Can We Make the Home Run Derby more Interesting?

By Dan Haefeli

The home-run derby is awesome. There are plenty of things that are awesome about baseball – no-hitters, Mr. Met, web gems, position players pitching – but few things are as viscerally awesome as the home run. Don’t believe me? Ask the citizens of Springfield:

Note: In today’s America, this clip is oddly salient.

In any case,we all know how the home run derby works. You get 10 “outs” to hit as many homers as you can. There’s 4 guys from each league, and the top four overall advance (and then the top two after that). For many of us, we get to see some guys that you wouldn’t see otherwise – Chris Davis and his astounding 37 first-half home runs, or hard-swinging Cuban Sensation (well, last year’s hard-swinging Cuban Sensation) Yoenis Cespedes.

Jul 15, 2013; Flushing , NY, USA; American League player Yoenis Cespedes of the Oakland Athletics hits the winning home run in the final round of the Home Run Derby in advance of the 2013 All Star Game at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Cespedes, interestingly, isn’t an all-star. HR Derby captains aren’t required to pick all-stars, but there’s only been four non-all-star participants. This brings me to:

Require a Non-All-Star on Each Roster

Most teams have a guy who has prodigious “five o’clock” power – they launch mammoth shots during batting practice, but don’t (or can’t) put it together in practice. Ichiro Suzuki, better-known as a high-average slap hitter, has shown an ability to hit for power during warm ups only to ease off in order to increase his batting average.

Much more famously, AAAA outfielder Wily Mo Pena developed a notable following (and the hashtag #wilymo4derby) to be one of Prince Fielder‘s picks in 2011 before eventually falling short. Pena only hit 7 home runs in 2011, but he averaged an astounding 429.9 feet on those shots. ESPN’s home run tracker, which goes back as far as 2006, allows us to note that of the 33 home runs he hit between 2006-11 (he didn’t appear in the majors in 2009-10), he averaged 419.2 feet on them.

So let’s require captains to include someone who isn’t selected. Give someone else a chance to shine, especially to one of those guys who excel at knocking batting practice balls into the third deck.

Jul 15, 2013; Flushing, NY, USA; National League outfielder

Carlos Gonzalez

(5) of the Colorado Rockies and third baseman

David Wright

(5) of the New York Mets during the National League workout day for the 2013 All Star Game at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Include Minor Leaguers

This one may be tricky, but certainly doable. We can do this one of many ways – either assign one of the two AAA leagues’ (Eastern League / Pacific Coast League) home run derby champs to each of the squads, or allow each captain to showcase one of their team’s prospects. Either way, it can be a great opportunity for fans to get excited by a prospect, or give a career minor-leaguer (e.g. 2011-AAA derby champ Val Pascucci or career AAA-homer leader Mike Hessman) a chance to shine on a big stage.

Plus, people like the dark-horse, underdog storylines.

Expand the Rosters

There are currently only four spots for each league, including each of these two spots would make quite the crunch (especially if we mandate them). So let’s expand the rosters to six. That way you have each captain, three other all-stars, and then a non-all-star and a minor leaguer.

What do you think? How could they make the derby more fun or interesting?

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