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Stretching a Dollar at the Home Run Derby

Most people go to the Home Run Derby to see one thing: star players hitting long bombs. They probably hope to come away with a souvenir, too, which is why some of the priciest tickets for the derby every year are those in the outfield.

Knowing that fans buy tickets in home run territory at a premium, we set out to build a tool that shows which sections at this year’s derby give fans the best chance of catching a baseball — and based on the going rate for tickets in those sections, which represent the best value for home run hunters.

If you’d prefer to cut to the chase and see the results, you can check out our finished Guide to the 2015 Home Run Derby tool here.

Method

Once the participants in this year’s derby were announced, the first step in our process was to use ESPN’s Home Run Tracker (major h/t!) to map their home runs to Great American Ball Park.

Next, we went about predicting the number of home runs we expected to be hit in this year’s competition. We accounted for several factors, including the new bracket-style format, the average amount of home runs hit at the derby historically, and where this year’s hitters’ have hit home runs in 2015. In the end, we came to an expected homer count of 89, 67 of which we expected to be catchable (meaning that they would land in a seating section, rather than the non-spectator areas in center field).

We then distributed those predicted home runs by section in proportion to the distribution of actual home runs that have been hit by the eight participants in MLB games this year. This gave us an expected number of home runs per section, and we divided the average resale price for each section by its expected home runs to come up with a relative value (“HR cost” in the table).

Interesting Findings

This year’s class of hitters distribute their home runs relatively fairly, with right field and left field seeing a similar number of home runs. Manny Machado and Josh Donaldson have hit homers to both corners of the park this year, while Kris Bryant hits most of his home runs to center and left-center field.

Overall, the section with the best value is Section 105, located down the left field line. We expect around 12 home runs to land in this section during the derby, which partially explains why it has the fourth-highest ticket prices among sections in the outfield.

With no access to dead center field, it seems as though many home run balls will end up uncatchable.

While the corners are certainly the top spots to expect home runs, interestingly it is the right-center Section 144 and left-center Section 102 where we expect the second- and third-most home runs to be hit. Fans in Section 102 should pay particular attention when Todd Frazier is at the plate, while those in Section 144 should watch out when Joc Pederson is swinging.


The only sections where we highly doubt a home run ball will reach are Sections 402 and 403, located in the second level of center field. None of this year’s participants have hit a home run this year that would land in this area of the park. The fans in those sections should pay particular attention when Albert Pujols is at the plate, though, as this year he has shown the best ability to get the ball to fly that far to left.

Potential Pitfalls

Predicting the amount of home runs hit at the derby, and where they will land, is certainly an inexact science.

Below are just some of the potential problems:

  • We didn’t take into account each batter’s odds to advance, which would have impacted the distribution of predicted home runs.

  • We didn’t account for weather — the forecast for the derby is not ideal, and that could have a serious impact on how the ball travels.

  • We mapped home runs based on major league pitching, not the batting-practice soft toss batters will actually face Monday night. If we had a reliable data set on where these hitters have launched BP homers, that might have been a useful input.

  • With a new format this year, the historical data on how many home runs have been hit at previous derby competitions was less directly applicable. We had to guesstimate the amount of swings each batter will take in the five-plus-minute at-bats, and then go from there to figure out a total number of expected home runs.

Big shoutout to former SeatGeek intern Josh Rosenfeld, who built the original version of this project last summer.

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