2008 Home Run Derby Predictions
by Trevor Whenham - 07/14/2008
You may love the Home Run Derby or you may hate it, but there is no doubting that it is a spectacle. It is also something to bet on, and anything that you can bet on can't be all bad. The balls will be flying through the muggy air of Yankee Stadium tonight, so we better not waste any time in getting ready for the event. There are, as usual, eight guys in the field. It's a bit of an odd group in one sense, though - neither the defending champion nor the current home run leader is in the field - Vladimir Guerrero won last year, and Ryan Howard is the best at going deep so far this year, but neither is an All-Star this year. That means that the books have had to look harder for a favorite, and we will have to work a little harder at handicapping. Here's a look at the field as I see it and at the end of the article I will offer my 2008 Home Run Derby predictions.
The field (with odds from Pinnacle)
Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers (+343)
Lance Berkman, Houston Astros (+449)
Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies (+522)
Justin Morneau, Minnesota Twins (+531)
Grady Sizemore, Cleveland Indians (+639)
Dan Uggla, Florida Marlins (+721)
Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays (+893)
Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers (+951)
Let's start by looking at the favorite. Josh Hamilton is one of the great stories of the season. He has a well chronicled history with drugs, and the Rangers gave up their top pitching prospect, Edinson Volquez, to get him in a risky trade, but it has worked out brilliantly - he's the runaway league leader in RBI, and he's in the top 10 in the AL in batting average. I love watching Hamilton hit, but I just can't justify backing him here at this price. He's only 13th in home runs, which puts him ahead of only Longoria and Morneau in this field. He's also tied with Braun for the most at-bats with 377, so he isn't a high percentage home run hitter, either. I expect that Hamilton will do well, and I will be cheering for him, but I just can't justify betting on him at this price. No value.
How about Berkman? He certainly has the experience with the contest - this is his fourth shot at winning the title since 2002. He made it as far as the finals in 2004 before losing to Miguel Tejada. That's his only real high point, though. He has a total of five home runs in his other two tries. Some might argue that this is his year, but again I don't think that the price justifies the risk.
Utley? There are a couple of things I like about him. First, he can hit. His 25 home runs are third best in the league and best in this contest. To win the Home Run Derby you need to be a streaky hitter who gets hot. Utley is as streaky as they come. He has four stretches of at least nine games this year without a home run. On the other hand, he has a run of seven home runs in seven games, and other seven-homer stretch that took eight games. Utley is in a slight power slump right now, but he certainly makes my short list.
Let's get rid of a couple quickly. Morneau is a Canadian so that's a big plus (perhaps only in my book). He also has experience in the contest. He wasn't particularly competitive last year, though, and he doesn't have the power to match up with everyone else. I don't like him at all with this price. I also don't like Evan Longoria here. He's ridiculously talented, but he's young and I don't like his chances of standing up under the intensity of the situation in his first try.
There's something to be said for Sizemore and Uggla, and you could easily build a case for either one. I want to leave them for a second, though, and look at Ryan Braun instead. He sticks out because he is the longest shot on the board. I really can't figure out why. He's tied with Sizemore and Uggla with 23 home runs on the year. Over his last eight games he has pulled out of a pretty ugly power slump by hitting three round-trippers. He seems to be healthy after some earlier injury problems. He's continuing on with the power he showed last year, so this is no fluke. Braun isn't the most likely winner in the field, but he isn't the least likely either. I see real value in his price.
That's how I break it down, then. Utley is my first choice, with Braun as my longshot special. If I was looking to throw money a third way it would be on Dan Uggla - he's an efficient home run hitter at a solid price.