MLB Home Run Derby 2015: Grading Every Contestant

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistJuly 14, 2015

MLB Home Run Derby 2015: Grading Every Contestant

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    If there's one lesson we can draw from the 2015 Home Run Derby, it's this: What a difference a clock makes.

    After rain threatened to cancel the event and ultimately forced Major League Baseball to further revise the new rules, the event went off without a hitch.

    The weather cooperated, while the bracket, the distance-based bonuses andmost of allthe clock juiced the pace and ratcheted up the excitement.

    More than anything, though, the hitters delivered.

    After some—including yours truly—fretted that the absence of stars like Giancarlo Stanton, Mike Trout and Bryce Harper would drag the event down, it turned out that the sluggers who showed up at Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park did just fine.

    How fine did they do? Let's run through each contestant and grade his Derby performance, keeping in mind that, because this year featured a brand-new format, we're judging solely against what we saw Monday and leaving the past behind.

    Speaking of which, here's hoping that MLB keeps these new rules intact next season, and the hitters again rise to the occasion.

Anthony Rizzo

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Home Runs Hit: Eight

    Round Eliminated: First

    After he took some fruitless hacks early in his first-round matchup against Josh Donaldson, TV cameras caught Anthony Rizzo exclaiming, "I better not put up a goose egg!"

    He didn't, but the Chicago Cubs first baseman wound up with the lowest total of any Derby contestant, collecting eight home runs in his four minutes, plus 30 seconds of bonus time.

    Rizzo may have suffered from being the first participant to test out the new format, as he seemed to rush his swings early, perhaps feeling the pressure of the clock.

    Grade: D+

Kris Bryant

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Home Runs Hit: Nine

    Round Eliminated: First

    The Chicago Cubs had two players in the Derby, but neither survived the first round.

    It was a matchup of youth versus experience as Kris Bryant squared off against Albert Pujols, who made his first Home Run Derby appearance when Bryant was 11 years old, as MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez noted

    In the end, age won out, as Bryant cracked nine home runs, eclipsing his teammate Rizzo's total by one but falling one shy of Pujols' 10.

    Grade: C-

Josh Donaldson

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    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    Home Runs Hit: 18

    Round Eliminated: Semifinals

    Josh Donaldson came into the Derby as a sneaky pick to run the table. Despite breaking the all-time All-Star Game voting record this year, the Toronto Blue Jays third baseman seems to fly under the radar.

    Still, he clubbed 21 home runs in the first half of the regular season, including one that traveled 481.2 feet, the longest of any Derby contestant, per MLB.com.

    Donaldson didn't lay an egg in Cincinnati, hitting nine dingers in the first round to edge out Rizzo. He hit the same respectable but unspectacular total in the semifinals, but this time, it wasn't enough against hometown hero and eventual Derby champ Todd Frazier.

    Grade: C+

Manny Machado

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Home Runs Hit: 12

    Round Eliminated: First

    The youngest player in the 2015 Derby—no mean feat, considering that it featured two rookies—Manny Machado didn't wilt under the pressure.

    To the contrary, the 23-year-old Baltimore Orioles third baseman put on a solid display, blasting 12 big flies in the first round, including some majestic shots.

    That would have been enough in two of the four first-round matchups. Unfortunately for Machado, he drew preternatural Los Angeles Dodgers masher Joc Pederson, who clubbed his 13th home run with more than a minute left on the clock. 

    Grade: B

Prince Fielder

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Home Runs Hit: 13

    Round Eliminated: First

    With his bulging biceps and violent uppercut swing, Prince Fielder was built for the Home Run Derby.

    It's no surprise, then, that the Texas Rangers basher has won the event twice, in 2009 with the Milwaukee Brewers and in 2012 with the Detroit Tigers.

    Fielder looked like he might win a third Derby in a third uniform after clubbing an impressive 13 home runs in the first round, with his son feeding him cotton candy during a timeout.

    Things quickly went sour, however, as Frazier launched 14 to send Prince packing.

    Grade: B

Albert Pujols

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Home Runs Hit: 21

    Round Eliminated: Semifinals

    The elder statesman of the Derby at 35 years old, Pujols more than held his own.

    After dispatching Bryant in the first round with a 425-foot bomb at the buzzer, Pujols drew another rookie, Pederson, in the semifinals. Pederson, the lower seed, went first and set the bar at a strong but not insurmountable 12 home runs.

    Pujols started hot but appeared to lose his grip on the bat as he pounded repeated pitches into the ground. Still, he got himself to extra time with a shot and finished with an oh-so-close 11.

    The round ended on the classiest possible note, with Pujolswhose Pujols Family Foundation helps families impacted by Down syndromeembracing Pederson's brother, Champ, who was born with the genetic condition.

    Grade: B+

Joc Pederson

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    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    Home Runs Hit: 39

    Round Eliminated: Final

    It was Todd Frazier's night all the way, but Joc Pederson nearly stole his thunder.

    The Dodgers outfielder made it look positively effortless in the first round, blasting 13 home runs in less than three minutes.

    He started a bit slower in the semifinals but came on strong as the clock ticked down and ended up edging out Pujols, becoming the only lower-seeded player to win a round in the entire Derby.

    In the final, he put 14 on the board, setting the bar high for Frazier. The Reds third baseman cleared it, but Pederson was a dazzling runner-up.

    As J.P. Hoornstra of the Los Angeles News Group pointed out, if nothing else, Pederson's performance was "one big advertisement for arriving to the ballpark in time to watch him take batting practice."

    Grade: A

Todd Frazier

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Home Runs Hit: 39

    Round Eliminated: N/A

    Really, a Hollywood script doctor couldn't have drawn it up any better. Todd Frazier, in front of his adoring fans, put on an absolute display to take top honors at one of the most exciting Home Run Derbies ever.

    First, Frazier survived Prince Fielder's first-round barrage with 14 home runs. Then he knocked out Josh Donaldson in the semifinals.

    Entering the final round, it was worth wondering whether the 29-year-old had enough left in his legs to best the 23-year-old Joc Pederson, who up until then had looked like Babe Ruth reincarnated with less paunch and more fauxhawk.

    Pederson didn't make it easy, cracking 14 dingers. But on the first pitch of extra time, Frazier hit No. 15 and sent the crowd at Great American Ball Park into a frenzy as Frank Sinatra's "My Way" blared over the stadium speakers.

    "There's no pressure here with these fans," Frazier told ESPN's Pedro Gomez immediately after the contest. "They enjoy it, they love you and I love them back."

    Grade: A+

    All statistics current as of July 13 and courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted.

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