Deep Home Run Derby Field Creates Plenty Of Wagering Opportunities

Deep Home Run Derby Field Creates Plenty Of Wagering Opportunities

The man leading the majors in long balls, Aaron Judge, isn’t participating in the Home Run Derby. Neither are two of the other top four sluggers, young stars Yordan Alvarez and Austin Riley, who opted to sit it out. The National League MVP frontrunner, Paul Goldschmidt, isn’t participating either.

And yet, this lineup is stacked. Baseball has been pushing the Home Run Derby hard since the mid-1990s, and it appears the made-for-TV event has become the draw that MLB always hoped, arguably pulling ahead of the Slam Dunk Contest for most exciting semi-ridiculous canned All-Star event.

THE HOME RUN DERBY BRACKET IS HERE 🤩

Who’s your pick to win? 🤔 pic.twitter.com/IpqpZ6WpCs

— ESPN (@espn) July 14, 2022

Most mobile sportsbooks posted betting lines as soon as the eight participants were announced Thursday night, and it figures to be a vibrant wagering event around the country. Let’s face it: What else is there to bet on on a mid-July Monday evening with no actual baseball games being played?

Glorified batting practice

The first question anyone betting this event has to ask themselves is why Pete Alonso wouldn’t win his third in a row, given the past clinics he has put on. The answer just might be, “Have you seen these other names?”

Nobody seems to hit more effortless homers than Kyle Schwarber, with his short, punchy, left-handed swing. And a trio of young superstars are gunning for that $1 million prize in Ronald Acuña Jr., Juan Soto, and Julio Rodriguez. You’d have to be living in a cave with no wi-fi to be surprised if one of those guys won it.

José Ramirez, arguably the most underrated hitter in the majors, is certainly not to be overlooked here. Corey Seager is one of the longshots at 7/1, but he tends to put on an impressive batting practice with his seemingly effortless opposite-field power. Then there’s one of the greatest right-handed hitters in baseball history, Albert Pujols, who can still take a mean batting practice even if he might not have the bat speed he once did now that he’s 42.

The No. 1 thing to remember about betting this event: IT’S BATTING PRACTICE. The pitchers are handpicked by the participants for throwing the ball at the speed and to the location the hitter likes. So you don’t need to find the best hitter; you need to find the best batting-practice hitter. That, and the vicissitudes of fate and the pressure of the moment make this a weird but potentially gainful betting opportunity.

Let’s start with the favorite and work our way down (DraftKings odds):

Kyle Schwarber (+265)

It’s sort of stunning to see anyone other than Alonso favored, but DraftKings – unlike some books – puts the Phillies’ compact power source as its top pick. That’s a perfectly defensible position for Johnny Avello and the other bookmakers at DraftKings to take.

Schwarber looks dangerous here. Always a streaky hitter, his 28 real-game homers put him on pace to blow past his career high of 38. He’s also not a Derby rookie, always an important factor. Many first-time participants feel nervous, given the number of people watching them do something they normally do in relative isolation. As easy as it looks, the potential for embarrassment is high. Just ask any of the hitters who failed to hit a single home run in the first round.

Schwarber mashed 55 home runs when he participated in 2018 and lost by just one to Bryce Harper in the finals. Many people thought he would be a force in the contest last year until an injury just before the All-Star break took him out of it.

There’s a ton to like about Schwarber, but is he a value play as the favorite? His odds imply a 27.4% probability of winning, which seems a bit aggressive given the level of competition. Shop around for better odds if you love Schwarber here, but with this much variability, taking someone who has never won at odds that short is hard to justify.

Pete Alonso (+300)

After he won his second Derby last year in Colorado, Alonso said on national TV, “I think I’m the best power hitter on the planet.”

That would sound like meaningless bluster if it weren’t objectively true. Since his MLB debut for the Mets in 2019, Alonso leads the majors with 130 regular-season home runs, well ahead of the next-closest guy, Eugenio Suarez (111). For his career, Alonso has slugged a homer every 13.06 at-bats, which makes him the active leader in that telling stat, a tick ahead of Giancarlo Stanton (13.81 AB/HR).

So, what’s not to like? One could argue the conditions just above sea level in L.A. will be a lot different than Coors Field last year, but Alonso loves hitting at Dodger Stadium. He’s got seven long balls there in just 12 games, and that’s against superlative Dodgers pitching.

He rises to the occasion in these events. Before putting on his show last year, he had mashed 57 homers on the way to the title in 2019.

Alonso is trying to hit a home run with every swing. It’s what his swing is designed to do. It’s what he has always done going back to his college days at Florida. His size makes it relatively effortless, which allows him to conserve energy, a key aspect of this competition.

