The Easiest Possible Fix for the Home Run Derby

I’ll grant that, maybe in Major League Baseball’s eyes, there’s nothing wrong with the Home Run Derby. Fans still turn out in droves, and the TV ratings are fantastic, so the Derby always seems to do well. Players get a kick out of attending, and I’m not exposed to the opinions of the average baseball fan. But I know I’ve never met anyone older than six who loves the entertainment the Derby’s supposed to provide. I know I don’t much care for the Derby, myself, and I actually just had to Google it to make sure it was happening tonight. I’ve live-blogged the last few, but out of obligation, not desire, and focusing on writing allowed me to not focus on the show.

I guess we can play the hypothetical game, kind of like when people write about the gameplay rule changes they would make if they were commissioner. The Home Run Derby is easily dismissed, and when the participant field is announced each year people complain about snubs. I think we can agree that long, impressive home runs are more entertaining than a handful of wall-scrapers. During the Derby, those are the home runs that draw the loudest reactions. So in an effort to boost the competition’s entertainment value, I propose a very simple adjustment. It’s an adjustment that could have sweeping effects.

Right now, there are three rounds. There’s a round of eight players, each getting ten outs, then there’s a round of four players, each getting ten outs. The two players with the most combined home runs advance to the championship, where they get one more set of ten outs each. This is the familiar scoring system, and it’s not like the Derby hasn’t given us a few worthwhile memories in its time. But I think the scoring system could be changed. Instead of tallying up total home runs, the winner could simply be the player who hits the longest dinger.

It would be a significant change to the rules, and it would be conceivable that a player could win the whole thing by hitting just one ball out of the yard. That’s not what the Derby has been about, but tradition isn’t an argument against change, and this could be the ticket to a Derby worth putting on and paying some modicum of attention to.

Right away, the selection process for participants would be different. Instead of picking guys who have a lot of home runs, the selectors would look for guys capable of hitting mammoth home runs. And this is what a lot of us have always wanted — we’ve wanted to see, say, Wily Mo Pena get a crack at it. Not to see how many homers he could hit, but to see how far he could hit them. That’s where the real entertainment is, at the extremes of human ability. If Michael Cuddyer wins tonight’s Derby with, I don’t know, ten dingers in the final round, and they’re all around 390-420 feet, that’d be good for him, but that wouldn’t make great TV. Cuddyer probably isn’t a threat to push 480 or 500.

Maybe you still have league captains. Maybe you have an official selection committee. Maybe each team nominates one player, and then somebody else narrows the field down. Right now, the Home Run Derby totals 140 outs or so. That’s for eight participants. Given this proposal, you’d do away with the tournament structure and you’d just have one round. Say, 12 players, and ten swings each. Or eight players, and 15-20 swings each. That would make the Derby faster, in case that’s a priority. The numbers aren’t set in stone.

True, home-run distances are based on a calculation, and calculations involve potential errors. Distances aren’t as matter-of-fact as whether or not a ball left the yard. The distance calculations are complicated, and above a lot of people’s heads. But it’s not like we’re talking about something like UZR. People have long been comfortable citing distance calculation results, no one really questions them, and every player in this hypothetical tournament would be getting measured by the same calculations and factors so there’d be little reason to believe the results are messed up.

True, you can already watch the Derby and see who hit the longest home run, because they make that data available. But because that isn’t how the tournament is judged, people care less about the distances, and the players selected in the first place are different. Yeah, there’s overlap, and Yoenis Cespedes, for example, should put on a good show. But people are looking forward to Cespedes specifically because he can hit the baseball so far.

In the NHL Skills Competition, there’s a challenge for the hardest slap shot. The hardest slap shot needs to go into the net in order to have its speed calculated. But the winner isn’t the guy who gets the most slap shots on goal — it’s the guy with the fastest slap shot. Right now, the Derby rewards consistency of home runs instead of impressiveness of home run(s), and that doesn’t seem like the right thing to do. At least, it doesn’t seem like the optimal thing to do.

