John Kruk, who will be part of ESPN’s broadcast of the Home Run Derby, says Orioles first baseman Chris Davis is the favorite “without question” to win the event at Citi Field on Monday night.
“When you watch his home runs, he doesn’t swing hard,” Kruk, a former big league first baseman said during a conference call Wednesday. “As the later rounds come on if he keeps advancing, to me, he’s going to be fresher than anyone else in this thing. To me, he’s the leader in the clubhouse right now to win it, even though Prince did win it last year.”
Fellow ESPN analyst Nomar Garciaparra said he expects the competition to come down to Davis and Detroit Tigers first baseman Prince Fielder.
Bovada.lv, an online betting site, has Fielder as the 7-2 favorite ahead of Davis (15-4) and Washington Nationals left fielder Bryce Harper (5-1).
Garciaparra said Fielder’s experience as a two-time champion (2012 and 2009) and four-time participant gives him a leg up over Davis. Fielder hit 28 home runs last season at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City to capture the championship over Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista.
Garciaparra, who participated in the Derby in 1997 and 1999, said that despite the perceived similarities to batting practice, the event is much different, because there’s the absence of a rhythm. In batting practice, the pitches come one after another, but there’s more waiting between pitches and between rounds in the Derby.
“Prince having the experience and knowing what the Home Run Derbys are like I think helps an awful lot,” Garciaparra said. “He knows when to take some. If you talk to a lot of Home Run Derby participants who have made it to the later rounds, it’s a matter of how well they really pace themselves to get through the entire rounds.”
Both analysts said Davis’ strength could get him off to a fast start, and Kruk even said Davis could have a “Josh Hamilton-type first round.” In 2008, Hamilton hit a record 28 home runs in the first round of the Derby at Yankee Stadium. But he would hit just seven more home runs in the next two rounds, falling to Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau in the final round, 5-3.
Davis, whose 33 home runs this year tie his career high and lead all of baseball, has the benefit of having Fielder and American League captain Robinson Cano as his teammates. With three of the past four championships on his team — Cano captured the 2011 title at Chase Field in Arizona — Davis has a wealth of information to turn to on how to stay fresh, whether or not to hit in the cage underneath the stadium between rounds or when to take pitches.
“Even though they’re competing against each other, they’re also competing with each other,” Garciaparra said. “They’re going to be giving him advice. They’re going to be telling him stuff as well, so he has that advantage as well.”
Davis said earlier this week he doesn’t expect the Home Run Derby to affect his swing and performance in the second half of the season. Past participants like Adrian Gonzalez and Bobby Abreu experienced a drop off in power in the second half of the season, and many were quick to point to the participation in the Derby for the drop off.
But Garciaparra agrees with Davis. How the Home Run Derby affects Davis’ second half depends on Davis and Davis only.
“I think when it comes to affecting your swing, it’s on a mental side,” Garciaparra said. “If you believe it’s going to affect your swing, it’s going to affect your swing.”
Kruk was also asked about his own All-Star moment that pertains to Baltimore. In the 1993 All-Star Game at Camden Yards, left-hander Randy Johnson threw a pitch over Kruk’s head and to the backstop. Kruk would strike out swinging, bailing on all of his swings.
“I never think about it. I have no desire to think about it. At 53 years old right now, there’s far more important things for me to think about,” Kruk said, laughing. “I’m trying to solve all the world’s problems. I can’t be concerned with a Randy Johnson fastball.”