Opinion: Derby changes close, but no cigar

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Alex Hider

[email protected]

On July 13, Cincinnati will host the MLB’s Home Run Derby for the first time. It was also host the first Derby of its kind.

Over the weekend, the MLB announced that it will be introducing a new format for the Derby during the All-Star break next month. In the past, players challenged to see how many dingers they could smack before they recorded 10 non-homer swings, or “outs.” This year, the Derby will introduce a concept new to baseball — a running clock. Now, players will have five minutes per round to do their work.

Count me as a fan of the change. One of the biggest problems with the old Derby format was a lack of urgency. In the past, sluggers would watch their hand-selected pitchers lob dozens of balls down right down Broadway. I watch the home run derby to see All-Stars mash taters, not to see two random guys play catch.

The changes also reward contestants for performance in clutch time. For every home run hit in the final minute of a round, the clock will stop and won’t start again until the player fails to homer. That means a buzzer-beating home run could turn into a game-changing hot streak.

The new Derby will also offer time bonuses for longer home runs. Here’s hoping that it results in more balls in the Ohio River.

But all the strides the Derby made with the running clock are undone by the new bracket format. This season, hitters will be seeded and go head-to-head with one of the other eight competitors in each round. In the past, the sluggers with the most homers advanced to the later rounds.

The MLB should have learned from last year’s Derby. In a format that lasted just one year, National League and American League hitters faced off in individual match-ups, with one player from each league making the finals. That allowed Reds third baseman Todd Frazier to sneak into the finals by hitting just a single home run in the semifinals. Though the Blue Jays’ Jose Baustista slugged four in the same round, he was left out in the cold because he was matched up with eventual winner Yoenis Cespedes.

If the goal is to crown the league’s home run champion, shouldn’t the player with the most dingers be rewarded?

All in all, Cincinnati has the chance to host one of the most exciting Home Run Derbies of all time — that is, if the bracket format doesn’t it drown the innovation in controversy.

Reach Alex Hider at 740-353-3101 ext. 1931 or on Twitter @PDTSportsWriter

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