MVP likely to decide Monday’s HR Derby

“I think I’m the best power hitter on the planet,” Mets first baseman Pete Alonso proclaimed after winning his second straight Home Run Derby during All-Star Week in Denver a year ago.

And he just might be—currently. 

Last July he became only the third player ever to win back-to-back Home Run Derbies, joining Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr., who won at Coors Field and Fenway Park in 1998-99 (as well as 1994 in PIttsburgh, making him the only three-time champ), and Yoenis Céspedes, a former Mets outfielder who won it in 2013-14 while playing for Oakland.

But the lack of humility in Alonso’s declaration ignores a key to his success—the MVP (Most Valuable Pitcher). 

When watching this year’s HR Derby next Monday, pay attention to those guys tossing cookies as much as you eyeball the guys trying to hit them out. The Derby MVP likely will be the difference-maker.

New York bench coach Dave Jauss is the one who served up all those gopher balls to Alonso last year. And a mighty fine job he did.

Alonso finished with 74 home runs, second highest total in HR Derby history. Jauss tossed about 135 pitches, which means Alonso smacked a dinger around 55% of the time. He averaged better than seven homers per official minute at the plate.

All of which supports the feeling I had going into the slug-off: that while the hitter is the star of the show, he’s only as prolific as the anonymous guy standing behind the screen in front of the mound.

Alonso’s compact swing certainly played well—saving energy compared to the longer swings of all the others. That’s another thing to watch this year: who generates the most power with the least effort.

 But the difference was the way Jauss laid pitch after pitch in virtually the same place: right in Alonso’s swing path. A pitching machine could not have been more consistent. 

“He was putting it right in the breadbasket, right in the honey hole, right in the sweet spot of my swing,” Alonso eventually acknowledged.

In seven head-to-head “swing-offs” the eight participants slugged 309 home runs. That’s one about every two-and-a-half pitches, or around 41%. But take away the hits and pitches of Alonso and Jauss, and the average for the other seven jumps to one almost every three pitches, or about 38%, as they sometimes reached or swung at pitches not quite where they wanted them. 

With his head bobbing to the sounds of the hit song “Don’t Stop Believin” by the group Journey, Alonso danced into the batter’s box in the final round and promptly clouted 23 homers—in only 30 swings. That includes 6-for-6 in the so-called “bonus round” when Alonso jumped from 17 after two minutes to the winning total of 23 with half of the extra round to go. (Three of Jauss’s pitches in this round were off the mark. One even bounced off of Alonso. But the rest were in a groove.)

Jauss, now 65, is the son the late Chicago sportswriting icon Bill Jauss, who retired in 2005 after 37 years at the Chicago Tribune and died in 2012. A shortstop and team captain at Amherst, Dave Jauss was a minor league manager and coach in the Montreal Expos system from 1988 to 1994 and coordinator of minor league instruction for the Orioles in 1995. He’s been a major league coach intermittently since.

He was Boston’s first base coach from 1997 through 1999), Dodgers bench coach (2006-07), Orioles bench coach (2008-09), twice bench coach for the Mets (2010 and again last season). He served on ex-Rockies manager Clint Hurdle’s coaching staff in Pittsburgh for seven seasons (2013-19). When he wasn’t a coach he was scouting.

Twitter lit up after Alonso’s repeat—with praise for the performance of his pitcher.

“Tip of the cap to Dave Jauss,” wrote Mets catcher James McCann, who called the pitching performance “unreal.”  

“The Mets have two horses. Jacob deGrom & Dave Jauss,” read another Tweet. 

And another compared Jauss to “that old dude who could hit 1000 free throws in a row.”

“I don’t throw hard,” Jauss said. “But I can close my eyes and hit a spot.” 

Alas, Dave Jauss is no longer a Mets coach. When Buck Showalter was named New York’s manager last off-season, he brought in a new coaching staff.  Dave Jauss is now Senior Advisor, Player Development, for the Washington Nationals.

This column marks the completion of one year of Denny Dressman’s “Upon Further Review” column in The Villager. Denny is a veteran of 43 years in the newspaper business, including 25 at the Rocky Mountain News, where he began as executive sports editor. He is the author of 14 books, eight of them sports-related. You can write to Denny dennydressman@comcast.net.