Major League Baseball has bungled many decisions this decade, but the Home Run Derby is its greatest success. Four years ago, MLB was so desperate for kids to stop playing Angry Birds on their Snapchat filters (or whatever kids were doing in 2015) that they added a timer to the Derby to make it more exciting. It worked. The event birthed the greatest sports creation of the 21st century—the buzzer-beating home run.
Fans can complain all they want about games taking too long, Mike Trout not being famous, or pitchers throwing at batters who have the audacity to celebrate home runs. But while every other All-Star event in American sports is getting worse, the Home Run Derby is better than ever, and it’s at its best when there is money on it. Let’s run through the bracket for the 2019 derby, which starts at 8 p.m. ET on Monday, to determine who is the best value based on their odds at DraftKings.
The 2019 Home Run Derby bracket is set ⚾️— ESPN (@espn) July 4, 2019
MLB HR leader Christian Yelich headlines the field of eight that will face off on Monday at 8PM ET on ESPN. pic.twitter.com/R2VhXcvnQ4
A quick refresher on the single-elimination tournament rules.
- Players have four minutes to swing their hearts out.
- If they hit two home runs of more than 440 feet, they get an additional 30 seconds.
- Pitchers can’t throw until the previous ball has landed, unless they are Bryce Harper’s dad.
Now let’s get to the contestants.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Third Baseman, Toronto Blue Jays
First-round opponent: Matt Chapman
2019 home runs: 8
Pitcher: Coach John Schneider
Odds to win: 3.25-1 (per Bovada)
They say that a true baseball swing can be heard, not seen. With that in mind, hit play on the video below, make sure the sound is on, and close your eyes.
The sound of Vlad Jr.’s batting practice could easily be confused with a rifle being fired on a shooting range. Guerrero has just eight home runs since being called up to the majors in late April, but anyone who questions his credentials should just listen to his swing.
Guerrero will be the youngest participant in Derby history. He is the least experienced hitter in the competition, but he may have the most experience with his Derby pitcher. Blue Jays coach John Schneider threw BP to Guerrero every day as his minor league manager in 2017 and 2018. They returned to practicing together last week after it was announced that Guerrero would be in the tournament, leading to the video above. Guerrero is not only the most fun player to bet on, but he may also may be the smartest bet.
Pete Alonso, First Baseman, New York Mets
First-round opponent: Carlos Santana
2019 home runs: 30
Pitcher: Cousin Derek
Odds to win: 4-1
This season has been miserable even by Mets standards. The team’s lone bright spot has been Alonso, who broke Darryl Strawberry’s single-season team record for home runs by a Mets rookie two weeks ago. Alonso’s 30 home runs are tied for second in the league (with Cody Bellinger) behind Christian Yelich, and he is on pace to break the Mets’ single-season franchise record of 41. He seems like a lock to hit the two 440-foot homers that would earn him an extra 30 seconds of batting time. The main variable is that Alonso chose his second cousin Derek—an unproven commodity—to be his pitcher for the event.
This is Derek Morgan, Pete Alonso's second cousin who will be throwing to him at the Home Run Derby.— Anthony DiComo (@AnthonyDiComo) July 2, 2019
"I feel like we've got a really damn good chance to win this thing," Alonso said. pic.twitter.com/DpKIpBOnXK
Luckily, Alonso has derby experience. As he told Baseball Tonight on Wednesday, Alonso went head-to-head with José Canseco in an off-Broadway home run derby in 2014. Alonso hit five home runs in the first round while Canseco, who was paid to show up, hit just one. But Canseco advanced because, as Alonso was told, “José automatically moves on to the second round regardless of the situation.”
Hopefully he’ll fare better this year. Alonso would benefit as much as anyone by winning. The prize has been bumped to $1 million, which would almost double Alonso’s 2019 salary of $555,000 (he would donate 5 percent to Wounded Warriors and 5 percent to Tunnel to Towers if he wins).
Carlos Santana, First Baseman, Cleveland Indians
First-round opponent: Pete Alonso
2019 home runs: 19
Pitcher: Cleveland assistant hitting coach Victor Rodríguez
Odds to win: 11-1
All-Star festivities are in Cleveland this year, making Santana the hometown hero of this event. Hometown heroes have fared well in the Home Run Derby: Bryce Harper won in Washington last year, Todd Frazier won in Cincinnati in 2015, and Aaron Judge won in 2017 in Miami, which is basically the Yankees’ AAAA-affiliate. Santana is on pace to break his career high for home runs (34), and for the derby, he has eschewed working with a family member and will take pitches from hitting coach Victor Rodríguez.
“I have worked with him all year, so it’s easy to know what he likes,” Rodríguez told Cleveland.com. “I think he likes it anywhere. When he’s in that mode of lifting the ball, you just have to bring it a little bit up in the zone.”
Santana has the home-field advantage of knowing every nook and cranny of Progressive Field plus the energy from the crowd to power him through four minutes of hacking. He also may have the best advantage of all—the ability to break the rules. Harper’s epic comeback last year was possible because he and his dad, who was pitching, abandoned the rule that forbids throwing a pitch until the previous batted ball lands. This rule was (rightfully) not enforced in the final round, and Harper won. There will likely be a stricter eye on the rules this year, but if anyone can get away with it with the crowd’s blessing, it could be the hometown Santana.
Matt Chapman, Third Baseman, Oakland Athletics
First-round opponent: Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
2019 home runs: 21
Pitcher: Matt’s dad, Jim Chapman
Odds to win: 9-1
Chapman is filling in for Christian Yelich, the reigning NL MVP, MLB home run leader, and no. 1 seed in the derby who bowed out of the event with a back injury on Sunday.
