Some people find All-Star Games in professional sports to be manufactured and uninteresting. The mid-Summer classic separates itself from the other professional sports in that its All-Star game retains the fanfare while keeping the product on the field entertaining.
In football, the Pro Bowl is a joke. Football is too violent to be played at 30-percent speed and even less entertaining to watch. It needs to be played with something to gain and everything to lose. The NBA All-Star game is fun to watch for about a quarter and a half; with no defense the scoring gets outrageous, and the dunks are fun, but it gets stale after awhile.
The NFL used to have skill competitions with the “Fastest Man” titles and bench press competitions in addition to the Pro Bowl but fizzled after the 2006 & 2007 competitions for unexplained reasons. The NBA’s dunk contest hasn’t been the same in almost 15 years, in part because the league’s biggest stars don’t compete anymore like MJ & Dominique (*cough*Lebron*cough*).
However, the Home Run Derby has kept the fans interest since the mid-80s. Sure, part of that had to do with the steroid era of the 90s; but all of it has to do with the fact that the stars compete.
Look at the fields from the 80s – Ripken, Rice, Strawberry, Canseco, McGwire, Bo Jackson. Then in the 90s, it got even better – Griffey, Fielder, Bonds, Joe Carter, McGriff, Piazza, Frank Thomas, Manny, Sosa, Chipper, and A-Rod.
Then throughout the league tried to spice up the competition with a new format, because like most events it needed some changes. The stars still showed up throughout the new millennium and the cloud of steroids shined the wrong light on an event that celebrated the biceps and long balls.
Be that as it may, in recent years the Home Run Derby has gained some of the momenta it had in the 90s. Combine the facts that the league is fresh off the most home runs in a single month (1,070) with the Derby hosting some of it’s brightest and youngest stars; tonight has the ingredients for possibly the most entertaining Derby yet.
Even without making the derby more “attractive,” it’s an event that I tune into every year because the long ball is one of the most enthralling things to watch on television and the Derby guarantees roughly 100 of them in one night. I’m all about it.
Adding to the interest is the fact that the batter wielding the lumber do it with more power and bat speed than just about ever before. Stanton & Judge look like middle linebackers at the plate and put just as much distance on the ball as McGwire, Sosa and Bonds’ drug-fueled competitions.
In addition to potentially being the most powerful contestant, Judge is also a rookie sensation with the third-seeded Cody Bellinger. Judge made his debut six months before Bellinger, but the right-handed Judge from the right-coast capital and the lefty Bellinger from the left-coast capital sets up what MLB needs.
Young stars from New York and Los Angeles is what baseball needs, but both will have their hands full trying to dethrone Stanton.
As for the rest of the field:
Mike Moustakas is thriving in a renaissance season already eclipsing his career high in home runs. Charlie Blackmon has thrived in the altitude but being away from the elevation shouldn’t affect his performance. Miguel Sano’s been crushing moon shots in Minnesota under the radar. And the add-ons Justin Bour and Gary Sanchez don’t seem to be likely contenders past their first at-bats, but people love to watch a good upset.
As for the stage:
Marlins Park has played fairly neutral since it’s debut on top the Orange Bowl’s grave. It averages less than one home run per game (.875), ranked only one spot higher than last year’s venue, Petco Park.
Like last year, the batters will have an object out in left field to hit. Instead of the steel mill building along the foul poll in San Diego, 2017 contestants will take aim at soon-to-be-former-owner Jeffery Loria’s atrocious monument to himself.
Marlins Park has not been friendly to hitters. For three years in a row from 2014-2016, the Bill James Handbook ranks it as the fourth hardest park to round the bases at, only easier than Kansas City, Oakland and San Francisco.
Stanton has marked his territory all over the park, much like a canine all over his owner’s backyard. Owning seven of the longest home runs recorded at the park, there’s a good reason he’s the Vegas favorite.
But that’s all against live pitching. Although Scherzer and Sale will be dealing with them on Tuesday night, they’ll be getting 60-mph meatballs from their batting practice coaches.
With field set and the stage prepped, let’s get to how #BankOnHank is getting involved in the action. First, we’ll start by betting on the matchups, and then we’ll break down the bet to win odds.
It makes little sense to bet against Stanton in his first round matchup. Especially after Stanton’s performance last year.
At Petco Park in 2016, Stanton jumped out of the gates with 24 home runs in his first at-bat, and he didn’t show any signs of fatigue in the second round with 17 and then 20 in the final round. He was an unstoppable force on a baseball murdering spree.
Stanton hits more home runs per at-bat at home than on the road, trending against the knock as a pitcher-friendly park. The familiarity will comfort the slugger, but he doesn’t have the chip on his shoulder that El Gary enters with.
People forget that Gary Sanchez was Aaron Judge before Aaron Judge. In the final quarter of last season, Sanchez stole the New York tabloids with 20 bombs in 53 games. Sure, Judge and his accolades have made it easy to forget, but Sanchez isn’t a chump. Despite what Logan Morrison had to say last week, Sanchez belongs.