Do it this way, and you don’t need to worry about park factors (not that anyone really does). Different ballparks will have different home-run factors for lefties and righties, and that’s an unspoken bias. Citi Field, for example, seems to make it a little easier for lefties to go deep, and that might influence tonight’s results. Go by distance and it doesn’t matter, or it just matters less. There’ll still be different wind patterns, maybe, but the dimensions will be negated.

Do it this way, and there’s drama throughout until the very last pitch. Under the current setup, you still can’t really know until it’s over, but you can have a pretty good idea. With this proposal, every single pitch and swing would have the potential to be the winner. You could go into the final swing of the tournament, with the hitter having to top, say, 485 feet, and there would always be that chance. Each pitch would be more interesting, and one would be less likely to suffer from Derby fatigue.

Already, some players accuse Derby participation of messing with their swings. Rewarding the longest home runs might encourage even worse habits, maybe. But we’re talking about just a handful of swings, over a four-day break, and they wouldn’t be meaningfully different from ordinary Derby swings, if at all. Maybe there’d be a slightly greater risk of injury, but there’s already an injury risk, just as there is in the playing of the All-Star Game. There are risks in sports and you can’t avoid them.

You’d keep the Derby pitchers the same. You’d forget about outs and go by swings. You’d bring in the hardest-hitting sluggers, some of them widely familiar, some of them largely unknown. And you’d sit back and watch. Home runs are exciting during games because they’re important and unexpected. During the Home Run Derby, you’re supposed to have home runs, so to entertain, a home run has to clear a higher bar. The goal should be to amaze, and I think this could potentially do wonders for the event. Also get rid of Chris Berman too.

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

74 Responses to “The Easiest Possible Fix for the Home Run Derby”

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  1. David says:

    Why not have both awards?

    +6 Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. Hamba says:

    I love how the last sentence was just thrown in there. And a great idea.

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    • mervdiddy says:

      “backbackbackbackbackbackback HOLY TOLEDO!”

      Actual distance: 325 feet

      +42 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • TheGrandslamwich says:

      While reading the article I was thinking “I have a much quicker and easier way to fix the derby.” Then the last sentence tore the comment from my fingertips.

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    • steex says:

      But guys, how else are we going to find out how many other cities Chris Berman knows in the host and neighboring states? I need to know if a ball is hit clear to Hoboken or Albany.

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  3. Cole says:

    I don’t see why they don’t give the players juiced aluminum bats and juiced balls. It would be a lot more fun to see 600 foot home runs then a true test of skill.

    +30 Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. Jason says:

    Won’t that mean even more “Back, back, backs” before it’s… gone!

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  5. Colin says:

    When I clicked on this article, I thought that the whole thing was going to be about getting rid of Chris Berman, not just the last sentence.

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  6. fgmatt12 says:

    How about you the winner is the player with the greatest total distance of home runs hit. Granted that would be closer to the current system, but would still give added benefit to the biggest home runs.

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    • Bryan says:

      Problem would be that the “greatest total distance” is probably super-highly correlated with “most”, since 10 HRs at 400′ each (4,000) is still way, way “longer” than 5 HRs at 500′ (2,500).

      The added benefit wouldn’t be that great – your 570 foot bomb only “gains” you 200 feet over the 370 foot wall scraper, but the wall scraper gains you 370 feet over the 405 foot fly out to the warning track in center. So your super-long HRs are easily eliminated/outweighed by hitting one extra short HR down the line.

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  7. Hamba says:

    On a scale of 1 to “NFL players while driving”, how drunk is Berman whilst doing these derbies?

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  8. Matty Brown says:

    Particularly, I like the idea proposed by some TV-Radio host I happened to flip the channel to at lunch, who was interviewing Shawn Green at the time. He wants to see the Derby install a points system depending where the ball is hit. Awarding higher points for opposite field home runs and homers to center field, rather than the typical pulled homer.

