The past couple of years I’ve heard a lot of complaints about the home run derby.
It’s too long (I agree). Not enough of the big stars compete in it (no Harper or Trout this year). In order to add interest, MLB has changed the format this season. They’ve added a timer and created a tournament bracket to keep the pace moving. While I applaud the changes they’ve made, I think there would be an easier way to make the home run derby more intriguing.
Why should I spend a few hours watching Kris Bryant hit home runs? I know he can do that. I can see him do that weekly. What if we added intrigue to the event by heading in the other direction. I present to you…UN-HOME RUN DERBY. If you think of a better name let me know.
So here is how it would go. Currently there are four MLB players who have had at least 300 plate appearances and one or fewer home runs. There are twelve players who have hit more than twenty home runs already. What does this mean? It’s harder to hit one or fewer home runs in 300 plate appearances than it is to hit twenty… or something like that.
While there is no chance of this actually happening, I’d like to do a little thought experiment with you. If this incredible event were to take place (I’d gladly let you do this, MLB), how would it shake out? What follows is a list of this year’s competitors. I’ll rank them from least likely to most likely that they would actually win a normal home run derby given this field.
Our pitcher for the festivities: Kyle Kendrick.
Kendrick has the unfortunate distinction of surrendering more home runs than any other pitcher in the first half of this season. He’s already given up 23 home runs, and he is the only qualified pitcher in baseball to have a HR/9 over 2 (2.03). Just keep doing what you’ve been doing, Kyle, and you’re really going to help these guys out.
Without further ado, your UN-Home Run Derby participants from least likely to most likely to win.
Just for some perspective on some of the numbers that you’ll see, here are a few league average numbers to keep in mind:
4. Angel Pagan (0 Home Runs this season)
Currently Pagan is suffering from a really poor offensive season. His wRC+ stands at 78 and his OPS+ sits at 78. Of the hitters in our contest, he also has the lowest ISO (.060) and SLG (.379). His ISO is the worst among all players with at least 300 PA and his SLG is fourth worst. Only Elvis Andrus, Alexi Ramirez, and Billy Hamilton have worse a SLG%.
Recently there have been reports that Pagan is playing through an injury (bruise) to one of his legs. That doesn’t explain the complete absence of power that he has experienced this season. In 2010 he actually hit double digit home runs (11) for the Mets. Last year he hit three home runs in only 96 games for the Giants, and he’s only 16 games away from equaling his playing time from a year ago.
One factor working in Pagan’s favor here is that his home park is the hardest stadium to hit a home run in this season. AT&T Park currently allows for 0.524 home runs per game. The second worst stadium, Marlins Park, allows 0.641. If you put a hitter who truly lacks power in a power-sucking ball park like AT&T… you get the type of power stats that Pagan currently possesses.
In our UN-Home Run Derby, I’m not sure Pagan is hitting one out. If he hits one out of the infield, maybe we’ll call it good. My guess is that he would finish last in our contest.
3. Ben Revere (1 Home Run this season)
For several years Revere was the poster child of the player who doesn’t hit for power. On May 28, 2014 Revere ended his streak of 384 games and 1,466 at-bats without a home run. He actually ended 2014 with two long balls and has already hit another one this season.
His ISO and SLG numbers are still below league average, but they are actually climbing. In his first full MLB season with the Twins he slugged .309, and this year with the Phillies he’s increased that number to .378. His .083 ISO is the highest of his career.
Revere appears to have made some changes to his approach that have allowed for his increased power rates. He’s swinging the bat more than he ever has in his career (42.9%), and he’s upped his LD% to 27.7. Those increased number of line drives have come at the expense of his ground ball rate. That rate, 55.3, is the lowest of his career. Unlike Pagan, Revere plays in a middle of the road park for home runs. Currently Citizens Bank is allowing 1.018 HR per game.
No one is going to mistake Revere for a slugger, but with his power metrics ticking up it’s hard to put Revere last in this contest. Yes, I think there is someone that Ben Revere could beat in a home run derby.
2. Dee Gordon (1 Home Run this season)
Most people expect Gordon to be at the bottom of the home run leader board. Last season was the first year that he’s played over 90 games in the majors. Even with that small sample size I don’t think many people ever expect to him to really drive the ball. However, that absence of power doesn’t mean that Gordon isn’t productive. Currently he has a wRC+ of 112. That’s good enough for 9th in MLB.
His ISO is down from last season, but Gordon did change ball parks. He left a decent power hitting park (Dodger Stadium) for the fly ball black hole that is Marlin’s Park. With that being said his SLG percentage is the highest mark of his young career (.413). It appears that he’s taking advantage of all of that room in the outfield at Marlins Park to grab some extra bases.
Gordon and Revere share a max exit velocity of 103.00 this season. There’s not much to separate these two, but Gordon does have a max distance edge this season of 402 ft. to 391. I don’t know, I guess that means he could beat Ben Revere in a home run derby.
Come to think of it, maybe I do want to watch actual home run hitters instead of this.
1. Nick Markakis (0 Home Runs this season)
Listeners of the incredibly successful Effectively Wild podcast know Markakis as the player who has accumulated the most WAR without an All-Star Game selection or MVP vote. Now you know him as the guy who would win a home run derby… against baseball worst home run hitters.
Markakis is having an above average offensive season (wRC+ 110). Honestly it’s pretty surprising that he’s even on this list. If you asked general baseball fans who the least likely players were to hit a home run I doubt Markakis would come up. Amazingly, he’s currently one of two players with at least three hundred plate appearances who haven’t hit a home run.
This is even more surprising given Markakis’ history. He’s hit double digit home runs every season of his career. In 2007 he hit a career high 23 and in 2008 he hit another 20. From 2006-2010 he never has a SLG% below .400. This season that number sits at .356, below league average.
This off-season Markakis made the move to Turner Field. Currently Turner is the sixth worst stadium in baseball for home runs. That certainly hasn’t helped. As many of you might remember, he also had off-season neck surgery. I’m sure this also hasn’t helped his production this season, and it seems that something has really decreased Markakis power at the plate.
His Ground Ball % is over 50% for the first time in his career and his Fly Ball % is below 20% for the first time in his career. Markakis is putting fewer balls in the air, which means fewer opportunities for home runs. He’s hit zero home runs this season so he’s definitely hitting fewer home runs.
My guess though is that in this format, with a carefully chosen pitcher, in a stadium like GABP, Markakis could find a way to put a few over the wall.
So there you have it. What’s more exciting than watching Prince Fielder and Anthony Rizzo slug it out? What’s more exhilarating than watching Joc Pederson hit tape measure shots? Nick Markakis hitting three home runs that crawl over the wall to hoist the UN-Home Run Derby crown over his head.Next post: 2015 Red Sox 1st Half Review: An 89-Game Roller Coaster Ride along the Charles River
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