Let us present a red-hot prediction ahead of Monday night’s T-Mobile Home Run Derby in Denver: Shohei Ohtani is going to make it to the final round.
It’s not just because we want it to be, or because it would be an exclamation point in what is already one of the most fantastic stories in baseball history. It’s because Ohtani does something that has led a player to the final five times in a row. It’s not complicated. In fact, it is the simplest thing in the world.
It’s as simple as this: Of the final eight, Ohtani is the one who hits the strongest home runs.
That’s all. That is the trick.
Statcast made its premiere in 2015 and since then five editions of the Derby have been contested. Five times in a row, all five since 2015, the slugger who made the All-Star break hitting the hardest home runs of that season made the final. Hit the ball hard, raise it, reach the final. As simple as that.
To show you what we mean, this is what has happened in the last five seasons in which there has been a Derby.
This is a very good correlation, and in more recent years, it has been even better. In 2018, Schwarber reached the midseason hiatus hitting the hardest home runs and reached the final, where he fell to Bryce Harper, who had the second-hardest home run rate that year. In 2019, Pete Alonso reached the final and faced Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who had the third-hardest home run rate, but just shy of the top two (107.5 mph, compared to a tie for first place. between Alonso and Venezuelan Ronald Acuña Jr. with 108.2 mph).
As far as 2021 goes, all eight sluggers hit really strong home runs, obviously. They wouldn’t be at the Derby if it weren’t. But Ohtani is in first place, with Juan Soto and Joey Gallo following in his footsteps.
Exit Velocity of HRs in 2021, Among Derby Participants
109.2 mph – Shohei Ohtani, LAA
108.6 mph – Juan Soto, WSH
107.6 mph – Joey Gallo, TEX
106.8 mph – Pete Alonso, NYM
106.1 mph – Matt Olson, OAK
105.6 mph – Trey Mancini, BAL
105.5 mph – Salvador Perez, KC
103.9 mph – Trevor Story, COL
With Ohtani and Soto facing off in the first round, one of our first two sluggers will be out of the race at once. On the other hand, that also means that one of our two sluggers who hit the ball the hardest is guaranteed a spot in the second round.
When it comes to Ohtani, we’re not just talking about the speed of his home runs. Who hits the strongest flybys, which is basically the goal of a Derby? Ohtani. Who gets more trips to the plate to end up with a “pot,” a Statcast metric that tries to find the perfect combination of speed and departure angle? Nobody beats Ohtani this year. Who hits the ball the hardest, regardless of which direction, most often? Only Pérez, but the rest, no one else. Who is the hardest hitting left-handed hitter on record by Statcast? Ohtani.
When we talk about Ohtani, we usually talk about how many incredible things he does, but that may prevent us from realizing that he is one of the most spectacular gunners in the game. When he stands at home plate, he does that which has led others to win the Home Run Derby.
Will the trend continue tonight?