Most years the Home Run Derby is a good deal more exciting in our memories — where a young Ken Griffey Jr. is still mashing taters in a backwards cap — than it is in reality. But this year Giancarlo Stanton wrote in a few dozen new memories of his own:
All told, Stanton slugged 61 home runs, which was by far the most ever hit in a single contest, though this is of course affected by some drastic changes in Derby formats over the years. (In fact, runner-up Todd Frazier’s 42 was the second-most ever hit in a derby.)
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But Stanton didn’t gently deposit those 61 balls into the stands at Petco Park, either — he crushed them. His 497-foot blast in the first round tied for the fifth-longest among contest winners’ top home runs since 1996.1
On the night, Stanton hit all 10 of the longest homers belted by anybody. He also hit 18 of the 19 longest, with five carrying at least 490 feet and 31 traveling at least 450. It might well have been the greatest single exhibition of raw home run-hitting power in baseball history.
Of course, such herculean feats are nothing new for Stanton — he’s widely known around baseball as the hardest-hitting player in the game, a man seemingly put on this earth to murder baseballs. And it’s a reputation only enhanced by the presence of Statcast, MLB’s (relatively) new radar-based tracking system, which has turned the physics of hard-hit balls into something approaching fetishization.
Stanton is the poster child for the Statcast era. Where other players once made RBIs or steals into calling cards, Stanton has fashioned the exit-velo leaderboard — in other words, the “hitting the ball real hard” leaderboard — into his own personal jurisdiction, and fans revel in the arcana. (Did you know one of his home runs last night departed the bat at 120.4 miles per hour? That’s nuts!) In an era where we can quantify the speed and angle of every ball off the bat, Stanton is the right hitter at exactly the right historical moment.
So, does that make him the greatest power hitter ever? He might be on his way. If we look at his career isolated power — essentially his total bases per at-bat, but tossing out those wimpy singles — relative to the MLB average for nonpitchers, Stanton ranks 11th since 1901, trailing Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds and eight Hall of Famers. Stanton is also still just 26, so he’ll have a handful more prime years to move up the list before tailing off in late-career decline.
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But first Stanton will have to turn his 2016 season around. Bizarre as it sounds given his outrageous batted-ball numbers, Stanton has suffered through a down first half, hitting around .220 and flirting with the replacement level before embarking on a scorching start to July. Even after that turnaround, his 116 wRC+ would be the fourth-lowest ever by a Derby winner during their victorious season.
Luckily for Stanton, though, there is no Home Run Derby curse. (Seriously, stop suggesting that’s a thing. Stop it.) And more to the point, nobody hits the ball that hard for long with so few hits to show for it. Stanton’s Statcast numbers — and more conventional metrics such as contact rate and line-drive rate — might be down a bit from their lofty 2015 heights, but Stanton still figures to be one of baseball’s better hitters in the second half of the season. That’s good news for the surprising Marlins, and for lovers of hard-hit baseballs everywhere.
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