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  9. Hojam23 says:

    I actualy really like you’re idea, however I wouldn’t have it the single longest HR. I’d let each player hit an equal number of HRs (say 5) and add the total footage of the HRs. to just hit one HR doesn’t seem like enough to me. yes hockey has the hardest slapshot, however hockey has many other events to keep you watching. I doubt you’d get many viewers soley on the hardest slapshot. Regardless, of all the reformatting idea every media personal seem to have, I like this one the most.

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    • colbyamoss says:

      Or almost like how the X-Games do their scoring, top two or three distances combined count.

      That way you get a situation where the last hitter knows he needs to hit one more than 500 ft to win

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    • Hank says:

      The hardest slapshot comparison is ok, but a) I would probably watch just for the hardest slapshot; it’s definitely the coolest part, and b) it’s a way bigger spectacle than the slapshot competition. I might need the calculation to tell me the exact difference in meters between a wall-scraper and a mammoth shot, but I can tell which is which. In hockey, I need the radar gun. There is no way I could differentiate between the two.

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    • Oh, Beepy says:

      So obviously the solution is to bring more skill games to baseball. Infield hit contest, Pitcher Doubles Derby, Double Play contest, etc.

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  10. Dan Ugglas Forearm says:

    Couldn’t you create a system that determines a winner based on number AND distance? Assign weights for the longest homers and adjust the totals. Let’s say there are 8 competitors and the longest homer gets an 8, down to a 1 for the shortest. You’d use each player’s longest homer for the number that they’re assigned. Or perhaps average distance. So Cuddyer hits 8 homers in the first round, but has the shortest longest homer, or shortest average distance. He gets a point total of 9. But Chris Davis hits 3 homers, and has the longest longest homer or longest average, giving him 11 points.
    There is certainly incentive to blast them deep. If a player goes into his final out/swing knowing that he’s 5-6 homers down, would they be better suited trying to hit one ball 500 feet or 6-7 consecutive homers (in the case of the out system)? That way, amount isn’t completely dismissed, and there is definitely enough incentive to try and send some a long way. It also opens up new strategy questions of whether or not players should go strictly for amount or strictly for distance, and what the best balance might be. If someone hits a ball 520 feet, they can nonchalantly pop wall-scrapers over for the duration of the round knowing they’ll get a good distance score.
    It becomes more complicated, but I don’t think it’s anything too crazy. It may also help in getting Berman off the Derby, as it may be too complicated for him to convey to the fans.

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  11. supershredder says:

    Actually sounds like a great idea. Main problem with current setup is that it goes on for too long with the same players. I only want to see one guy get 10 or 12 hacks at it and move on to the next. Not 40+ swings by the same damn fool.

    Another fun idea would be to place targets of various values in the bleachers for extra points.

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  12. Scraps says:

    At first I thought the answer was going to be, “Get rid of the Home Run Derby.” But I realized the better answer is, “Get rid of the All-Star Game.”

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  13. Guy says:

    Dream list of participants for this year: Puig, Carlos Peguero, Wily Mo Pena, Dunn, Cespedes, Gattis, Hamilton, Stanton, Pedro Alvarez, Nellie Cruz, Wlad Balentien

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  14. Bryan says:

    Great concept.

    Another way to improve the drama would be to have “estimated distance” markers set up in the stands – so like big pylons with 375, 400, 425, 450, etc. on them – that way everyone can instantly have a rough guess guide before the actual distance comes up on the video board.

    Potential Format
    First round – non-elimination. Everyone gets 3 outs and their longest home run establishes a baseline. At the end of the round, the 8 HRs are ranked in distance order. Then….

    Round two – elimination round. Players hit in reverse HR distance order. Each player gets 7 outs. If, after they hit, none of their HRs now rank in the top 4 longest, they are eliminated. Hitters with the 4 longest HRs only have to hit if they’re passed by a player behind them that knocks them out of the top 4.

