Measuring the Home Run Derby's Big Sticks: Who Is the Favorite?

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Measuring the Home Run Derby's Big Sticks: Who Is the Favorite?
(Photo by Michael Heiman/Getty Images)

On Monday, Major League Baseball will embark on its 24th annual State Farm Home Run Derby in St. Louis. With the contestants already announced, the fans will anxiously wait to see if anybody can repeat Josh Hamilton's incredible feat of 28 jacks in a single round. 

All will be on the edge of their seats as hometown favorite Albert Pujols, a man who has a legit shot at breaking Barry Bonds' 762 career home runs, will set the standards.

However, winning the tournament itself is easier said than done. It takes the correct formula of factors to become victorious, and we are about to investigate these factors.

What exactly determines who wins the derby, and who has the best chance this year?

 

American League

* Nelson Cruz (TEX)

* Carlos Peña (TB)

* Joe Mauer (MIN)

* Brandon Inge (DET)

 

National League

* Albert Pujols (STL)

* Adrian Gonzalez (SD)

* Ryan Howard (PHI)

* Prince Fielder (MIL)

 

With all that being said, now it is time to delve deeper into the competition.

 

1. The Ballpark

Fortunately for all of the participants in this year's Home Run Derby, Busch Stadium in St. Louis is one of the most ideal hitter's parks in all of Major League Baseball. 

It features near-symmetrical dimensions, presenting no clear advantage to either left-handed hitters or those who are right-handed. It is a relatively short 400 feet to dead center field and barely over 330 feet down the lines. The power alleys come in at 375 feet each as well. 

Albert Pujols clearly knows how to hit in this ballpark, which would likely leave him with a major advantage in this category. 

However, as mentioned before, this stadium is friendly to all hitters and should suit everybody in the competition.

Who Benefits—Everyone.

Who Suffers—Nobody.

Not one person in this year's tournament will be harmed by the building, so expect some serious long shots.

 

2. More American League Players Have Won

Throughout the Home Run Derby's history, the American League has showed dominance over the National League. With a total of 14 winners compared to the National League's 10 (there was a tie in 1986), it would appear that the American League hitters are better suited for this competition. 

One possibility for this could be due to the general opinion that the AL has been much tougher over the past 12 years or so, leading the players to become more prepared to play against tougher pitching. 

Many feel that it is for this reason that American Leaguers know how to drive the ball at just the right moment. Advantage AL.

Who Benefits—Peña, Inge, Mauer, Cruz.

Who Suffers—Pujols, Fielder, Howard, Gonzalez.

Now of course, this only stands true if you are superstitious (or in the words of Michael Scott, only a "little stitious"). Perhaps this mental statistic could affect the players.

 

3. Hometown Players Rarely Win

Yes, this is clearly going to only hurt one player. In the Home Run Derby's history, only once has a player who is hosting the tournament actually won. That was Ryne Sandberg in 1990 at Wrigley. 

He had a whopping three home runs for the night.

For whatever reason, be it pressure from the fans or just a natural "choke," these certain players cannot find the right groove to win at home. 

Players such as Mark McGwire, Gary Sheffield, Lance Berkman, and even Fred McGriff have all failed in an attempt to satisfy their fans, despite having home-field advantage.

Who Benefits—Peña, Mauer, Cruz, Inge, Fielder, Gonzalez, Howard.

Who Suffers—Pujols.

Once again, this could just be some of the baseball gods placing a curse. It is interesting to note, however, that Ryan Howard did win in his home state of Pennsylvania in 2006, but in Pittsburgh instead of Philadelphia.

 

4. It Helps to Be a Household Name

Of the 21 different winners of the Derby, 14 of them are in the top 100 home run hitters of all time. Unlike the NBA's Slam Dunk Contest, in which upsets occur often, the Home Run Derby is not shy to the household names. 

For example, Howard, Fielder, and Pujols have been amongst the league's home run leaders over the past few seasons, with some reaching near 60 in a single year. Joe Mauer, though, had never hit more than 13 in one season prior to this year.

To win this competition, the home run killer instinct must be present. Some players in here are familiar with the long ball. Others, not so much.

Who Benefits—Pujols, Howard, Fielder, Gonzalez, Peña.

Who Suffers—Inge, Mauer, Cruz.

Everybody remembers Bobby Abreu's unexpected run in Detroit, or even Tino Martinez's surprise performance in Cleveland. However, the odds are against one of these occurring in this year's tourney.

 

5. The Perfect Swing

When thinking about the Home Run Derby, one thing appears in most people's minds: the uppercut. However, it is not the golf swing that helps win this event, but more so the "Home Run Swing."

The swing is a combination of quick bat speed, with just enough energy transferred from the back leg to the front of the body at the end. 

The hands surge forward with a force like no other, causing the ball to rocket off the sweet spot of the bat. 

In 2006, David Wright changed his concept of the ideal swing, opting for a large swing upwards. Though initially working, the cut proved to become difficult to replicate, leading to his eventual loss to Ryan Howard. 

The Phillies first baseman was able to avoid the uppercut, and his ride to victory became near effortless.

The players who have the best chance at winning this have the perfect swing, as they generate excellent averages and solid power numbers. 

Those with a weak average and good power numbers may find this more difficult, as they will resort to the "All or Nothing" type of hack.

Who Benefits—Fielder, Pujols, Mauer, Howard.

Who Suffers—Inge, Cruz, Peña, Gonzalez.

Players always get lucky. From a fundamental standpoint though, this should prove very valuable in helping to determine a winner.

 

The Solution

It is now time to select the favorite for this year's tournament, based off of the formula provided above. Of the five categories, Carlos Peña and Prince Fielder benefited the most.

Though Albert Pujols is always an enticing pick to win, especially with his experience in the Derby, he is eliminated based on the factors provided above. Joining him is Brandon Inge.

Nelson Cruz proposes an interesting threat, yet he currently hits in what is widely considered to be the easiest hitter's park in baseball. Goodbye Cruz.

Adrian Gonzalez, who has been one of the best sluggers in baseball of late, brings a lack of experience to the competition this year, which could prove costly. Despite him flourishing in a pitcher's park, it could be difficult to match up to the other superstars.

Alongside, Joe Mauer provides tons of potential, but his small amount of power in years past may cost him here.

That leaves Peña, Fielder, and Howard with the highest chances of winning the title. Carlos had three home runs during interleague play this season, and he does have an exceptional ability to take it to the opposite field. In a ballpark with similar dimensions, though, this is insignificant, and his batting average this year is simply too damaging. He's gone.

Despite the odds being against the National Leaguers, two will be left in the grand finale. Both players have a home run at Busch Stadium this season.

Some may look at the family ties. Prince Fielder learned from the best: Cecil. His father had the ability to slug the ball a mile in any stadium, and this transferred over. As a 12-year-old, Prince hit a towering shot into the upper deck of Tiger Stadium.

Howard, though, knows his way in this tournament. He knows how to attack all areas of the field. He knows how to go for the long ball. He knows how to maintain the perfect swing. More importantly: He knows this will all beat Prince.

Planet Earth, Ryan Howard will be the 2009 Home Run Derby champion.

Could all of this be absolute garbage? Absolutely. As the lottery ads say, though, "Hey.  You never know..."

More information on the 2009 MLB All-Star Game can be found here.

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