The teams are set, the captains are ready, and later tonight the 26th installment of Major League Baseball's Home Run Derby will get underway at Citi Field in Queens. So what can we expect to see happen tonight?
Citi Field is one of the bigger stadiums in the league, slightly longer down the line to the foul pole to left (335') than to right (330'). As originally built the stadium was extremely pitcher friendly, with a power alley even deeper than straight-away center field (415' to 408') with 16 to 18 foot tall walls around the outfield.
After the departure of Jose Reyes -- who hit 26 triples for the Mets over the two years he played home games in Citi Field -- the stadium underwent significant renovations to make it more hitter-friendly, adding a shorter, eight-foot wall in front of the 16-foot high monster in left and bringing the wall in the power alley in from 415 feet to 398 feet. So far this year, the stadium has been nearly neutral to home runs, though slightly favoring the hitter; this is a marked improvement in offense from a couple years ago, when perhaps the only pitcher-friendlier park in baseball was Petco Park in San Diego.
Being as this is the Home Run Derby and not a game situation, we can still expect to see a good number of dingers. Kaufmann Stadium, home of the Kansas City Royals and host of last year's All-Star Game and Home Run Derby, suppresses home runs at a greater rate than post-renovation Citi Field and still saw its first and second place finishers, Prince Fielder and Jose Bautista, hit 28 and 20 out of the park respectively. Unlike its neighbor in the Bronx, Citi Field does not especially favor left-handed or right-handed hitters when it comes to the long ball.
The eight contestants in this year's Derby have accounted for 160 home runs so far this year, twenty-six more than the team total of the Baltimore Orioles, who lead the majors with 134. Accounting for 37 of those Baltimore home runs is slugger Chris Davis, who has effortless power and can homer to every part of the field -- 16 of those 37 dingers have gone to the opposite field, many of them looking like long fly ball outs that just keep on going out of the park.
Yoenis Cespedes of the Oakland A's is more specific -- 13 of his 15 home runs this season went up the middle. A late add to the Derby lineup, Cespedes wasn't voted to the All-Star team, despite the A's outstanding year so far. Prince Fielder has the most experience of any participant in the Home Run Derby -- this will be his fifth time participating in the event and his fourth in a row; he's already won the event twice and is looking to become the first back-to-back champion since Ken Griffey Jr. did it in 1998 and 1999.
American League captain Robinson Cano, a left-handed hitter, won't have the advantage of Yankee Stadium's short porch in right field, but he's more than capable of going yard in Citi Field -- he's done it twice in the 14 games he's played there in his career -- and he'll be looking to make up for his embarrassing showing in last year's Derby where, as the AL captain coming off 32 home runs in the 2011 event, he failed to hit a single home run.
The National League has a more interesting field, for lack of a better term. Except for the captain, David Wright, every member of their team will make their first appearance in the Home Run Derby. Wright is no stranger to Citi Field, but he hasn't been in a Home Run Derby since 2006, when he placed second behind Ryan Howard. The end of Wright's 2006 -- which saw him hit six home runs in the second half as opposed to 20 in the first half -- is often used as an example of the Derby "ruining" a hitter's swing. The truth is that Wright isn't a huge home run hitter, he never has been, and 26 home runs in a season is a perfectly respectable number for him to hit.
The "ruined swing" phenomenon is confirmation bias; due to the very nature of the event, a lot of the guys participating in it have had white-hot power numbers in the first half they can't sustain. Which brings us to Wright's boyhood friend and teammate, Michael Cuddyer. Wright was going to choose one of his buddies for the event, as is his right as the captain. I thought it'd be Carlos Beltran, his former teammate on the Mets who will be starting in the outfield as a St. Louis Cardinal. Regardless, Cuddyer, an ex-Twin now playing for the Colorado Rockies, has hit nine of his 15 home runs in Coors Field and is probably this year's top candidate for a "ruined swing" from the Derby.
Bryce Harper and Pedro Alvarez are two of the more exciting young hitters in the NL. Alvarez is a dyed-in-the-wool slugger, sending multiple home runs out of PNC Park in Pittsburgh and into the Allegheny River this year. Harper is one of the game's young superstars and, while not precisely a prototypical power hitter, he can slug with the best of them and should be a blast to watch.
I'm taking Fielder over Harper. Prince knows his way around the event by now and is looking to definitively pass Griffey as the best hitter in the Derby's history. Harper doesn't have the raw power that Davis has, but he's as good or better than every other guy in the event at going deep.