Monday night’s Home Run Derby at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati was different than any other long ball contest in the 30-year history of the event.
Seeded pairings in a bracket format, timed rounds, no outs, and the absence of the majestic gold baseball were some of the major changes to the structure of the competition.
As the hometown hero Todd Frazier crushed his way into the final round in dramatic fashion, and then became the first player since Ryne Sandberg in 1990 to win the Home Run Derby in his home stadium with 15 home runs in the final round. It’s easy to say that Major League Baseball may be onto something with the new format.
Here are my reactions to the new format.
- The timed rounds kept the competition moving at a brisk pace since it didn’t allow the batters to take nearly as many pitches as they have been able to in years past.
- With the timed rounds, it seemed to make every home run count more than usual. A player that doesn’t have a great start to the round can quickly gain ground by stringing four or five long balls together. Also, every pairing was decided by one home run, and the only pairing that ended early was the 4v5 matchup between Pederson and Machado.
- Sticking with the time limit, it also created drama in the waning seconds, especially for the second player in a pairing. Frazier hit the first “buzzer-beating” home run in MLB History in the semi-finals when his final home run of the round landed in center field.
- The 45-second timeout that the batters are awarded works perfectly. In a system where taking many pitches isn’t an option, it gives batters the ability to collect themselves mid round. The players also figured out that the best time to take it is with between 2:15 and 1:45 left on the clock, depending on if they’re on a home run hitting spree at that point. (ie. If you’re starting to hit a lot of pop ups mid-way through the round, take a T.O. If you’ve just hit four in a row into the seats, take another couple swings and then get a drink.)
- Major League Baseball not only changed the format of the Home Run Derby in the weeks leading up to the event, but also tinkered with the rules just hours before the ceremonial first pitch was thrown by Ken Griffey Jr. That rule change was shortening the time of the rounds from five minutes down to four minutes. This confused the players a tad.
(Note: This was changed due to the weather that possibly would’ve effected the Derby.)
- Fatigue was setting in in the first round. Hitting against the clock is not only an oddity for all baseball players, but add in the pressure of trying to win a competition in front of 60,000 people, and it was easy to tell they were getting tired. Mechanically it was easy to see that the longer the round went on players were losing some of the power from their back legs and relying a lot on upper body. This is where being able to take a few more pitches would’ve come in hand.
- The second player to go in a pairing has an obvious advantage. Six of the seven pairings that spanned through the three rounds were won by the player that hit second. The only player to not abide by the trend was Pederson, whose 12 home runs in the semi-final was enough against Pujols’ 11.
- From a spectator standpoint, I’m sure if you were lucky enough to get a ticket to the event, it was a treat. However, sitting at home watching it, it took a few minutes to get used to.
- The pace was so quick that you didn’t get enough time to truly appreciate the jaw-dropping awe of a 460-plus foot bomb. Instead, as soon as the ball hit the tip of a fan’s glove – or left the park in Frazier’s case when he hit a 487-foot blast – the batter was already swinging again.
- That made the camera constantly switch back and forth that became hard to keep up with.
I think five-minute rounds would be a perfect time for the rounds because it would allow players to pace themselves slightly better by giving them the ability to take another few pitches to conserve energy.
All in all, I think the Home Run Derby would be well served to stay in a bracketed format.
The 2015 Home Run Derby was exciting from beginning to end, and a hitter-friendly ballpark like Cincinnati’s was a great venue choice to try the new format.
It was very entertaining and dramatic at times.
How could you not love hearing the home crowd scream as loud as they could, making enough noise to shake the TV camera, for those last three home runs?
Good job MLB; good job Todd Frazier.