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Home Run Derby Loses Golden Opportunity Without Stanton, Trout, Harper

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistJuly 13, 2015

AP Images

Imagine if there was a showcase of the world's tallest mountains that didn't include Mount Everest, K2 or Kangchenjungathat's a really tall mountain, stay with me.

Now multiply that by a factor of 10, and you've got some idea of what it's like to hold a Home Run Derby without Giancarlo Stanton, Mike Trout and Bryce Harper.

Yes, there are valid reasons why each man bowed out of MLB's annual fence-clearing competition, which will take place Monday, July 13, at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN.

For Stanton, it's a broken hamate bone in his left hand. The Miami Marlins masher suffered the injury June 26 and will be sidelined for four to six weeks.

For Harper, it's an injury as well, though not his own. His father, who threw to him in the 2013 Derby, tore his rotator cuff and was unavailable to pitch to his son this time around. "Not having Dad is a huge issue to me," Harper said, per CSNWashington.com's Mark Zuckerman.

Trout, meanwhile, hinted that he'd prefer not to participate against fellow Los Angeles Angel Albert Pujols, who has competed in the Derby three times but has never taken home top honors. "I just want to see Albert win it, and we'll go from there," Trout said, per Kevin Manahan of NJ.com.

Giancarlo Stanton has hit six of the 12 longest home runs this season, according to ESPN's Home Run Tracker.
Giancarlo Stanton has hit six of the 12 longest home runs this season, according to ESPN's Home Run Tracker.Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press/Associated Press
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So there you have it: a busted bone, loyalty to family and respect for a vaunted veteran teammate.

It's tough to quibble yet impossible not to be disappointed—if you're a fan, sure, but even more if you're an MLB higher-up.

For the past six years, the Home Run Derby has been losing steam. According to data compiled by Sports Media Watch, the 2008 Derby drew 9.2 million viewersthe most since 1998, when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa shattered the single-season home run record.

By 2010, that number had fallen to 6.4 million. Last year, it plummeted to 5.4 million, making it the lowest-rated Derby since at least 1997, according to Sports Media Watch (numbers prior to that year aren't available).

In case all of that didn't quite sink in, here's a handy visual aid:

Data courtesy of Sports Media Watch

You don't need an advanced degree in statistical analysis to see the red line is trending in the wrong direction.

Clearly, MLB knows something's got to change. After last year's protracted, rain-delayed snooze fest, it tweaked the Derby rules for 2015, introducing a clock and trimming the field of contestants from 10 to eight.

The event, though, is only as good as the sluggers who participate. And with apologies to the eight hitters who will take on the fences at Great American Ball Park, sluggers don't come any better than Stanton, Harper and Trout.

Stanton's bombs have traveled an average "true distance" of 417.6 feet this season, good for fourth in baseball, per ESPN's Home Run Tracker. Even more impressively, six of the 12 longest jacks of 2015 belong to the mighty right fielder.

After missing two weeks to injury, he still paces the field with 27 home runs. Trout and Harper are nipping at his heels with 26 apiece, and each has eclipsed the 400-foot average true distance threshold.

On Friday, after Trout smacked his 25th home run, Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times highlighted the reigning AL MVP's Derby opt-out:

Mike DiGiovanna @MikeDiGiovanna

Mike Trout with a 3-run HR to CF in T3 gives #Angels 3-1 lead over #Mariners. His 25th of the season. And the HR derby mourns.

Really, though, it's about more than raw numbers. The Home Run Derby, like the Midsummer Classic itself, runs on star wattage.

Again, it's not that the current Derby bracket lacks name-brand talent. Pujols and the Texas Rangers' Prince Fielder are Derby vets with nice comeback stories. The Chicago Cubs' Kris Bryant and Los Angeles Dodgers' Joc Pederson represent baseball's rookie invasion.

Bryant's teammate, Anthony Rizzo, Baltimore Orioles third baseman Manny Machado and Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson are gifted all-around athletes. Cincinnati Reds third baseman Todd Frazier boasts hometown appeal.

Imagine, though, if we scratched three of those names out—say, Rizzo, Machado and Donaldson—and replaced them with Stanton, Harper and Trout.

Interest would skyrocket. The quality of the Derby itself likely would as well.

Stanton brings the muscle, Harper brings the swagger and Trout is, simply put, the best player on the planet. All the format changes in the world can't mask their absence.

Maybe next yearwhen Stanton's hand and Harper's dad's shoulder are healed, and Trout finally decides to give the Derby a whirlwe'll get that dream bracket and the show we all want to see. They're all 25 years old or younger, after all.

In the meantime, enjoy the dingers Monday, even if it's with a healthy side of "What if?" and a dollop of unshakable regret.

All statistics current as of July 12 and courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted.

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