4 Seed: Adolis Garcia



After starting the year at a historic RBI pace, Garcia joined several other Ranger teammates as All-Stars on Sunday when he was named a reserve for the American League. Soon after getting his second career All-Star nod, Adolis was confirmed as the eighth and final participant in this year’s Home Run Derby and is a dark horse to win the whole thing. He sits in the top 3 among Derby participants in flyball percentage, average launch angle, max exit velocity, and hard hit percentage. All 4 categories should translate well to Derby success, showing that he consistently gets the ball in the air with power. A cause for concern would be his 13.6 No Doubter %, which is by far the worst among participants. The Rangers’ Globe Life Park is a hitter's park. Garcia will face a stark contrast in Seattle, as T-Mobile Park has been the hardest ballpark for hitters in the past couple of seasons, according to Baseball Savant. If he can prove himself by making it out of the first round with a solid number, Adolis could make major waves in this year’s competition.


#5 Seed: Randy Arozarena



Derby rookies square off in this 4-5 matchup as Randy Arozarena gets a shot to be Home Run Derby champion this year. Unlike Garcia, he is set to make his first start in an All-Star game after becoming somewhat of a global sensation for Mexico in the World Baseball Classic and helping the Rays get off to an incredible start. Arozarena ranks towards the middle of the pack in most categories, but what stands out for him is exit velocity, ranking 2nd in average EV and 4th in max EV. He is relatively weak in the areas of launch angle (5th) and flyball percentage (6th). However, clips surfaced on Twitter that showed him surrounded by his Rays teammates honing his swing for maximum HR Derby potential. If Randy uses his practice time wisely and carries that same sombrero energy from the WBC into the event, he can knock off Garcia. Otherwise, expect Randy to return for Derby revenge sometime in the future.



Matchup: Betts vs Guerrero Jr.


#3 Seed: Mookie Betts



Former MVP and likely Hall of Famer Mookie Betts is set to make his first-ever appearance in the Home Run Derby on Monday. I would say this was long-awaited, but Betts has never been looked at as a player with signature home run power. His power has seemingly come with age, hitting a career-best 35 home runs last season and posting 23 HRs this year at the All-Star break in his period 30 season. Betts is posting career highs in launch angle and flyball percentage, putting him at 1st in both categories among participants. He is also having a career year in average exit velocity, which ranks in the top half of the Derby field as well. Mookie’s age has brought down his max exit velocity (last in the field), but he is the veteran of this group with plenty of experience in big moments. Poise could be the advantage that carries Betts to success, but he draws a tough first-round matchup for any derby rookie.


#6 Seed: Vladimir Guerrero Jr.




Like his father before him, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has already inserted himself into Home Run Derby history with his performance in 2019. After beating out Joc Pederson in an electric three-swing-off semi-final, he was outlasted by now-two-time Derby winner Pete Alonso. Four years later, Vlad seeks his revenge, but he doesn’t come in with the same first-half numbers he had in 2019. So far in the 2023 campaign, he only has 13 home runs, which is 6th most of the 8 participants in this year’s event. Looking at the numbers, this is due in large part to his inability to lift the ball in the air. Guerrero sits seventh in the field in average launch angle and flyball percentage, down in both categories in comparison to his 49 HR 2019 season. However, one thing is glaringly obvious: Vlad still hits the baseball harder and farther than any of the competition, sitting at first in half of the metrics taken into consideration. As mentioned before, the Derby is a different beast than real game action. By the numbers, Guerrero is engineered to excel in the Home Run Derby, and his 2019 showing proved that. I predict Guerrero makes the finals, but we will see if he can close the deal this time around and take that confidence into the second half of the regular season.



Matchup: Alonso vs Rodriguez


#2 Seed: Pete Alonso



In a repeat of last year’s semi-final matchup, Pete “Polar Bear” Alonso faces off against Julio Rodriguez to round out the first round. After beating out Guerrero in 2019, Alonso went back-to-back in 2021, hitting a first-round-record 35 home runs to catapult him to another championship. After failing to capture the trifecta in last year’s event, Alonso will be coming for it again this time around. He is tied for the lead in home runs amongst the field, but his other numbers are less impressive. He ranks among the bottom half of participants in both exit velocity categories as well as the hard-hit percentage and cracks the top 2 in only 2 other categories (average launch angle and flyball percentage) besides season HR total. In essence, the odds are stacked against him. The numbers tell us that Alonso should be anything but the favorite, but the Polar Bear is truly a wild card when it comes to this event. He has been the most adamant among players about his passion for participating in the Derby, and there is no doubt he will do everything in his power to make Home Run Derby history and capture glory for a third time.


#7 Seed: Julio Rodriguez



Yet again, Julio Rodriguez is the youngest participant in this year’s contest, but he proved last year that his age is not a weakness. At just 21 years old, Rodriguez was the first player ever to hit more than 30 home runs in two consecutive rounds. He, unfortunately, fell to Juan Soto in the finals, but Julio is yet another contestant seeking revenge at the 2023 Home Run Derby. When you take a look at the numbers, though, you can start to understand why he has the 2nd worst home run total among Derby participants. Rodriguez came in at dead last in the average home run distance, average launch angle, and flyball percentage. Unlike Alonso, Rodriguez does not go to the plate thinking about a home run. But when he does get ahold of one, it is truly something to behold. In comparison to the field, Julio hit the 2nd hardest ball of the season way back on May 6th (115.5 exit velocity). He followed that up with a 454-foot bomb the next day, which is also the farthest home run hit this season amongst participants. If Julio can consistently square up the baseball for distance like he’s capable of doing, I can see him knocking off the 2 time champ for the second year in a row.



Sources:


Baseball Savant

Rotoballer.com

Lookoutlanding.com

SI.com

MLB.com

baseball-reference.com


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