2012 Home Run Derby Contestants: Breaking Down AL and NL Teams

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterJuly 5, 2012

2012 Home Run Derby Contestants: Breaking Down AL and NL Teams

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    Unlike another pre-All-Star Game contest I know of, the Home Run Derby doesn't need costumes or silly props in order to be fun. All it needs is plenty of home runs.

    And to that end, it never disappoints.

    For the second year in a row, Major League Baseball decided to use the team captain system for the Home Run Derby. Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp chose Carlos Beltran, Carlos Gonzalez and Giancarlo Stanton to be on his team, and New York Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano chose Jose Bautista, Prince Fielder and Mark Trumbo to be on his team.

    Cano won the Derby last season, and his team features MLB's current home run leader, the 2009 Home Run Derby champion and a player who's averaging roughly 420 feet per home run this season.

    Kemp led the National League in home runs in 2011, and his team features a hitter with one of the prettiest lefty swings in baseball, a hitter who knows Kauffman Stadium quite well and baseball's very own answer to the Incredible Hulk.

    So which team has the edge? For that matter, which individual player is the man to beat?

    That's what we're here to discuss. Scroll forward for vital Home Run Derby intelligence.


    Note: All stats come from FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.

American League: Jose Bautista

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    2012 Home Runs: 27

    HR/FB: 22.3 

    Main Power Alley: Left field

    Jose Bautista was picked by many to win the Home Run Derby last season, but he ended up being a disappointment. He hit only four home runs in the first round and missed the cut for the second round.

    Bautista's power disappeared after the All-Star break last season, as he swatted just 12 home runs and slugged .477 in the second half. He fell victim to the Derby curse, which is a doozy of a hex that has claimed many innocent victims.

    Thankfully, Bautista's power has returned with a vengeance this season. He leads all of baseball in home runs, and his 22.3 HR/FB rate is good for 13th among all qualified major league hitters.

    Bautista doesn't have what savvy baseball people call "easy power," a la somebody like Adam Dunn. Bautista generates his power with a violent swing. He wants to punish the ball when he comes to the plate.

    When he squares the ball up, it's gone. Plain and simple. A quick glance at his home run chart on HitTrackerOnline.com will show that most of his home runs travel over 400 feet. Almost all of them have gone out to left field.

    The problem is that Bautista's violent swing is hit or miss. He may have a 22.3 HR/FB rate, but he also has an infield fly-ball rate near 15 percent. He has a tendency to get under the ball, which is very much a red flag.

    The Home Run Derby tends to favor hitters with nice, easy, repeatable swings. Bautista doesn't have one of those, so he better be in a zone on Monday if he wants to win.

American League: Robinson Cano

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    2012 Home Runs: 20

    HR/FB: 28.2

    Main Power Alley: Right field

    We don't tend to think of Robinson Cano as a home run hitter, but he's giving us every excuse to change our perception of him this season.

    After hitting just one home run in his first 110 at-bats this season, Cano has since hit 19 home runs in 201 at-bats. He's on pace to hit 40 home runs this season, a mark that would shatter his career high of 29.

    Cano is actually one of the more efficient home run hitters in baseball this season. His 28.2 HR/FB rate ranks third in baseball behind Adam Dunn and Josh Hamilton, and he doesn't have to pull the ball to hit it out like Bautista does.

    Cano has hit 13 home runs out to right, and six out to center. To boot, HitTrackerOnline.com shows that the home runs he's hit to right field have been more toward right-center. He's not hitting too many Yankee Stadium cheapies.

    The other thing you have to like about Cano is how easy his swing is. It's not violent like Bautista's. It's a smooth swing, and the power comes easy.

    Indeed, it came easy at last year's Home Run Derby. Don't be surprised if Cano goes back-to-back.