    Final round – last four players all hit in a “scramble”/last-man-standing format. Everyone gets 5 outs. You’d start with the player with the current shortest HR distance. He bats until he either hits into 5 outs, or hits a HR longer than one of the other 3 players. If he hits a longer HR, then the player that now has the shortest HR must bat until he hits into 5 outs, or hits a HR longer than someone else’s. This continues until all but the winner has hit into 5 outs.

    I’d watch that everyday.

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    • Hank says:

      That is a really nice hypothetical format. I don’t know if the first two rounds are totally needed, but they do fill some time, which is probably necessary. And the final round sounds pretty much ideal. Also I love the idea of the estimated distance markers, which I’m imagining looking like the things at a driving range. They’d make it a little easier to judge things on the fly and would keep me watching every hit.

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    • Tom B says:

      the estimated distance markers would be completely wrong… no matter where you put them they would only measure one trajectory of HR to that spot.

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  15. adrich1 says:

    The problems with the derby are that we get tired of the same guys swinging so much for 3 rounds, it gets boring…and Chris Berman.

    I’d like for it to be more of an open competition. As many guys as possible going for the longest HR (tie-breaker obviously being next longest). Get 20 guys in there. With the current format the problem is that you can replace the 8 participants with 100 other players and they can hit a ton of fingers too. Can 100 players hit a 500ft HR? Doubt it…but I’d like to find out.

    You get 5 swings with the possibility of gaining extra swings if you hit a HR (if the player wants to). Too many possibilities to make this better (start with getting rid of Berman) that MLB is taking advantage of.

    If you don’t want 20 players on TV, have an open competition during the day (open to any allstar), off camera and whichever hit the most get on live TV at night.

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  16. jkud says:

    What about 8 swings, highest combined distance for HRs hit. I pick Giancarlo.
    Ps. The hockey anology is thin. It’s really easy to hit the net from where they put the puck, and it would be ridiculous to reward a guy for hitting the net with a slap shot with no pressure around him.

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  17. JtheExploder says:

    I’d like to see a pitcher’s-only home run derby.

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    • Dan Ugglas Forearm says:

      Carlos Zambrano may have a place in the majors after all…

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    • Jaack says:

      As long as they let Ben Revere compete too.

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    • Oh, Beepy says:

      Let me sum up every year for you.

      Micah Owings, all star representative of “Some Triple A Team” has won it all again, folks! Rick Ankiel is crying, look at him cry! What a sad spectacle!

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  18. Alexander Nevermind says:

    And add in more Pitbull. Who doesn’t love Mr. Worldwide? Dale!

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  19. Bud Selig says:

    Easy, the league of the guy with the most home runs gets home field advantage during the World Series.

    +22 Vote -1 Vote +1

  20. Rob Cat says:

    TL DR; Take the long drive competition rules from the PGA and apply them to MLB home derby.

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  21. David says:

    “tradition isn’t an argument against change”

    Are you unfamiliar with baseball?

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  22. zach says:

    I like what other people have suggested – that if you’re going for the longest dinger just let anyone who was invited to come the ASG take some hacks and see if they can hit one farther.

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    • TKDC says:

      I actually really like this. Make it like county fair style where anyone on a major league roster at the break can show up and take 3 hacks – also 5 pitches total. Then have some nominal prize (sponsorship opportunity) if you hit 3 dingers and award the longest homer of the night a real prize.

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  23. Ruki Motomiya says:

    I like the idea of it being top 3 highest distances rather than highest. Award a little bit of consistancy as well.

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  24. Perry says:

    I’d like to see some giant bulls eyes in the stands, or other such targets.

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    • Jay29 says:

      They usually have a couple of those for fans to win new cars and such, but I would like to see more of them.

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  25. Joe Veno says:

    Also don’t forget about the celebrity home run derby with Ice Cube and Dan Cortez cranking home runs.

