The Los Angeles Dodgers have a long and storied history in the Home Run Derby. Unfortunately, most of those stories are along the lines of, “Wow, those guys aren’t very good at the Home Run Derby, are they?”
This Monday, National League Rookie of the Year candidate Joc Pederson will be the sixth Dodger to participate in the Derby. In seven previous appearances (Mike Piazza and Matt Kemp appeared in two each), his five predecessors have hit a grand total of ten home runs, and five of those were by a man who hit only 40 career regular-season home runs and was just months away from the end of his big-league career.
Let’s take a quick look at the Dodgers’ history of Derby ineptitude:
1993: On his way to winning the National League Rookie of the Year Award, Dodger catcher Mike Piazza was batting .317 with 18 home runs at the All-Star break. For that performance, he earned the right to battle some of the game’s greatest sluggers — including Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Bonds, Juan Gonzalez, and Cecil Fielder — in the Home Run Derby. Gonzalez ended up winning the contest after tying Griffey in regulation (seven each) and the first playoff (four each) when he hit one to Griffey’s zero. But more notable for Dodger fans was that Piazza put a big fat zero on the board.[table “” not found /]
1994: Piazza entered the 1994 All-Star break with a .325 average and 21 home runs. While Griffey got his payback, slugging seven homers to beat a field that included Fred McGriff, Frank Thomas, and Jeff Bagwell for the first of his three Derby titles, Piazza’s quest for redemption fell embarrassingly short. He became the first — and still only — player to be shut out in back-to-back Derbies. Piazza would play 13 more seasons and hit 370 more regular-season home runs, but he never participated in another Home Run Derby.
1995: Piazza’s Rookie of the Year Award in 1993 was the Dodgers’ second in a row (after Eric Karros in 1992); outfielder Raul Mondesi made it three consecutive in 1994 on the way to a record five in a row (Hideo Nomo in 1995, Todd Hollandsworth in 1996). The year after his award, Mondesi attempted to outperform Piazza in the Derby, and in that respect, he was wildly successful. While he did finish tied for last place (with Reggie Sanders and Sammy Sosa), he hit the first two Dodger homers in Home Run Derby history. Mondesi played ten more seasons and hit 238 more homers, but 1995 was his only Derby appearance. Besides his role in the Rookie of the Year streak, Mondesi’s greatest contribution to Dodger history is probably being traded after the 1999 season for the franchise’s single-season home run leader, Shawn Green.
2005: From June 10-14, 2005, Dodgers first baseman Hee-Seop Choi hit seven home runs in four games, including a three-homer game on June 12 against the Minnesota Twins. Shortly thereafter, he was named to the National League’s Home Run Derby squad despite not being on the All-Star team (because he wasn’t very good). The owner of 38 previous regular-season homers, Choi set the standard for Dodger Derby-ers with five, finishing tied for fifth place, a mere 36 behind champion Bobby Abreu. Choi hit two home runs in the second half of the 2005 season, and then his Major League career was over.
2011: Matt Kemp was the most valuable player in the National League in 2011, and he finished second in the Most Valuable Player voting. In the 2011 Home Run Derby, he was the least valuable player, finishing in last place with two home runs, one fewer than Rickie Weeks and 30 fewer than champion Robinson Cano.[table “” not found /]
2012: Kemp got his revenge on Cano the next season, out-homering him by one in a hard-fought battle. Unfortunately, while Kemp’s one homer was enough to beat Cano’s zero, it fell short of everyone else, and he finished in seventh place and failed to advance to the second round.
2014: Last year, outfielder Yasiel Puig took the Dodgers back to their Home Run Derby roots. It had been 19 years since a Dodger threw a zero on the board in the Derby, but Puig put an end to that streak. Entering the derby with only 12 homers on the season — the fewest of anyone in the competition — Puig hit the ball hard and low and kept the ball in the park.
So Dodgers sluggers are averaging 1.4 homers per Derby, or 0.8 if you don’t count Choi. Can Joc Pederson beat those numbers?
Ummm, yeah. I am not a betting man, and if I were a betting man, I doubt that I would bet on something like the Home Run Derby. But if I were a betting man and if I were betting on the Home Run Derby, I would put good money on Pederson hitting more than 1.4 homers.
Piazza, Kemp, and Puig are very similar in one respect: they have a lot of power but are not your typical home run hitters. All three are known for hitting the ball hard to the opposite field, which has never been a recipe for success in the Derby.
Pederson, on the other hand, is very much a typical home run hitter. His swing is much more reminiscent of Prince Fielder than of Mike Piazza. You don’t see a lot of hard line drives off the bat of Pederson — you see monstrous fly balls.
I’m not going to run through some huge analysis of the hitting styles of all the players who have been successful in the Home Run Derby. Suffice it to say that your chances are much better if you pull the ball 450 feet than if you hit a hard line drive to the opposite-field gap. Guys like Piazza, Kemp, and Puig were not going to be successful in the Derby, no matter how much raw power they had, unless they drastically changed their swings.
The only thing keeping Joc Pederson from becoming the most successful Dodger Derby participant is nerves. He has the raw power, and he has the right hitting style.
Move over, Hee-Seop Choi — there’s a new lefty in town, and he’s gunning for your title.