Let me show you some charts.
These graphics are via BaseballSavant, which pulls Statcast data directly from MLB, and they show the location and distance (and if you click through, exit velocity, height, and launch angle) of every tater mashed in last night Home Run Derby.
Here’s Miguel Sano:
Here’s Giancarlo Stanton:
Here’s Gary Sanchez:
This is Cody Bellinger:
What jumps out? Nearly without exception, every home run by seven of the eight contestants was pulled. It makes sense: When a batter isn’t getting fooled on a pitch, and he’s aiming to make the seats (and hit it as far as he can to earn bonus time in his round), he’s going to try to pull it. More power, more consistency.
Here’s Aaron Judge’s night:
The thing that struck me last night, even more than Judge’s four 500-plus foot home runs, is how accidental some of them looked. Here’s a compressed video of Judge’s incredible first round, which is unfortunately not embeddable. A full eleven of his 23 homers in that round went to the opposite field.
“What he did was amazing,” said Seattle’s Robinson Cano. “I’ve never seen anything like that. Not only the home runs, but to go opposite field that many times? He made this ballpark look like nothing. I thought I’ve seen it all before, but this guy, he’s on another level. He doesn’t even look tired.”
He’d mishit a ball, maybe a split second behind on what looked like an inside-out swing, the sort of thing that in a game you hope might drop in no-man’s land beyond the second baseman. Then you’d look up and it’d be 415 feet into the seats in right-center.
This, then, is what we mean when we talk about power, stripped from all the other aspects that go into being a power hitter, like a good eye and a sweet swing (and Judge’s easy, loping stroke, when he really gets hold of one he can pull, is a thing of beauty). Judge was able to muscle over the fence even balls he didn’t hit squarely. That’s size and strength and contact, and really all he was doing up there was going with the pitches wherever they were, getting the barrel on the ball and trusting in his innate power to make them go farther than they had any right to.
“He’s so quiet and simple that he looks like a contact hitter trapped in an ogre’s body,” the Rockies’ Charlie Blackmon said. “I don’t know that the game has ever seen a power like that.”
The Home Run Derby has had lots of unexpected winners over the years, because slugging can be a weird thing to do on command, and repeatedly. But some players are just made for it. Judge became just the third player in the 32-year history of the event (after Mark McGwire and Ken Griffey Jr.) to come in leading the majors in home runs at the break and win the Derby. The hype just keeps getting bigger and louder, and it still may not be nearly enough.