I haven’t watched the home run derby in years. The roster of guys included this year made it intriguing though. The result, however, was an event that is way to long (nearly 3 hours) for a very weak payoff.
The current format features 10 players divided into two teams by league. There are only 7 outs per player, per round, down from 10 in previous years. Everyone hits in the first round, and the top three from each league advance. Whoever hit the most in the first round from each league gets a 2nd round bye, and the 2nd and 3rd place players from each league compete in round two. The winner of that round faces the player with a bye for their “league championship”. Then the winner from each league hits against each other in the final. That means there are four rounds, with the last three being single elimination “head to head”. That means that the two guys in the finals will be hitting for at least the third time, perhaps the 4th (or more if there are ties along the way).
This begin the plethora of problems with the contest. Why does each player need to hit so many times? Why are there “head to head” showdowns when there don’t need to be? Why does this thing take THREE hours?!? What is the payoff supposed to be for fans, seeing two guys “go at it” at the end?
Going back in past derbies, it’s clear the first round is usually the most exciting. At least in the old format that is the round where typically the most home runs were hit since the first few players had no idea how many they needed to hit to advance. But they always have to leave something in the tank for later rounds. The exciting part of this is the home runs (obviously). The players seem to hit fewer and fewer as the night wears on. Take last night when Todd Frazier beat Giancarlo Stanton 1–0 (!) in the NL final. There is nothing fun about that.
The ways to fix this don’t cater to TV and commercial values, which is what drives everything nowadays, so the following proposal is mostly irrelevant. But the real solution here is to make this thing one round. Start with 6 players, three from each league. Have a 7th “wild card”. This should be a guy from the team hosting the derby. It’s nice for the hometown fans to have their guy. Each player get’s 12 outs, and that is it. Whoever hits the most home runs wins. Sure the guy that goes last can stop if he beats the current leader, but everyone else will have to go for it all the first time. And better yet, there will be no rounds to save anything for so there is no reason to hold back.
There were 140 outs last night (not counting the two “swing offs”). This new format would drop that to 84, assuming there isn’t a tie. Have commercials after every hitter if need be. Put ads on the jerseys if that helps. But make this contest more entertaining, and definitely shorter! Watching a final after 2.5 hours in which the winner’s margin is 9–1 just is not entertaining.