We thought the new Home Run Derby format sounded good, and it turns out that it was. In a scene straight out of an MLB marketer’s daydream, longtime Cincinnati Red Todd Frazier won in bonus time over Joc Pederson, the most exciting Home Run Derby in years.
The Home Run Derby, like every ancillary event at professional sports all-star games, has grown stale. But Major League Baseball put together a great field, the Derby was contested in the home run-friendly bandbox that is the Cincinnati Reds’ park, and most importantly, the format change had the desired effect of amping up the excitement and moving the event along.
On one side of the bracket, Joc Pederson was absolutely crushing it. He beat Manny Machado in the first round without even needing his bonus time, and after struggling at the beginning of his second round he hit homers on his first three swings in bonus time to finish with 12, and his opponent Albert Pujols could only come up with 11.
In Frazier’s first round match-up, he had to overcome Prince Fielder’s 13. A flurry of dingers near the end saw him tie Fielder, and he put one away in bonus time for the win. In the second round Frazier faced Josh Donaldson, who only put up a seemingly easy-to-beat nine homers. Frazier had both a slow start and a slow finish, but was able to win just as his time expired.
Joc Pederson opened up final round with 14 homers, including a 461-foot moonbeam, but at this point there was no stopping Frazier and the 42,000 cheering him on. He started slow, but ended the round hitting basically a home run every other time on his final 20 swings. He equaled Pederson’s 14, and in his first pitch of bonus time he won the competition.
With the limiting factor in this year’s competition being time, instead of swings, the action moved so much faster. No more waiting around as guys took half a dozen pitches, waiting for the perfect beach ball down the middle. The counting clock made it clear when the round would end, and created a great sense of urgency as players searched for the winning homer.
Major League Baseball might have also gotten an assist from the weather. Worried about encountering late night thunderstorms, they shortened rounds from five minutes to four. The event was a bit longer than it should’ve been as it was, and extra time would have exacerbated that. (The distance home runs needed to be hit to achieve bonus time was also reduced from 475 feet to 425, meaning players pretty easily got it, but even so rounds were at least 30 seconds shorter than they otherwise would have been.) Some hitters were also noticeably fatigued near the end of their rounds, and it would’ve been worse if they were longer.
Now, if only MLB could fix the weird This Game Matters For World Series Home Field Advantage But You Still Have To Pick A Player From Each Team And Maybe Derek Jeter Gets Grooved Fastballs And We Really Hope This Doesn’t End In A Tie Again mess of the actual All-Star Game.