By Edward Egros
FOX Sports MLB Betting Analyst
Class is back in session!
Other schools get a Spring Break, we get an All-Star Break. But our assignment — before going on a road trip or to the beach — is to bet on the Home Run Derby and All-Star Game. I dug through the data and did the research for you, so let’s jump into my best bets for the festivities. And as always, all odds are courtesy of FOX Bet.
ALL-STAR GAME BEST BET
While the American League has dominated this exhibition over the past quarter-century, it’s the National League that’s a slight favorite on the moneyline (-118). Because of potential late roster changes and managerial decisions concerning when to play whom, it’s difficult to acquire statistics for who will do what and when.
One workaround is simply looking at Statcast numbers broken down by league. First, here are some key indicators for AL and NL pitching this season:
xFIP K% BB%
AL 4.02 22.2 7.9
NL 3.97 22.5 8.2
The NL has a slight advantage when it comes to strikeout rate, which results in a lower xFIP, which likely more than compensates for walking a few more hitters. However, if you look at the top of the entire list of MLB pitchers sorted by K%, there’s an even mix of NL and AL hurlers.
As for hitters:
xwOBA Avg EV
AL 0.331 88.5
NL 0.326 88
Here, the AL has an advantage thanks, in part, to a slightly higher average exit velocity. But this time, if you sort all of MLB by xwOBA, you see a few more American Leaguers, most notably Aaron Judge, Shohei Ohtani and Giancarlo Stanton.
Historically, what happens in the exhibition is one relief pitcher getting into a jam with an onslaught of hitters not letting up. Again, it’s near impossible to forecast who that pitcher might be. However, it’s also likelier that enough AL hitters will string together more than enough hits to continue dominating the Midsummer Classic.
Meaning if you are looking for a best bet, take the American League to win the All-Star Game. And if the NL gets out to an early lead, a live bet on the AL is another great approach.
Home Run Derby
Before diving into the numbers, it’s important to understand the format.
All eight players will compete in a single-elimination bracket tournament where each player has three minutes in the first two rounds — and two minutes in the final round — to smack as many home runs as possible. Each player is seeded based on how many home runs they’ve hit up to now (more on that shortly).
While many will claim Dodger Stadium is more of a pitcher’s park, Statcast tells a different story. Its approach looks at a three-year rolling average of home runs observed and how those pitchers and hitters perform elsewhere. The verdict is Dodger Stadium is actually average among all 30 MLB ballparks, meaning extra power isn’t necessarily a bigger requirement than it normally is.
The problem with analyzing home runs is they are not too predictive, meaning just because a slugger has a lot of dingers does not necessarily mean he’ll continue to crank offerings out of the park.
One statistic that is more predictive of future power is called barrel rate. When a hitter makes contact, if the exit velocity is fast enough and the launch angle is in the right range, it becomes a barrel, meaning at least 50% of the time it goes for a base hit. Barrel rate is simply the percentage of times a batted ball qualified as a barrel. I like looking at this statistic to narrow down my picks.
Now, for the numbers! For this exercise, I looked at each participant’s barrel rate this season and simulated the entire Home Run Derby 20,000 times! Here are the percentages of times each player won the simulated derby:
Kyle Schwarber: 27.72%
Pete Alonso: 11.68%
Corey Seager: 9.64%
Juan Soto: 15.19%
José Ramírez: 2.94%
Julio Rodríguez: 15.4%
Ronald Acuña Jr.: 13.28%
Albert Pujols: 4.17%
Given these numbers, here are two sluggers with real value I would bet on:
Kyle Schwarber (+300 at FOX Bet)
Not only does the Phillies outfielder have the highest barrel rate in the derby, he has the third-highest mark in MLB (21.7%). Hitting for average has been a problem this season with a BABIP of .223, but if he maintains his isolated power mark of .294, it would be the best for any season of his career.
Schwarber also ranks in the top 15 in average exit velocity and hard-hit rate (proportion of hits with an exit velocity of at least 95 mph). With that consistency, it’s hard to imagine him tiring out over the course of the tournament.
Julio Rodríguez (+850 at FOX Bet)
In 35 derbies, only twice has a rookie won it outright. Why might the Seattle prodigy be the third? Aside from youthful energy, his power should come as no surprise.
FanGraphs printed a prospects report ranking his raw power as a 60/70 (quite good). Rodríguez also has the highest barrel rate on his side of the bracket, meaning he would not have to face the toughest challenge in Schwarber until the finals.
Two-time defending champion Pete Alonso is on his side of the bracket, but experience may not matter in this tournament as some might claim.
PICK: Kyle Schwarber (+300 at FOX Bet, bet $10 to win $40 total) to win Home Run Derby
LONG-SHOT PICK: Julio Rodríguez (+850 at FOX Bet, bet $10 to win $95 total) to win Home Run Derby
Edward Egros is a sports analytics broadcaster/writer, a sports betting analyst, a data scientist and an adjunct professor of statistics at Pepperdine University. These passions have led him to become a cold brew aficionado. Edward previously worked in local television, notably at the Fox affiliate in Dallas covering the Rangers, Cowboys and high school football. Follow him on Twitter @EdWithSports.
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