It's pretty easy to go into the T-Mobile Home Run Derby and simply assume that the first few rounds are merely a prelude to the inevitable Aaron Judge vs. Giancarlo Stanton matchup that everyone expects. After all, the bracket is aligned so that Stanton is No. 1 and Judge is No. 2, ensuring any showdown between the two would have to take place in the final, and it's so obviously the pairing that everyone wants to see.
Here's the thing, though: The other six guys didn't get in this competition by accident. They're here because they're crushing baseballs, and while admittedly none of them are Judge -- who is, really? -- we're still talking about six sluggers who have a combined 120 homers (through Friday), even though three of them haven't even spent the entire season on the active roster. It's not like it'd be a shock if any of them did well, and it's not like we haven't seen Stanton be upset in this event before.
So, keeping in mind that any one of these hitters could actually take the whole thing, who's got the best odds? Let's rank their odds of victory, using a combination of data and subjective opinion, thereby guaranteeing the actual outcome will be precisely the opposite of the list we present to you now. The Derby airs Monday at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN.
File this under "well, someone has to be eighth," and that's more about the composition of this group than it is about any disrespect to Blackmon. In fact, he might just be the most well-rounded player here, since he stole 43 bases just two years ago and covers a huge center field in Denver.
That said, he's also got some pretty massive home/road splits -- .384/.440/.788 in Coors Field, just .261/.309/.409 away -- and despite having by far the most plate appearances (391) of our group, he's got the second-fewest homers, as well as the lowest hard-hit percentage (32.9 percent, where Major League average is 33.2 percent). Blackmon collected more than 3 million well-deserved votes to start in the NL outfield; he's just more of a total player than a pure slugger.
Bour was tied for the National League lead in homers when he went on the disabled list in June with an ankle bruise, and a slugging percentage that was a stellar .589 before the injury has been only .433 in three weeks since his return. So he may not be hitting his stride when Derby day comes, and also not working in his favor is that of our eight participants, his 398-foot average distance on homers is eighth.
Is there a home-field advantage, you ask? Todd Frazier surely made it seem so when he won it in Cincinnati in 2015, though David Wright (2013), Brian Dozier (2014), and Wil Myers (2016) didn't get out of the first round. But really, these are all side notes. Bour is a powerful hitter; he's got a better slugging percentage than Stanton does, and that alone commands your notice. The problem, however, is that he's matched up against Judge in the first round. It's a tough ask for any hitter.
Moustakas has, by far, the lowest on-base percentage of this group, at just .309. No one else is below .336, and Judge is at a wild .449. Of course, working in his favor is that the Home Run Derby is only about power, not on-base skills, and Moustakas' .570 slugging percentage is essentially the third-best here. (He's tied with Blackmon, but it's a lot harder to hit in Kansas City than Denver.)
The interesting thing about Moustakas, however, is that he's not doing it with overwhelming power. His 33.6 percent hard-hit rate is seventh of our eight; his 402-foot average homer distance is tied for sixth. Even his average exit velocity of 87.3 mph is only about average for the league. So where's the power coming from? After a few years of going back-and-forth on pulling or using the whole field, Moustakas has pulled something of a Daniel Murphy act. When he gets the ball in the air to his pull side, no lefty hitter has found more production than he has, and it's not even close.
Mike Moustakas, who seems to go back and forth between being a pull hitter or not, is squarely pulling of his homers this year. pic.twitter.com/8pNkmO1MSq
By now, we're actively looking for reasons to not put guys higher, because as we said, any of these eight sluggers could win the Derby. Bellinger is the National League's answer to Judge, a near-guaranteed Rookie of the Year who's also squarely put himself in the Most Valuable Player conversation. His .619 slugging percentage, after all, would be one of the 10 best in the long history of the Dodgers.
So why fourth? Partially it's because the "home-field advantage" seems overrated. Mostly, it's because our top three are really, really good. But it's at least a little because Stanton has changed his game somewhat this year. He's cut down his strikeouts to a career-low 24 percent, but in doing so, his hard-hit rate has dropped from 52 percent in 2015 to 49 last year to 42 this year.
Trading raw power for contact has been valuable for the Marlins, but we'll need to see if he can flip the switch back on for the Derby. Put nothing past him.
Sanchez has the fewest homers (13) and the lowest slugging percentage (.517), so what in the world is he doing in our top three? You can mostly ignore the homer total, because an injured right biceps that cost him most of April means he's taken the fewest plate appearances of our eight players.
Instead, Sanchez is here because of distance. The average Major League home run this year has traveled 401 feet, and the other seven all average between 398 feet and 414 feet. Sanchez, by comparison, averages 427 feet -- the longest of any hitter with at least 10 homers. His average homer exit velocity of 109.8 mph is second only to Judge. Don't be fooled by the relatively low total of just 13. Gary can mash.
That's right, Sano is No. 2 here, and no, we don't feel bad about this at all. It was just two months ago that we were calling Sano "baseball's hardest hitter," and while Judge and Bellinger have certainly taken the spotlight in that department, don't let that prevent you from remaining in awe of what Sano has done.
Sano's 52 percent hard-hit rate isn't just second of our eight, it's the seventh-best in all of baseball, and his 97.8 mph exit velocity on balls hit in the air is third-best. Even his biggest problem -- a huge 35 percent whiff rate -- won't be a concern here. Still just 24, Sano is a massively powerful man, even if he's not getting quite the publicity of the others here.
Aaron Judge, Yankees
Well, look. We can be contrary sometimes, but we're not crazy. Judge has the most homers. He has the most 450-foot homers. He has the most 425-foot homers. He's got the longest homer of 2017 (495 feet off Logan Verrett). He's got the hardest-hit homer of 2017 (121.1 mph off Chris Tillman). He's got four homers hit at 118 mph or harder this year; no one else has one.
Whether that actually happens is a problem for another time. Judge is unlike anyone we've ever seen -- even Stanton. Bet against him at your own risk.
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Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast. He has previously written for ESPN Insider and FanGraphs. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.