2015 Format Changes Jolt Intrigue Back into Stale Home Run Derby

Jacob ShaferFeatured ColumnistJune 28, 2015

AP Images

Let's get this out of the way: There is no "purity" when it comes to MLB's annual Home Run Derby. This isn't some hallowed institution; it's a glorified batting-practice session.

It's also a chance to showcase some of the biggest bashers on the planet, so we're all rooting for it to be fun. But, unlike certain untouchable facets of the game, it should be wide-open to change as needed.

And make no mistake—change was needed. After last year's marathon, rain-interrupted snoozefest, CBS Sports' Mike Axisa opined that the Derby "has had a problem with getting stale in the later rounds for a while now." That's an understatement.

Yes, there's something inherently enjoyable about watching sluggers swing from the heels and launch baseballs into the stratosphere. 

But for at least the last several years, the whole affair has felt anticlimactic, more a going-through-the-motions tradition than a must-see event.

Enter a new set of rules announced Sunday, per MLB Communications:

The biggest change is the introduction of a clock. In years past, hitters kept hacking until they made a certain number of "outs," or non-home runs. Now, they'll have five minutes to smack as many dingers as possible, though they'll be able to stop the clock with home runs hit in the final minute.

The Derby will also trim the number of participants from 10 to eight, and it'll sort them into a single-elimination bracket, with seeding based on players' home run totals as of July 7.

The central idea (speed it up, fellas!) is in keeping with the pace-of-play rules that new MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred championed. While those changes were met with a combination of praise and skepticism, the Home Run Derby clock should be universally applauded. 

Again, the Derby can't claim the same sense of history and continuity as the sport itself. The event is only 30 years old, younger than some of the players who will likely participate, and has undergone multiple tweaks and overhauls since its inception in 1985.

Honestly, it's nothing if not a video game brought to life. The clock—and the opportunity to earn bonus time with extra-long moonshots—plays into and enhances that appeal.

Last year's Home Run Derby, won by Yoenis Cespedes, got the lowest TV ratings since at least 1997.
Last year's Home Run Derby, won by Yoenis Cespedes, got the lowest TV ratings since at least 1997.Elsa/Getty Images

The bad news for Derby watchers this year is that two of the game's preeminent mashers may not participate.

Bryce Harper could bow out because his dad, who threw to him in the 2013 Derby, had rotator cuff surgery and will be unable to pitch this time around, per James Wagner of the Washington Post

Giancarlo Stanton, meanwhile, will definitely be MIA. The Miami Marlins outfielder, who leads MLB with 27 home runs, is out four to six weeks with a broken hamate bone, per MLB.com's Joe Frisaro.

That still leaves plenty of thump, including Todd Frazier, who has 25 jacks and, assuming he participates, would flex his muscles in front of a hometown crowd.

Frazier, for one, gave a tentative stamp of approval to the new rules.

"I'm up for change, so we'll see how it goes," the Cincinnati Reds third baseman, who finished second in the 2014 Derby, said, per MLB.com's Paul Casella. "It's in a good park for home runs and I'll be ready."

That's a salient point. Great American Ball Park is currently the fourth most home run-friendly yard in the game, according to ESPN's Park Factors statistic. Even with some big stars sidelined, we should be in for quite an aerial display. 

It's too early to declare the Derby "back," obviously. Last year's iteration got the worst TV ratings since at least 1997, per Sports Media Watch

A hitter-friendly environment and some welcome, much-needed rule changes will help, but they won't necessarily make the Derby soar like a majestic Harper tater. 

Still, it's a start.

 

All statistics current as of June 28 and courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted.