The Home Run Derby is back, and the stage is set for a hard-hitting, high-flying, mile-high event.
We now know the full field of eight competitors for baseball’s big fly bonanza, which will take place tonight at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN at Denver’s Coors Field, ahead of Tuesday’s All-Star Game. The group features the defending champion (the Mets’ Pete Alonso, who had to wait two years after winning in 2019) and a talented group of seven challengers: the Rangers’ Joey Gallo, the Orioles’ Trey Mancini, the Angels’ Shohei Ohtani, the A’s Matt Olson, the Royals’ Salvador Perez, the Nationals’ Juan Soto and the Rockies’ Trevor Story.
Will Alonso repeat? Will Ohtani add to his jaw-dropping season by putting on a show at altitude? Will Story win in front of his home fans? All of those questions will be answered on Monday, but in the meantime, here is a breakdown of each competitor.
• Whatever you say about Ohtani’s 2021, it’s not sufficient. He’s the 11th player to hit as many as 33 home runs before the All-Star break, but of course the first to do so while also pitching regularly (and effectively). On Friday, he became the first player since Barry Bonds and Luis Gonzalez in 2001 to go deep at least 33 times in his team's first 87 games.
• Ohtani isn’t just hitting homers -- he’s destroying baseballs. His 16 homers of 110-plus mph, including six of 115-plus, lead MLB, as do his 17 of 420 feet or longer. Already this year, he’s hit seven of the Angels’ 10 hardest homers of the Statcast era, including the top three.
• Ohtani has easy power, to all fields. The Blue Jays' Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is the only MLB player with more non-pulled homers this season than Ohtani’s 17, and in Ohtani’s career, 45% of his big flies have gone to the middle third of the field. The MLB average is about 25%.
• Soto succeeded Bryce Harper as the Nationals’ superstar, and now he will try to succeed him as a Derby champion. Harper won the event in 2018 in Washington and also finished as the runner-up in 2013, but no other player in Nats history has ever participated until now.
• Even with the pandemic-shortened 2020 and a couple of injuries, Soto is the 18th player in AL or NL history to hit at least 80 home runs by the end of his age-22 season. If Soto can hit 10 more after the break, he will be just the 11th to reach 90 by that point.
• Going oppo is not a typical Derby strategy, but Soto certainly has the power to drive the ball that way. His 28 career opposite-field homers -- more than one-third of his total -- are tied for fourth most of any player since 2018.
• Somehow, this is Gallo’s first big league Derby, and he has a chance to be the first Ranger to win the event since Juan Gonzalez in 1993.
• Gallo wasn’t having a huge power season by his standards -- until, suddenly, he was. He homered in five straight games from June 26-July 1 and joined Josh Hamilton (2012) as the only players in Rangers club history to hit at least seven big flies in any five-game span. After producing 11 homers in his first 66 games this season, Gallo went deep 13 times over his final 19 first-half games.
• Gallo hits some of the most extreme dingers in the game. He owns two career homers that have traveled 490-plus feet, including a 495-footer on July 20, 2018, that is tied for fifth longest in the Statcast era. Since 2017, Gallo’s 51 homers of 110-plus mph rank second in MLB behind the Yankees' Giancarlo Stanton, while his 16 homers of 450-plus feet are tied with Stanton for the most. Gallo is also tied for first with eight moonshots struck with a launch angle of 40-plus degrees.
• Can Story win the Derby in front of his home fans? Three players have pulled off that neat feat before: Harper in 2018 in Washington, Todd Frazier in 2015 in Cincinnati and Ryne Sandberg in 1990 in Chicago.
• Story has been one of MLB’s top power threats ever since he debuted with a two-homer Opening Day in 2016. He remains the only player in AL or NL history to homer in four straight games to begin his career, with six total dingers in that span.
• The Rockies, of course, have hit a lot of long home runs in their history. But since Statcast began tracking in 2015, no Colorado player has hit a longer one than Story’s 487-foot blast on Sept. 5, 2018, onto the left-field concourse at Coors Field. With the benefit of playing half his games at altitude, Story has averaged 416 feet on homers in his career, tied with Stanton for the longest of any player with 100-plus roundtrippers in that span.
3) Matt Olson (23 HR)
Longest HR of 2021: 445 feet, May 23 at Angels
Hardest-hit HR of 2021: 111.7 mph, May 23 at Angels
• Olson has been a home run machine since the A’s called him up for good on Aug. 8, 2017. Only three players (Nelson Cruz, J.D. Martinez and Eugenio Suárez) have gone deep more times since that date than Olson (122).
• No doubt it'll be fun for Olson to participate in the All-Star festivities at Coors Field, which (unsurprisingly) ranks as MLB’s most offense-friendly stadium, and the sixth most in terms of home runs, per Statcast park factors. The Oakland Coliseum (also unsurprisingly) ranks near the bottom of the league in both categories. In his career, Olson has hit 67 homers on the road, compared with 59 at home.
• When Olson is up, look to right field. The left-handed batter has pulled about two-thirds of his career homers.
6) Trey Mancini (16 HR)
Longest HR of 2021: 451 feet, July 2 at Angels
Hardest-hit HR of 2021: 111.9 mph, April 10 vs. Red Sox
• Mancini said he wanted to compete in the Derby “to show people that there is life after a cancer diagnosis and after chemotherapy.” Mancini missed last season while being treated for Stage 3 colon cancer, and his healthy return in 2021 has been one of the season's most inspirational stories.
• Mancini’s 451-foot shot on July 2 was the Orioles’ longest home run in more than two years, since Jonathan Villar hit a 456-footer on May 27, 2019.
• Mancini has gone for a high degree of difficulty, with nine of his 16 homers (56%) flying to the middle third of the field, one of the highest rates in MLB.
4) Salvador Perez (21 HR)
Longest HR of 2021: 460 feet, May 4 vs. Cleveland
Hardest-hit HR of 2021: 114.2 mph, May 4 vs. Cleveland
• Perez is working against history in a couple of ways. First, no Royals player has won the Derby, with Mike Moustakas (eliminated in the first round in 2017) the team’s only other entrant in the past 30 years. Second, no catcher has won the Derby, with Ivan Rodriguez in 2005 the last to even finish second.
• Perez is already approaching his career high in homers (27 in 2017 and '18) and has joined Gary Sánchez (2019) and Javy López (2003) as the only catchers in the past 20 years to reach 20 homers by the All-Star break.
• That 114.2 mph, 460-foot blast on May 4 -- which splashed down in the Kauffman Stadium fountains -- is the hardest-hit and longest homer Perez has hit in the Statcast era.
5) Pete Alonso (17 HR)
Longest HR of 2021: 443 feet, June 30 at Braves
Hardest-hit HR of 2021: 115.4 mph, April 21 at Cubs
• While Guerrero may have made the biggest impression in the 2019 Derby, it was Alonso who walked away with the trophy (and the $1 million prize). He did it by launching 57 total homers (fourth most in a Derby), including 20 in a semifinal victory over Ronald Acuña Jr. and 23 in the final showdown with Guerrero. Alonso earned bonus time in all three rounds by hitting at least three homers 440-plus feet, but he never actually needed it -- walking off his opponent before the end of regulation.
• Alonso now has a chance to join Ken Griffey Jr. (1994, ‘98-99), Yoenis Céspedes (2013-14) and Prince Fielder (2009, 2012) as the only multiple-time Derby champions.
• Alonso set the rookie home run record with 53 in 2019 and leads the Majors with 86 total dingers since the beginning of that season. He also ranks first in that span in homers hit 110-plus mph (30), and he's tied for first in homers hit 440-plus feet (15).