These odds imply a 25% probability of winning, which still seems a bit high, but this seems like the better chalky play.

Ronald Acuña Jr. (+475)

A lot of the things we said about Alonso don’t apply here. Acuña is more of a pure hitter who happens to hit the ball so hard that it frequently leaves the stadium. He’s not really looking to lift and drive the ball as consistently as Alonso is. For his career, he has homered an average of once every 15.37 at-bats, which is impressive given the rest of his MVP-like skill set, but not quite at Alonso’s level.

That doesn’t mean Acuña Jr. isn’t worth a look at these odds. He lost to Alonso in the semifinals in 2019 and had an impressive first round in besting Josh Bell with 25 homers, so this won’t be his first rodeo.

You just have to wonder if Acuña is locked in. He missed most of the first month of the season recovering from a torn knee ligament and he has also missed time since then. His numbers, including a .795 OPS, aren’t bad, but they’re indicative of a player still working his way back from a serious injury.

As great as Acuña is, this doesn’t feel like the right spot.

Juan Soto (+550)

This has been described as a down season for Soto, but for most hitters, an .896 OPS would represent a career season. That’s how talented this guy is, arguably the most dangerous young hitter in the game. He can be forgiven for slumping a bit given how bad the Nationals are.

But he’s been hot of late, having gone deep four times in the Nationals’ last six games. He’s also proven he can handle this event, having smacked 31 homers in the first round last year to beat favorite Shohei Ohtani before bowing out to Alonso in the next round.

Like Acuña, he’s not a classic slugger in the Alonso mold, but he’s an excellent value here given implied odds of 15.4%. If you’re looking for value, this is probably it.

Corey Seager (+800)

He barely made the All-Star team, only eking in after an injury to George Springer, and has the look of an also-ran here if not for the you-never-know aspect of the event. It was a cool story in 2016 when Seager’s Derby pitcher was his dad, Jeff, the former minor-leaguer who built Corey’s and his brother Kyle’s swings.

But like Acuña and Soto, Seager isn’t a classic slugger, and you wonder whether his swing will produce the kind of metronomic power to rival guys like Alonso. Seager has homered an average of once every 22 at-bats for his career, making him far from the value others are here. Yeah, he’s comfortable hitting at Dodger Stadium, his home park until this season, but betting him to win the event outright seems a bit aggressive.

Julio Rodriguez (+1100)

If you haven’t seen this guy play, watch a Mariners game some day. He has a chance to quickly join Acuña, Soto, and Fernando Tatis as an under-22 superstar. He’s a brilliant, 6-foot-3 center fielder who has accumulated .806 OPS, 3.5 bWAR, and 15 home runs in his first 88 games.

But this is a tough spot for a rookie. The pacing of the event – a far more rushed B.P. experience than players are used to – can be hard to adjust to. Think back to 2014, when Yasiel Puig was the talk of baseball and then got shut out in his first Derby round.

The odds are tempting on a young player this good, but it might be wise to see how he does in his first go-round before risking money.

José Ramirez (+1300)

If Ohtani, Aaron Judge, or Mike Trout don’t win American League MVP, there’s a good chance it will be this guy, arguably the most underrated player in baseball.

Like others mentioned, he’s not strictly a home run hitter, but pure hitters have won this competition in the past. Think of Bobby Abreu and Garret Anderson. While Ramirez, too, is a Derby rookie, he’s an established star who probably won’t feel the same pressure Rodriguez will. And the $1 million prize money won’t make his knees quake, given that he’s making $22 million this season.

This guy has the look of a very live longshot.

Albert Pujols (+1600)

At this stage of his career, Pujols is largely a mistake hitter. The Cardinals use him almost strictly against left-handed pitchers, hoping he’ll connect on a hanging changeup and send their nostalgia-mad fans into a frenzy as he climbs closer to 700 career homers.

He’s not even a true All-Star, having been named to the game as a commissioner’s pick despite a .677 OPS.

The rumors are true. I’m back for one more Home Run Derby. See you in Hollywood! pic.twitter.com/H97IEIXAJ5

— Albert Pujols (@PujolsFive) July 12, 2022

Having said all that, don’t count this guy out in this spot. In fact, never count this guy out, period. He’s Albert Pujols.

Every pitch thrown in the Derby is the equivalent of a major league pitcher’s mistake. He still is capable of putting on a show in batting practice. This will be his fifth Home Run Derby, so he has a pretty good idea how to compete in the event.

The physical exhaustion of taking so many swings in a short period might get to him, though, especially if it’s hot in the afternoon sun at Dodger Stadium, and he might be a better play in bets other than outright winner. But you get one thing if you take Pujols you don’t get with any other competitor: 684 career home runs.

Hard to argue with that.

Author: Ryan Gonzales