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  • Can the hometown hero—no, not Justin Bour—take home a second consecutive Home Run Derby title or will the Yankees' rookie sensation—no, not Gary Sanchez—prevail?
By Emma Span
July 06, 2017

The Home Run Derby has already been in the headlines this week, thanks to Logan Morrison and his irritation at not being selected. And for yet another year, pitchers will have to live with the unfairness of being excludedsorry, Jon Gray. On Wednesday, MLB announced this year’s slate of Derby entrants.

Some names are expected; some are thrilling; a few are a little puzzling. Here’s a quick look at the contenders and some of their relevant stats, with a best guess at who will prevail in each matchup and each round. There are eight ranked contenders, starting with the No. 1 seed who blew away the competition in 2016.

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FIRST ROUND

No. 1 Giancarlo Stanton

HRs: 23
Average exit velocity: 91.9 mph
Average HR distance: 413 ft

vs.

No. 8 Gary Sánchez

HRs: 13 
Average exit velocity: 93.5 mph
Average HR distance: 427 ft

The Marlins slugger didn’t just win last season—it was a rout. Meanwhile, it’s true that as Logan Morrison irately noted, Sanchez has only 13 homers (having missed almost a month with a biceps injury), by far the fewest of any Derby entrant. On the other hand, less than a year ago he broke a record by hitting 20 home runs in his first 51 major league games, and he leads MLB players in homer length (among players with at least 10 on the season), so his inclusion is plenty justifiable.

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Repeating in the Derby isn’t easy —only Yoenis Céspedes has ever won two years in a row, in 2014 and ’15 (though Prince Fielder and Ken Griffey Jr. each won multiple titles). But Stanton, who warmed up with two more home runs Wednesday night, is about as well-suited to this particular competition as anyone in the game. Sanchez is a great young player with plenty of power; Stanton was born to crush enormous dingers, and this is his night to shine.

Predicted winner: Stanton

No. 2 Aaron Judge

HRs: 29
Average exit velocity: 97.3 mph
Average HR distance: 412 ft

vs.

No. 7 Justin Bour

HRs: 18 
Average exit velocity: 91.2 mph 
Average HR distance: 398 ft

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Bour is easily the least-known Derby entrant, and though he’s shown real power in his career, no possible outcome would be more of an upset than this guy besting Judge. Bour’s selection is a bit of a mystery; he’s never hit more than 23 homers in a season, he’s not particularly known for moonshots, and he doesn’t bring much star power to the proceedings. Players like Joey Votto, Eric Thames, Marcell Ozuna or, for that matter, Morrison, would seem to have stronger cases. Perhaps others declined the invite, or perhaps the Derby planners wanted to throw Miami fans a bone by including a second Marlin, but on the surface, this is the event’s most lopsided matchup. Judge leads the majors in home runs and exit velocity, as well as nearly every other offensive category.

Predicted winner: Judge

No. 3 Cody Bellinger

HRs: 24
Average exit velocity: 91.9 mph     
Average HR distance: 402 ft

vs.

No. 6 Charlie Blackmon

HRs: 18
Average exit velocity: 86 mph
Average HR distance: 409 ft

This would appear to be another uneven matchup. Blackmon’s career high for homers is last season’s 29, a figure Bellinger appears poised to eclipse in another couple of weeks, and while exit velocity certainly isn’t everything, Blackmon is nowhere near the top of the leaderboard. Perhaps his experience will come in handy; Bellinger has only 66 career MLB games under his belt and, at 21, is the youngest Derby entrant by a significant margin. If he took the crown, he would be the youngest winner ever. Still, that doesn’t exactly seem to have slowed Bellinger down so far.

Predicted winner: Bellinger

No. 4 Mike Moustakas

HRs: 24
Average exit velocity: 87.3 mph
Average HR distance: 404 ft

vs.

No. 5 Miguel Sanó

HRs: 20
Average exit velocity: 95.1 mph
Average HR distance: 414 ft

Moustakas is having an excellent season, perhaps the best of his career, and he’s already exceeded his previous season high for home runs. But Sano is much more the prototypical power hitter, and at least so far in his young career, hits the ball harder and further. As with the Bellinger-Blackmon matchup, perhaps experience will come into play, but in terms of the raw power the Derby is designed to highlight, the five seed has the edge.

Predicted winner: Sanó

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SEMIFINALS

Should the above predictions actually come true, the next round would look like this:

No. 1 Giancarlo Stanton

HRs: 23
Average exit velocity: 91.9 mph
Average HR distance: 413 ft

vs.

No. 5 Miguel Sanó

HRs: 20
Average exit velocity: 95.1 mph     
Average HR distance: 414 ft

Those nice things written above about Sanó are true, but when you talk about prototypical power hitters, Stanton—even after a few rough and injury-plagues seasons—is still the standard, and his 162-game career average is 41 homers, far more than any other player in the Derby (at least of any player with multiple full seasons under his belt).

Predicted winner: Stanton

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No. 2 Aaron Judge

HRs: 29
Average exit velocity: 97.3 mph
Average HR distance: 412 ft

vs.

No. 3 Cody Bellinger

HRs: 24
Average exit velocity: 91.9 mph     
Average HR distance: 402 ft

This could be the most exciting matchup of the event, and a rare chance to see these two presumptive Rookies of the Year go head-to-head. (Bellinger will have his father, onetime utility infielder Clay Bellinger, throwing to him); Judge is going with the Yankees’ BP pitcher, who doesn’t make for as good a story, but is certainly highly qualified.) As great as Bellinger has been this year, Judge’s homers tend to be harder-hit, and with more room for error, than his NL counterpart’s.

Predicted winner: Judge

FINALS

That would leave us with…

No. 1 Giancarlo Stanton

HRs: 23
Average exit velocity: 91.9 mph
Average HR distance: 413 ft

vs.

No. 2 Aaron Judge

HRs: 29
Average exit velocity: 97.3 mph
Average HR distance: 412 ft

Watching last year’s highlights should give anyone pause before predicting a Judge upset. Stanton hit 61 homers in the 2016 Derby. He hit 5.15 miles of longballs. He had the 20 hardest hit dingers of the night, and the 10 longest. If you were to design a player who would crush all comers in a home run derby, that player would look a lot like Stanton.

Besides, it would be a little too much of a fairy tale: Judge came out of nowhere to be, by the All Star break of his first full year, the leading contender for Rookie of the Year, AL MVP, the Triple Crown, and he’s going to win the Home Run Derby? Isn’t that all a bit unlikely? Well, yes. But on the other hand,

Predicted winner: Aaron Judge 

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