Monday, July 16, 2018
Home Run Derby picks, must-see All-Star matchups and more
It’s Home Run Derby day in Washington. Before some of baseball’s biggest stars look to go deep at Nationals Park, we asked some of our writers to take a swing at some pressing Derby and All-Star Game questions.
Home Run Derby
1. Who will hit the farthest home run of the night, and how far will it go?
Jerry Crasnick: Bryce Harper hit a 473-foot, 112.1 mph-exit-velocity bomb off Philadelphia’s Nick Pivetta in early May that ranks as the fourth-longest home run in MLB this season. He’ll be ultra-motivated in front of the home crowd in Washington, and he’ll come out hacking. Once Harper gets in a groove, he’ll be peppering the upper deck in right. His longest homer will travel 501 feet.
David Schoenfield: Harper has the longest 2018 home run of the eight participants, so I’ll go with Harper over Kyle Schwarber, who had a 117.1 mph home run on April 24 — the second-hardest-hit home run in the NL in 2018.
Eddie Matz: Harper. His average dinger distance of 409 feet doesn’t rank inside MLB’s top 10 (it’s 17th). But among this year’s Derby dudes, it’s No. 1. He has hit six bombs of more than 430 feet, which is four more than any other participant.
2. Who will hit the fewest homers in the first round?
Crasnick: Alex Bregman seems like an outlier next to some players in this group. He ranks 193rd out of 226 MLB hitters in average home run distance this season. Then again, it’s Bregman. The more you tell him he doesn’t belong, the more likely he is to take it personally and figure out a way to prove everybody wrong.
Schoenfield: Bregman’s longest home run of the season is just 420 feet, so I’m not sure he has the raw power to compete with the big boys here. He’s basically a dead-pull hitter, which actually might help him in a Home Run Derby, but there are no Crawford Boxes to give him some cheap home runs.
Matz: Since the 2015 rule changes, the first-round flop has been a lefty-hitting infielder each time (Anthony Rizzo, Robinson Cano, Mike Moustakas). Of the four lefties in this year’s field, two are infielders (Freddie Freeman, Max Muncy). The Muncy mojo is undeniable, so Freeman gets my vote here.
3. Who are you most excited to watch?
Crasnick: Harper is the obvious answer because of all the drama swirling around his free agency and the game taking place at his home park. But I’ll go with the two Cubs — Kyle Schwarber and Javier Baez. “They both have stupid-raw power,” said a scout. Milwaukee’s Jesus Aguilar gets an honorable mention because of his inherent fun factor. The guy is a fan favorite in Milwaukee for a reason.
Schoenfield: Harper in front of the home fans will be fun, but Baez is the guy who might put on a show with his Gary Sheffield-like bat speed and raw power. I still remember a home run I saw him hit in spring training a few years ago — you could hear of the thunder of the bat as he connected on a blast to center that must have gone 480 feet or so.
Matz: Muncy. Harper trying to channel his inner Todd Frazier and win the Derby in his home park is a good story. But everybody loves an underdog, and they don’t come much more underdoggish than a 27-year-old castoff who had five career home runs entering this season.
4. Who will win the Derby?
Crasnick: I ran this past three scouts, and two of them surprisingly picked Freddie Freeman. “He has a simple, controlled swing with natural lift to it,” said one. “And he’s such a pro, he might be able to conserve energy while all the others get a little fatigued.” That’s what I’m betting on — that Harper burns himself out early and Freeman quietly churns out homers and winds up holding the trophy in the end.
Schoenfield: I’ll go with Baez. Too much pressure on Harper (only two host players have won), and Baez has the athleticism and energy to keep it going for three rounds. Winning is as much about stamina as raw power.
Matz: Harper’s average is way down, his swing-and-miss rate is way up and he’s hitting lots of bombs. It’s as if he has been practicing for the Home Run Derby all season. Come Monday night, that practice will pay off.
1. What’s one pitcher/hitter matchup you can’t wait to see?
Crasnick: You could do a lot worse than Max Scherzer vs. Mike Trout when it comes to entertainment value. Scherzer is such a competitor, even his bullpen sessions are intense. And you have to think he’ll ramp it up a little bit pitching before that supportive home crowd in Washington.
Schoenfield: Well, I’d love to see Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer line up next to each other in the team photo, but aside from that, let’s go with the hottest hitter on the planet, who is chasing a Triple Crown, versus the hottest pitcher with the 1.68 ERA — J.D. Martinez versus Jacob deGrom.
Matz: Brewers reliever Josh Hader is a strikeout machine (16.5 whiffs per nine). Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons is a contact machine (15 strikeouts on the season). Which force will win out when these two freaks of nature … oh wait, I forgot — Simmons isn’t an All-Star. (Sound of me scratching my head.) Guess I’ll have to settle for the guy with the second-fewest K’s. Let’s go with Michael Brantley vs. Hader.
2. Who will win Tuesday’s game and who will take home MVP honors?
Crasnick: The three best teams in baseball play in Boston, Houston and New York (the Bronx, in case anyone needed clarification). And if not for Terry Francona’s bullpen, the Indians would be a clear fourth. All that juggernaut-fueled star power will combine to give the American League a 5-2 victory. I’ll go with Mookie Betts as the game MVP.
Schoenfield: The AL wins 5-3 … and Mike Trout wins his third All-Star MVP award.
Matz: American League makes it six in a row. Mookie Betts takes home the hardware.