Ewing: History Says Fade Bryce Harper in the Home Run Derby


Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Bryce Harper.

  • Bryce Harper is the early favorite for the 2018 Home Run Derby, but only one favorite has won since 2010.
  • Over the past eight years, the betting odds have not been predictive of Derby success.

The MLB All-Star break is almost upon us, which means the Home Run Derby is just around the corner. The bracket for Monday’s event (8 p.m. ET) has been revealed.

Bryce Harper (+300) is the early favorite. The Washington Nationals slugger is the only participant in this year’s field who has previous Derby experience (he was the runner-up in 2013 to Yoenis Cespedes) and is the most well-known among recreational bettors. Harper will be a popular public play, but going chalk in this event has been costly.

According to SportsOddsHistory, only one favorite since 2010 has managed to cash tickets for gamblers — Giancarlo Stanton +330 in 2016. On average, the odds-on favorite has finished in fourth place. In fact, the betting market has done a poor job of predicting much about this longball-hitting event.

Using the betting odds for each participant since 2010, I calculated the correlation coefficient to determine if there was a relationship between implied probabilities based on the betting odds and the finishing position of hitters as well as the number of home runs each slugger smacked during the Derby. A correlation coefficient of 1 indicates perfect correlation, -1 means there’s a perfect negative correlation and zero indicates no correlation.

The correlation coefficient between the implied probability of a hitter winning and where the player finished in the standings is -0.31. The correlation coefficient between the implied probability of a hitter winning and the number of home runs he hit is 0.25. This tells us that the betting odds are not predictive of success.

So, what’s a baseball junkie to do? For starters, bet anyone but the favorite.

Alex Bregman and Kyle Schwarber each opened at +900. If you were lucky enough to bet on both before the odds moved, you are guaranteed to get one through to the next round when only four hitters will remain. As an added bonus, if you believe Harper is one of the most likely players to win it all, the Bregman/Schwarber winner won’t face him until the finals.

Harper is the sexy pick, but sharp bettors will play the dogs in the Home Run Derby, as they do in most events.

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