American League: Prince Fielder

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    2012 Home Runs: 12

    HR/FB: 14.3

    Main Power Alley: Right field

    Fielder hasn't been as powerful in 2012 as he has been in years past. He's only on pace to hit about 25 home runs, and his 14.3 HR/FB rate represents the lowest mark of his career to this point. 

    Fielder still has plenty of pop, though. HitTrackerOnline.com has counted four "no doubt" home runs off his bat this season, and you can see that he's hit a couple right around the 450-foot marker.

    Before you ask, Comerica Park hasn't robbed Fielder of a ton of home runs. FoxSports.com has a spray chart that shows where his outs have landed, and it's debatable whether any of his long fly balls would have crept over the wall at Kauffman Stadium.

    As for Fielder's swing, it's not unlike Bautista's in that it's a very violent swing that's hard to repeat. However, Fielder has already shown that he can repeat his violent swing over and over in a Home Run Derby setting. He won the Derby back in 2009 at Busch Stadium.

    If Fielder loses, it won't be because of a lack of raw power. All he has to do is get in a groove like he did in 2009, and the trophy is all his.

American League: Mark Trumbo

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    2012 Home Runs: 20

    HR/FB: 24.4

    Main Power Alley: Left field

    What we're finding out more and more this year is that Mark Trumbo is more than just a power hitter. He's hitting balls out of the park at an impressive rate, but he's also been batting over .300 virtually the entire season.

    Trumbo certainly isn't lacking in raw power, though. His 24.4 HR/FB rate ranks sixth among all qualified major league hitters, and he has a tendency to hit the ball well over 400 feet when he squares it up.

    The scary part about Trumbo is that he can hit the ball out of any field with ease. His home run chart on HitTrackerOnline.com shows that most of his home runs have gone out to left, but he's hit a few out to center and right center.

    In addition to having raw power, Trumbo also has a very simple swing that doesn't require a ton of effort. It's not as smooth as Cano's, but it's definitely a swing Trumbo can repeat over and over in a Home Run Derby setting.

    Trumbo has never been to the All-Star Game or participated in the Home Run Derby, so there's a chance he'll be spooked by the atmosphere. But unlike a fellow youngster on Kemp's team, there's not a whole lot of pressure on Trumbo to win the Derby. It won't be impossible for him to relax and have some fun.

National League: Carlos Beltran

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    2012 Home Runs: 20

    HR/FB: 22.7

    Main Power Alley: Right field

    The big question where Carlos Beltran is concerned is which side of the plate he's going to bat from in the Home Run Derby.

    If I had to guess, probably the left side. He has a higher HR/FB rate batting left-handed in his career than he does batting right-handed, and he spends most of his time batting lefty anyway.

    Besides, it's not like he has any trouble generating power to right field when he bats lefty. Per HitTrackerOnline.com, all but five of the home runs that he's hit to the right side of the field have traveled farther than 400 feet.

    Furthermore, his five "no doubt" home runs rank second in the NL behind Pedro Alvarez.

    And Beltran, of course, is no stranger to Kauffman Stadium. He came up with the Royals, and he's hit 61 home runs in 1,568 at-bats in Kansas City.

    From both the left and the right side of the plate, Beltran's swing is nice and smooth with very few moving parts. He doesn't need to put all his energy into a swing in order to hit the ball over the fence, and that will serve him well in the Home Run Derby.

    The one thing working against Beltran is the fact that switch-hitters don't have a great track record in the Home Run Derby. His odds of winning take a slight hit because of that.

National League: Carlos Gonzalez

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    2012 Home Runs: 17

    HR/FB: 24.3

    Main Power Alley: Center field

    There are power hitters, and there are hitters with power.

    Carlos Gonzalez belongs in the latter category. He can hit the long ball, but he's more of a line drive hitter than he is home run hitter. His M.O. is to hit the ball where it's pitched, and you can see over at FoxSports.com that he does a really good job of spraying the ball around.

