Interest in the MLB Home Run Derby sagged last year, and the league is attempting to fix the problem with a new format at the 2015 All-Star festivities.
Per SportsMediaWatch, 2014's rain-delayed event on ESPN drew the lowest television rating (3.4) since at least 1997, as data was unavailable before 1998. This came despite the network's solid ratings for regular-season games.
Regardless of whether the rating dip is attributed to the delay or declining interest in the event, the Derby was due for an overhaul.
So what's happening this year at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, Ohio? We'll look at the details of the new format, how you can watch the event, who's participating, some odds for the event and ultimately who will win the Derby Monday night.
The biggest difference in format from past years is that players will be working against the clock, not their own outs.
Hitters get five minutes to rip as many dingers as possible, which means we probably won't be seeing many pitches taken. More pressure will also fall on the pitchers, who will have to be on target with their throws.
However, in the final minute, a home run stops the clock, and the timer won't restart until a swing is made that doesn't send the ball out of the park (what we used to call an "out").
Two other wrinkles in the five-minute format are timeouts and distance bonuses.
Lest you get too concerned about the hitters' energy levels, they will get one 45-second timeout during each five-minute round. That round can become 30 seconds longer with each home run traveling farther than 475 feet and a whole minute longer with every pair of bombs landing at least 420 feet away from home plate.
There will also be only eight sluggers in this year's competition, compared to 10 last year. Hitters will be pitted against each other in a single-elimination bracket tournament, in which the player with more home runs in each pairing advances, obviously.
If there is a tie, the batters will participate in a 90-second swing-off, merely a shortened version of the five-minute round.
The hitters will be seeded in the bracket based on their respective home-run totals through July 7.
Start Time, Live Stream Details and TV Schedule
The event will be broadcast live from Great American Ball Park Monday, July 13 at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN. It will also be live-streamed on MLB.com, per the league's official website.
Below is the field for the 2015 Gillette MLB Home Run Derby, with statistics updated through July 7.
|2015 Gillette Home Run Derby Participants|
|Player||Team||HR||Avg. HR distance||Odds|
|Albert Pujols||Los Angeles Angels||26||399.6 feet||6/1|
|Todd Frazier||Cincinnati Reds||25||398.4 feet||4/1|
|Josh Donaldson||Toronto Blue Jays||21||408.1 feet||7/1|
|Joc Pederson||Los Angeles Dodgers||20||430.5 feet||6/1|
|Manny Machado||Baltimore Orioles||19||387.2 feet||7/1|
|Anthony Rizzo||Chicago Cubs||16||402.1 feet||9/1|
|Prince Fielder||Texas Rangers||13||413.0 feet||4/1|
|Kris Bryant||Chicago Cubs||12||406.9 feet||9/2|
|ESPN.com and Bovada.com|
With bonuses for longer hits, pure power will come into play more than ever this year. If a player is a solid home-run hitter but can't blast more than one shot past 425 feet, he'll be hard-pressed to make it out of the first round. Most other players will be earning much more time to mash.
Great American Ball Park, a smaller field than most, also doesn't clearly favor right- or left-handed hitters. Per BaseballStadiums.net, it is 328 feet from home plate down the left field line, and 325 feet down the right field line.
Finally, Home Run Derby experience may not factor in as strongly as it normally would. Prince Fielder (five previous Derbies), Albert Pujols (three previous Derbies), Josh Donaldson (one previous Derby) and Todd Frazier (one previous Derby) won't be as jittery as their fellow competitors, but they'll also need to adjust to a format that precludes players from letting most pitches go.
All that to say, I think this one is Joc Pederson's to lose.
The 23-year-old Dodgers rookie has power for days, with his average home-run distance (430.5 feet) leading all MLB players with more than five dingers. That average also towers over his fellow competitors, as the above table shows.
Youthful energy will also play into the contest's outcome with the timed format. Over-30 veterans like Pujols and Fielder have the brawn to knock the cover off the ball, but how well can they keep that power up in a rapid-fire situation for several minutes? And can they keep it up for three rounds?
Pederson is young and will make plenty of outs, but his amazing power will give him a bunch of extra time to work with.
Prediction: Pederson defeats Todd Frazier to win the 2015 Home Run Derby