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  26. NATS Fan says:

    My concerns are two: 1) players swinging so hard they injure themselves, 2) players swinging so hard they affect their swing for the rest of the season. For example check out the year Bobby Abreu won. He hit very few homers the rest of that season and blamed the home run derby throwing off his timing.

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  27. Matt says:

    One of the writers on twitter brought up the idea of making where the homerun is hit matter. So, lets say a home run on the pull side is worth 10 points. A homerun to dead center is worth 15 points. A homerun to the oppo side is worth 20 points. Then you can maybe add targets out there worth 50 points if you hit them. And add in a 30 point bonus for longest home run of the round.

    At least it adds a little more skill to the derby.

    PS. Cuddyer has the longest average distance of any of the participants this year… just saying.

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  28. JMo37 says:

    They always say that the players swing to much and the chance of injury is always present. Let’s make it more efficient.

    10 swings – most HR’s advances to next stage
    In a tie situation: 5 swings – most HR’s advance

    This keeps the number of swings down and players will be able to max effort and adjust round to round

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  29. Tom B says:

    Nah, hitting for distance is not the same test of skill that the current derby is.

    Hitting 5-10 HR’s consistently in rounds like this is more impressive than hitting 1 ball 600 feet.

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    • A Different matt says:

      nothing is more impressive than hitting a baseball 600 feet with a wood bat. Very few things are more impressive than 500 ft.

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    • Rick Rivas says:

      I’m with you,but adding quality and quantity into a scoring system would satisfy each side of the debate

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  30. MikeS says:

    Unfortunately, Bud Selig is thinking more along the lines of “whichever league loses, their pitchers have to use their non dominant arm in all inter league games in the second half.”

    This Time It Really, Really Counts No Matter How Meaningless It Is.”

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  31. Gyre says:

    The easiest possible fix is to limit it to ONE HOUR. It’s longer than most games now and I haven’t watched since Hamilton. zzzzz

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  32. VOR says:

    Just make a drinking game for it and post the rules online

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  33. Owen says:

    I liked Verducci’s idea: 16 players in brackets, 10 swings per person per round. So no more 23-hr barrages but the competition is mano-a-mano. You can do office pools and everything with this.

    I can see Fox doing goofy Street Fighter-style graphics for this. Harper vs. Pujols, round 1, fight!

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  34. Rob Heaton says:

    Best idea is to get rid of Chris Berman. He thinks every home run must come with an orgasmic verbal onslaught of hyperbole and volume that is beyond irritating it is a complete turn off and makes the whole thing unwatchable for me.

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  35. BurleighGrimes says:

    Nobody likes Chris Berman. Why they keep running him out there is completely beyond me.

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  36. JamesDaBear says:

    My fix… make it last the entire first half of the season and make it more fan interactive. Make each team have a mini Home Run Derby before each game. Each team has to nominate 2 players who the fans can then vote for via Twitter, Facebook, etc., players from each team with the most votes gets to compete with the winner getting points. Players with the most points at the All-Star break get to participate in the Home Run Derby. Leave the actual event mostly unchanged, but maybe implement an award for the longest homer as well.

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  37. Andy M says:

    I have a potential home-run derby fix: See how many homers a player can hit in two minutes. Keep the same format, 8 guys in the first round, then four, then two, but increase the excitement by requiring the player to swing at every pitch, the pitching coach to throw more accurate pitches, and a counting down time limit. This idea would probably not sit well with the players, but I imagine it would be immensely popular with fans. Not to mention, the whole event could be wrapped up in an hour and a half or so.

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  38. eddiegaedel says:

    I don’t mind the pace of the home run derby. There isn’t any other games on that day and i’ll sit through and just listen to people talk about baseball. And why would the MLB want to shorten the derby when they are making a lot of money from advertising on cable television? If you shorten the home run derby they would have to add other skill events to fill out the programming to keep the cash flow coming in.

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