Major League Baseball realized it had a problem with one of its signature events.
The Home Run Derby is a pillar of the All-Star break and ideally a memorable part of the summer while the NFL and NBA are on hiatus. However, the event can become monotonous after a while, and having it go on for hour after hour saps the drama.
Some players feel the same as many spectators.
“After you see the first round, it’s, ‘All right, we’ve seen everybody,’” Pittsburgh Pirates star Andrew McCutchen told Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times last year. “It’s kind of like, ‘Oh, a home run?’”
MLB is attempting to speed up the process and keep things lively with a new bracket format that puts hitters on a five-minute clock. It will debut the new style Monday at 8 p.m. ET at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. The rule changes will hopefully give the Derby a renewed hook and create excitement.
Along with that, the event has some of the game’s biggest stars—past, present and future—competing, which is one of its biggest selling points, especially when compared to the NBA’s Slam Dunk Contest, which almost always lacks star power.
Hitters are seeded based on season home run totals through July 7, making Los Angeles Angels first baseman Albert Pujols the top seed and blossoming Chicago Cubs superstar Kris Bryant the No. 8 seed. The two face off in the first round of the new format.
No. 2 Todd Frazier (Cincinnati Reds), No. 3 Josh Donaldson (Toronto Blue Jays), No. 4 Joc Pederson (Los Angeles Dodgers), No. 5 Manny Machado (Baltimore Orioles), No. 6 Anthony Rizzo (Cubs) and No. 7 Prince Fielder (Texas Rangers) complete the field.
Here are the first-round brackets with each hitter’s betting odds provided by Odds Shark:
|No. 1 Albert Pujols||26||5-1|
|No. 8 Kris Bryant||12||11-2|
|No. 4 Joc Pederson||20||5-1|
|No. 5 Manny Machado||19||9-1|
|No. 3 Josh Donaldson||21||7-1|
|No. 6 Anthony Rizzo||16||7-1|
|No. 2 Todd Frazier||25||9-2|
|No. 7 Prince Fielder||14||9-2|
Fielder is the betting co-favorite in part because he has won the event twice, first in 2009 and again in 2012. Despite having just 14 homers, Fielder is a safe choice simply because he is familiar with the stage and comfortable with the pressure that comes with hitting under the bright lights.
However, he is not the winning choice in this space.
The bold pick is a newcomer not only to the Derby but also to the majors. Dodgers slugging rookie center fielder Joc Pederson has the bravado, swing and pop to make himself the champ. Because length of home runs will play a part in this year’s contest—if a player hits two homers of at least 420 feet during a turn, one minute of bonus time will be added—Pederson could gain extra swings in every round.
In addition, every home run of at least 475 feet will earn 30 more seconds, as players can earn a maximum of one minute 30 seconds.
Pujols will outslug Bryant with relative ease. The 35-year-old’s power stroke seems to be completely present this season, and he is coming off a June in which he hit 13 home runs. He has 26 for the season and has finished second (2003), third (2007) and fourth (2009) in his previous Derbies.
Machado is no slouch, but Pederson’s all-or-nothing swing is made for this kind of platform. And because his mechanics won’t have to change much, if at all, from what he normally does during batting practice and in games, he should not get too fatigued. Plus, he is capable of gaining the extra-time reward for prodigious blasts.
Donaldson should have an easy time defeating Rizzo. The third baseman's power stroke has been consistent this season, as he has a 19.6 percent home run-to-fly-ball ratio, easily better than Rizzo’s 14.4 percent mark. Also, this column predicted last week that Rizzo would be the lone shutout victim in the field.
Fielder might be the co-favorite in Las Vegas along with Frazier, but the Reds third baseman is the favorite at Great American Ball Park. The hometown guy has 25 homers this year after hitting 29 all of last season. His 18.4 percent HR/FB ratio dwarfs Fielder’s 13.3 percent.
Even though Fielder has won this event in the past, he has not been much of a home run hitter this season. That, along with Frazier's ability to hit at home, makes the fan favorite the winner in this one.
Pederson’s swing and power will again be enough to outlast Pujols in what will be the most dramatic matchup of the night. This one might require the “swing-off” tiebreaker, which is a 90-second round if players are tied after regulation. Whether or not it gets to that point, Pederson will oust Pujols to reach the final.
Because players won’t be waiting around for up to an hour as they have in past Derbies, Frazier won’t sit for so long that he gets cold and loses his groove. He will ride the momentum of his first-round victory to earn the night’s highest single-round total here.
Donaldson will give it a go, but Frazier will simply be too much, giving the Cincy crowd what it came to see.
Meanwhile, Pederson’s “true distance” average is 430.5 feet, the best in baseball. Frazier checks in much farther down the list at 398.4 feet. This will be significant in the final round, as home run length will again net Pederson extra time and extra swings.
That will be the difference as the rookie outdoes the Cincinnati favorite. While the crowd might be disappointed in the outcome, it will get a marvelous show from Pederson, and the new format will be a hit.