Perhaps caught up in World Cup fever, Major League Baseball has announced a move to a bracketed format for the 2014 Home Run Derby.
According to MLB.com's Mark Newman, the first round will have a similar look. Five players from both the American and National League (the last four of each chosen by captains Troy Tulowitzki and Jose Bautista) will get seven outs—down from 10 in previous years—to hit as many home runs as possible.
That's where the similarities end.
The player with the highest total in each league will get a bye to the third round, while the players who hit the second- and third-most home runs in each league will advance to second round. That will be a head-to-head matchup (seven outs), with the winner advancing to the third round (semifinals) for a spot in the championship.
Clear as mud, right?
Here's a more visual look at the format:
|Round 1||Round 2||Round 3||Round 4|
|AL1 vs. AL2 vs. AL3 vs. AL4 vs. AL5||AL2 vs. AL3||AL1 vs. Winner Rd. 2|
|AL Winner vs. NL Winner|
|NL1 vs. NL2 vs. NL3 vs. NL4 vs. NL5||NL2 vs NL3||NL1 vs Winner Rd. 2|
A few things stand out here.
First, there will be incentive to win the opening round, as doing so will give a hitter time to rest, relax, hit the batting cages, take a nap or really whatever he wants.
We've seen many times in the past where someone goes bananas in the first round, only to decelerate greatly in the subsequent rounds (Josh Hamilton, David Wright, Jason Giambi, Mark McGwire, etc.).
Second, the move to seven outs per hitter in each round should significantly speed things up. There's no question that the Derby has suffered in the past from being drawn out like a Savannah accent, and this should help keep viewers' attention.
The SportsBusiness Journal's Eric Fisher applauded the move:
MLB implementing long-overdue and welcome overhaul of HR Derby format. 7 outs per round and bracket format after first round.— Eric Fisher (@EricFisherSBJ) June 23, 2014
A new HR Derby was on our list of 9 ways to improve game in season preview back in March. Great to see new format see the light of day— Eric Fisher (@EricFisherSBJ) June 24, 2014
Prior format for HR Derby, similar to NBA dunk contest, had become overlong/dated. Hard to not see bracket structure as big improvement— Eric Fisher (@EricFisherSBJ) June 24, 2014
How would you grade these changes?
Finally, people love brackets.
Whether it's the NBA playoffs, March Madness, College World Series or the aforementioned World Cup, there's just something about a bracket format that makes an event more captivating.
The head-to-head, loser-goes-home battles, the ability to fill it out beforehand and tear it up when it inevitably goes wrong, the betting aspect, etc.
Much like with the NBA and the Slam Dunk Contest, MLB is always looking for ways to keep the Home Run Derby fresh. These are simple changes, but they should help pique interest.