On Monday night, Yoenis Cespedes became the 26th player to win Major League Baseball’s Home Run Derby, joining the ranks of such elite power hitters as Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Ken Griffey Jr. and … Wally Joyner.
Cespedes edged Bryce Harper in the finals and put on one of the most impressive performances the Derby has seen, starting off by hitting 17 home runs in one round and hitting 32 overall, both feats which tie for third-best in the Derby’s history.
Behold, a fully functional (however unsortable, to the great dismay of the author) table of this year’s Home Run Derby participants and some relevant first-half batting/power statistics:
American League captain Robinson Cano was given the liberty of choosing three men to represent his team in the world’s annual derby of batsmanship, and he chose Cespedes. An interesting choice, as Cespedes has not been even a league-average hitter this season according to wRC+, but probably not one unwarranted through the eyes of Bud Selig as Cespedes taps into the Cuban market and is still one of the game’s more exciting young players.
And so, in the true nature of sport, Cespedes – the most unlikely of victors given his struggles this season – went out and won the whole damn thing.
Upon Cespedes’ win, I naturally went to his FanGraphs page and noticed his wRC+ was under 100, provoking me to silently think to myself: “I wonder if any other Home Run Derby champion failed to be even a league-average hitter at the time of his crowning?”
Behold, a fully functional and regrettably still unsortable table, this time of past Home Run Derby winners and their relevant first-half batting/power statistics:
|Ken Griffey Jr.||1994||87||383||33||.368||.453||172|
|Ken Griffey Jr.||1998||88||395||35||.380||.436||165|
|Ken Griffey Jr.||1999||85||384||29||.310||.425||156|
The answer is no, and it really isn’t even close.
Since the Derby changed to its current format in 1990, no winner has been within 20% of being “just” league average, and a full 57 points of wOBA separates Cespedes from Miguel Tejada’s 2004 first-half campaign.
In fact, Cespedes is only the fourth player to have entered the Home Run Derby as a below-league-average hitter. That’s right, even in the years that Hee-Seop Choi and Damion Easley competed, they had been at least league-average.
In 2005, Ivan Rodriguez had a wRC+ of 97, Rafael Palmeiro came in at 96 in 2004 and you have to go all the way back to 1994 for Ruben Sierra to “top” Cespedes with a first-half wRC+ of 92.
Interestingly enough, they all performed fairly well in the Derby, despite walking away as losers – or, not winners. Each advanced past the first round, with Pudge finishing runner-up to Bobby Abreu’s monster performance. Palmeiro and Sierra each took third.
Similar to how people say the Derby can throw locked-in power hitters into second-half slumps, maybe it can also get struggling power hitters into a groove again. Probably not, but it was an intriguing observation nonetheless.
Robinson Cano had to choose three men to represent his team of lumber swingers to hit dingers, and he threw caution to the wind by choosing Yoenis Cespedes, who had a worse first half at the plate than Cano’s teammate Lyle Overbay. But this wasn’t a first-half regular season baseball game and Yoenis Cespedes doesn’t play first base for the New York Yankees (and now apparently sometimes right field, too). It was the Home Run Derby, and Yoenis Cespedes reaffirmed Robinson Cano’s bold choice by making history.