Extremely disappointed to not be able to participate in the HR Derby tomorrow. Always been a dream but unfortunately things don’t always go your way and I’m not physically able. I’m sorry if anybody was let down but I hope to be apart of it again at some point in the future.— Christian Yelich (@ChristianYelich) July 7, 2019
Chapman doesn’t have the name recognition or gaudy first-half numbers but may be just as big of a threat to win, as he’s had a Yelichesque power surge this year with 21 home runs through the All-Star break after hitting 24 in 145 games last year. Chapman is known to be one of the best fielders in the league, having won a Gold Glove and a Platinum Glove last year, and his bat isn’t far behind. His average exit velocity this season is 93.7 miles per hour this year, according to Statcast, 15th in MLB and second in the derby field behind Josh Bell.
The late entry is a dream come true for Chapman’s father.
“When I was a kid, we’d watch the Home Run Derby together,” Chapman told The Athletic this week. “I don’t think in a million years we thought I’d be in a Home Run Derby, but at the time, my dad was like, ‘If you ever get to that, I want to throw to you.’”
Maybe Chapman’s dad can milk the clock just like Bryce Harper’s dad.
Joc Pederson, Outfielder, Los Angeles Dodgers
First-round opponent: Alex Bregman
2019 home runs: 20
Pitcher: Dodgers third base coach Dino Ebel
Odds to win: 6-1
Let’s be honest: Nobody outside the Dodgers and Joc Pederson’s extended family wants to see Joc Pederson win the Home Run Derby. Pederson is not one of the eight most exciting home run hitters in baseball. But he does have the most behind-the-scenes drama. Pederson wanted former Dodgers Triple-A hitting coach Johnny Washington, who pitched for him when he was the derby runner-up in 2015, to pitch again in 2019. But Washington is now with the Padres, and the Padres did not like this idea. Instead, he’s going with Dodgers third base coach Dino Ebel, but Pederson took his sweet time. Until this weekend, Pederson was debating between Ebel and Dodgers infield instructor José Vizcaíno. The Press-Enterprise called it “the Dodgers’ version of Kawhi Leonard watch.”
Ebel has pitched to a Home Run Derby winner. That winner was Vladimir Guerrero Sr. in 2007. Ebel, who used to play catch with Vlad Jr. on the field, apparently is excited to see him again. That Pederson waited this long to make his decision may indicate that the trust between him and Ebel fractured before it ever had a chance to grow.
Alex Bregman, Third Baseman, Houston Astros
First-round opponent: Joc Pederson
2019 home runs: 23
Pitcher: Astros bullpen catcher Javier Bracamonte
Odds to win: 10-1
This season, 18 of Bregman’s 23 home runs have gone to left field, the most of anyone in the derby. Progressive Field features a shorter left field wall than Nationals Park, where Bregman fell to Kyle Schwarber in the first round of last year’s derby. Bregman is bringing the same pitcher, Bracamonte, and he told the Houston Chronicle that his plan is still to pull line drives to left field.
But while Cleveland’s left-field wall is shorter, it also has a 19-foot wall in left field called the “little green monster” that could be an issue. He also might run into time issues like he did last year. While most of the participants in this year’s derby have an average home run distance beyond 400 feet, Bregman’s is 379.3, so he may have trouble getting the additional 30 seconds earned by hitting two 440-foot homers. But if he can consistently float balls past the wall, he could be one of the better betting values in the field.
Ronald Acuña Jr., Outfielder, Atlanta Braves
First-round opponent: Josh Bell
2019 home runs: 21
Pitcher: Braves infield instructor Tomás Pérez
Odds to win: 9.25-1
Like Guerrero, the 21-year-old Acuña is part of the derby youth movement; a victory would make him the youngest winner ever. Acuña is also a novelty because he is the 12th Brave to participate, but would be the first to make it to the second round, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman participated last year, but his 12 home runs tied for the fewest dingers in the first round. Acuña will be using the same pitcher, Pérez.
Braves infield instructor Tomas Perez will be Ronald Acuna Jr.'s pitcher during the Home Run Derby.— Mark Bowman (@mlbbowman) July 2, 2019
Freddie Freeman: "Hopefully, he throws more strikes to Ronald than he did to me last year."
Acuña is a leadoff hitter, but his power is real. Bell is a tough first-round matchup, but Acuña is a good value if you think he can jump Bell.
Josh Bell, First Baseman, Pittsburgh Pirates
First-round opponent: Ronald Acuña Jr.
2019 home runs: 27
Pitcher: Jon Schwind, friend
Odds to win: 3-1
Pittsburgh’s PNC Park, the most beautiful stadium in baseball, has been open for 19 years. Only five home runs have been hit out of the stadium and into the Allegheny River. Josh Bell has hit two of those, and he hit both of them in May.
When Bell was a kid, he would do home run derbies in the backyard with his dad. If he hit more than five past the fence, his dad took him out to eat. The stakes will be slightly higher on Monday. He is not the most famous player in the league, but he is having a breakout year and might be the favorite on Monday. Bell has 27 home runs and leads the league in doubles (30) and RBIs (84). He’s a switch hitter, and he might hit lefty to try to reach the right-field seats (19 of his home runs are as a lefty).
Bell’s pitcher is his friend from Double-A, Jon Schwind.
“We fell in love with the game together, researched it together, tried to get better together,” Bell told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “Definitely happy he’s going to be able to share this opportunity with me. He’s the closest thing I got to a brother.”
It’s one thing to have numbers on your side, but it’s even more important to have a heartwarming connection. It’s also a much stronger endorsement than Alonso gave cousin Derek. Bell and Jon are taking this home.