If I set the spread at 3.5 home runs in the match-up in favor of Stanton, Sanchez would easily cover. Sanchez will make Stanton earn a spot in the next round.
#BankOnHank Pick: Stanton
Sano is the Dominican representative and favored in this matchup against the older Moustakas. As I mentioned earlier, Moose is in a renaissance year while Kansas City tries to recapture some of their success from two and three years ago.
Ranking third in American League home runs behind Judge and Sano, Moose plays in a park harder to hit home runs in than Sano, I like this pick as the upset in the first round; especially considering Moustakas’ higher HR rate (8.2% vs. 6.8%).
Sano has the distance edge with four home runs over 440 feet to Mouse’s zero, which will add time to at-bat. (Remember: two home runs over 440 feet adds thirty seconds to the four-minute at-bat.)
I’m not afraid to admit picking against Sano’s second highest average exit velocity and home run length isn’t very smart, but this is a biased pick as Moustakas has carried my fantasy baseball team since I dumped Machado last month.
At +160 vs. -200, Vegas is very cautious of the underdog but still gave Moose some value. I’ve gotta ride with my third basemen here and pick the upset despite all indications not to.
#BankOnHank Pick: Moustakas
The wonder boy and likely public money favorite, I believe Judge drew an easier matchup than Stanton. Bour is familiar with the park as a Marlin, ranking only second to Stanton in home runs per at-bat in Miami.
But Judge is batting practice stud; we’ve seen about as many highlights from his batting practices as real home runs. His athletic ability will carry him to the next round easily.
Discounting Bour is easy to do given the opponent. Judge owns the most home runs over 440 feet (eight) and has seven more over 420 feet. His power translates to any and every ballpark. Judge is a lock in this round. We’ll save more analysis on him for his next round matchup.
#BankOnHank Pick: Judge
Wrapping up the first round is the other rookie sensation against another hitter that gets overlooked. Blackmon leads the league in hits and thrives in the altitude.
Even though he has 25 home runs, five short of Judge and one short of Stanton, he doesn’t compare as well in “long” balls. Bellinger’s longest home run is 432 feet.
I think Bellinger breezes through the first round, as Blackmon’s transition from the easiest park to hit a home run into the fourth toughest park will be a difficult adjustment. Bellinger’s distance won’t matter until the following round when he faces Judge.
#BankOnHank Pick: Bellinger
We’ve got Stanton vs. Moustakas and Judge vs. Bellinger.
Number one seeds have never reached the finals in the three years they’ve seeded batters. But no number one seed has the potential that Stanton possesses in addition to the familiarity with the park. Moustakas has one fewer bomb than Stanton, but this is where his average home run distance of 384 feet doesn’t bode well against Stanton’s 410 feet.
#BankOnHank Pick: Stanton
Judge vs. Bellinger is the matchup that Major League Baseball needs and deserves. It needs it because the two rookies will draw ratings. Primarily representing the New York and Los Angeles markets. It deserves it after the amount of ridicule it has gone through in the steroid era; now it has two seemingly natural power hitters primed to compete in this contest against each other in plenty years to come. Sure this matchup would be spicier in the final, but this semifinal hopefully teases finals to come in the future.
Like Moustakas, Bellinger’s distance might hurt him against Judge’s ability to extend the clock. For the sake of seeing two of the strongest hitting righties in baseball, I’m picking against the smooth-swinging lefty.
#BankOnHank Pick: Judge
It’s the matchup we need to see. Stanton and Judge are almost identical body types with similar power. With both hitting from the right side, there’s no advantage to either batter dependent on which box they enter. They also have almost identical distance numbers, Stanton ‘only’ has seven dingers over 440 feet to Judge’s eight.
Familiarity with how to use the timeouts and pace yourself will favor Stanton. But if there were ever a hitter with the athleticism to keep pace, Judge is that hitter. For the sake of picking an upset, I’m leaning toward Judge. Plus, the puns tweeted are easier if the Judge drops his gavel.
#BankOnHank Bracket Winner: Judge
7Odds to Win Breakdown
|Seed||Odds to win|
Stanton and Judge are favored heavily as the top two seeds, compared to the three seed Bellinger. A fair amount of this favoritism derives from the fact that they wouldn’t have to face each other until the final. But most of it has to do with the fact that distance matters so much in the new age derby. With an ability to put extra time on the clock, those two will probably get 80-90% of the public money by the time it starts.
But at Bellinger +650 carries tremendous value. I say this because Bellinger’s smooth swing looks far more effortless than Judge & Stanton’s violent strokes. Should Bellinger make it past Judge in the semifinals he will give an equal run for Stanton’s money that Judge would.
Judge is the bracket pick with the distance, but both rookies are inexperienced in the bracket contest while Stanton knows how to use his timeouts.
I’m betting the most on Bellinger to win because I’m a sucker for underdogs and high odds. I’m simple minded. I see small risk to a high reward, and I cave. It’s why I’m not a handicapper.
But Stanton and Judge in the finals is all but a certainty, so I hedged my risk on Bellinger with Judge’s +170.