    Gonzalez only hits the ball in the air about 31 percent of the time, a relatively low percentage compared to the league's garden-variety home run hitters. The fact that he's seventh in baseball with a HR/FB rate of 24.3 percent goes to show that he tends to hit the ball very far when he does get under it.

    The problem with Gonzalez, however, is that his main power alley is to center field. You can catch a glimpse of how many of his home runs have gone to dead center field over at HitTrackerOnline.com. That will put him at a disadvantage in the Home Run Derby simply because he'll have to hit his home runs farther than the other hitters.

    He can certainly change his approach and aim for right field, mind you, but he'd still be at a disadvantage if he did that. The last thing any hitter wants in a home run contest is to start thinking too much. And besides, the last thing he wants to do is screw up his natural approach at the plate. 

    Gonzalez is a good sleeper pick because his swing is so smooth and because he has sneaky raw power, but he's by no means a favorite.

National League: Matt Kemp

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    2012 Home Runs: 12

    HR/FB: 40.0

    Main Power Alley: Center field

    If Matt Kemp was fully healthy, he'd be my favorite to win the 2012 Home Run Derby.

    Even at less than 100 percent healthy, he's still a pretty good choice. 

    Kemp's 40.0 HR/FB rate tells you pretty much everything you need to know. If he hit the ball in the air earlier this year, odds are it was going out. The amazing part is that Kemp managed to do this despite getting few good pitches to hit.

    You can see on HitTrackerOnline.com that seven of Kemp's home runs went out to right field. Most of those came on pitches on the outside corner that Kemp reached out and poked over the wall. A couple of the home runs he hit to center field this season came on low fastballs designed to get Kemp to ground out.

    That Kemp was able to hit pitches like these out of the park is a testament to his raw power, which he has a lot of. He doesn't have to muscle up to hit the ball out of the park. He just has to put the sweet spot of the bat on it.

    Kemp shouldn't be considered the hands-down favorite to win the Derby, but don't completely write him off just because he's injured. He can still win this thing.

National League: Giancarlo Stanton

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    2012 Home Runs: 19

    HR/FB: 24.1

    Main Power Alley: Left-center field

    Giancarlo Stanton is the guy we're all dying to see in the Home Run Derby, and for good reason. His home runs tend to travel very, very far.

    According to HitTrackerOnline.com, eight of Stanton's 19 home runs have traveled at least 420 feet. Of those, four have traveled over 450 feet. He's responsible for a good percentage of this year's longest home runs.

    I wouldn't describe Stanton's swing as violent, nor would I describe it as smooth. It's more quick and efficient than anything else, sort of like Richie Sexson's swing back in the day. It's essentially an extraordinarily powerful line drive swing.

    The scary thing about Stanton is that he doesn't need to get the ball high in the air to hit it over the wall. We've seen him hit line drives that never get all that high off the ground before clearing the fence in the blink of an eye. Other hitters' doubles are home runs for Stanton.

    The only thing that's troubling about Stanton is that this is going to be not only his first Home Run Derby, but his first All-Star Game. And because his tremendous power is no secret, everyone at Kauffman Stadium and at home watching on TV will be expecting him to hit the ball to the moon with regularity.

    If the pressure gets to him, he's doomed.

My Pick to Win It: Mark Trumbo

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    The ideal Home Run Derby participant is a hitter with an easy, repeatable swing and an excess of raw power. It's all well and good if a hitter hits a bunch of home runs in the first round, but the Derby is more a marathon than it is a sprint.

    So I'm taking Mark Trumbo to win it. His swing is beautiful in its simplicity, and he has as much raw power as any hitter in baseball. 

    Yes, even Giancarlo Stanton.

    Rest assured, Trumbo will hit some bombs in the Home Run Derby, but he's going to win it because he's going to have a much easier time hitting balls over the fence consistently than anyone else.

    Trumbo is listed as a 6/1 underdog to on Bovada to win the Derby. Sounds like a steal to me.


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