The Home Run Derby: How it Works, How it Started, and How it Shakes Out in 2017

Well, it’s finally here: the midpoint of the season (even though virtually every team has played more than half of their games, but close enough). The All-Star Break kicks off tonight at 8pm with the first and (probably) most-anticipated event: the Home Run Derby. Today I’ll be giving an overview of the history of the Derby and its evolution into the 2017 version, including a breakdown of the rules and how it works. As always, I’ll end with a craft beer review and recommendation.

The Quick and Dirty Details

Broadcast: ESPN

Streaming: WatchESPN, reddit.com/MLBstreams

Time: 8pm EST

Date: Tonight, obviously…Monday, 7/10/17

The History

What’s the most exciting play in baseball? Probably the sacrifice bunt, right? You might be surprised to learn that it’s actually the home run.

bartolo bunt.jpg

Pictured: Nonstop, adrenaline-filled action……   Photo Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports and cheeseburgers, lots and lots of cheeseburgers

The longball is one of the most exciting moments in all of sports, and I’ve already waxed poetic on America’s fascination with the home run and what it means to the sport of baseball. The Home Run Derby was first established in 1985 precisely for that reason: to capitalize on the longball fetish and dedicate an event solely to smashing baseballs.

The idea was to invite the strongest, most talented home run hitters in baseball (and presumably the world) to take batting practice in front of a crowd in a competitive, elimination-style format in which hitters swing for the fences, and only the fences (though Giancarlo Stanton may have hit some balls even further). The Derby started as an un-televised exhibition and has grown into one of the most-watched sporting events in the United States, attracting nearly 6 million viewers last year with some prognosticators predicting 10+ million for this year’s highly-anticipated contest.

The origins:

We’ve come a long way, baby. Besides being un-televised when it began in 1985 (and seriously, when did a professional sports league ever miss a chance to get that sweet, sweet ad revenue?), the Derby is nearly unrecognizable in 2017 from its humble origins. The event has gone through no less than 5 iterations of rules and format changes, most recently in 2015 when the Derby underwent it’s most significant change to a time-based format (but more on that later).

In the beginning, the MLB just kinda invited a few guys they thought were good at hitting dingers; anywhere from 4-10 players were selected from each league and given two innings with 5 outs each to hit as many bombs as possible. The highest total at the end won, with ties being allowed.

(note that in the HR Derby from its inception in 1985 until 2015, an “out” is defined as any swing by a batter that does not result in a Home Run)

dave parker.jpg

Dave Parker, pictured above, was the winner of the very first Home Run Derby in 1985.

In 1991, the Derby got a shakeup to include more players (8-10 instead of 4-10) and a round system rather than an innings limit. The contest was expanded from two innings of 5 outs each to three rounds of 10 outs each, with the player with the highest HR total advancing each round as those with the fewest HR were eliminated. The Home Run total for each player was reset between each round (meaning a player who hit 20 HR in the 1st round and advanced would start with a HR total of 0 in the 2nd round, and so on).

The rules were tweaked again 2006 to allow for higher slugging totals: instead of “resetting” the number of HR’s hit between rounds, players carried over their Round 1 HR total into the 2nd Round, and the players with the highest total of Round 1 & 2 advanced to the 3rd/Final Round. This allowed for greater HR totals and helped reward high-performers by showing their totals for the contest rather than just each round.

In 2014 the rules were changed yet again, this time specifying exactly 10 participants (5 from the AL and NL, respectively) rather than the ambiguous 8-10 of years past, as well as changing the way the contest was seeded and the players advanced. In this new iteration, the NL and AL players with the highest HR total from Round 1 were granted a “bye” during the Second Round. The players with the next two highest totals from each league then faced off against each other in the 2nd Round before the winners went on to face the 1st Round victors in the 3rd and Final Round. Ties were also eliminated this year with the introduction of the “3-swing swing-off,” in which players received three swings to try and hit up to three home runs, with the highest total being declared the winner. In the event of a tie after the swing-off (ie, both players hit 2 HRs each on their 3 swings), there is a “sudden-death swing-off” in which the first player to not hit a HR loses.

The present: 2015, 2016, and 2017

The very next year, in 2015, the most recent (and dramatic) change was made to the Home Run Derby, which is still in place today: “outs” were eliminated in favor of timed rounds. In the past, players were given as much time as they wanted each round, only ending their turn when they swung the bat 10 times and failed to record a Home Run (aka, an “out”). Instead, players were given 5 total minutes (clock constantly running) to hit as many Home Runs as possible, with no penalty for swings that did not result in a dong.

Additionally, players were granted a bonus of 30 additional seconds if they hit two Home Runs of 425 feet or more. The MLB also introduced a way for players to “stop the clock:” during the fifth and final minute of each round, the clock would be stopped when a player hit a home run, and would not be restarted until the player recorded an “out,” or swung at a pitch that did not leave the ballpark.

The very next year, in 2016, these rules were changed (slightly) yet again: the rounds were now 4 minutes instead of 5, and players must hit two Home Runs of 440 feet or longer to earn the 30-second bonus time (previously 2 HR of 225 ft.+).

It is also worth noting that the field of players was reduced to 8 (4 NL, 4 AL) in 2015, where before it was 10 players (5 each league), and the concept of a “time-out” was introduced, allowing players to call time and catch a breather for 45 seconds if they so choose (it can be tiring to hit balls as hard as you can for 5 straight minutes, seriously).

Ok, so what are the rules tonight?

Goal: To crush home runs, obviously.

Number of Participants: 8 players (4 National Leaguers, 4 American Leaguers)

Format: Head-to-head. Two players “face” each other in each round, with the player who has the higher total of the two advancing (note: a player who loses their head-to-head matchup will still be eliminated even if they hit more Home Runs than another player who won their head-to-head matchup. In short, players can only advance if they hit more HR than their direct opponent, regardless of how many/few HR’s the other participants record)

Number of Rounds: 3 Rounds, elimination style (no ties, no “byes”)

Time per Round: 4* minutes to hit as many HR as possible

*Time Bonuses/Exceptions: 30 seconds of additional time are awarded to players who hit 2 or more Home Runs of 440 ft. or more in a single round. Players are also able to stop the clock during the 4th and final minute of each round by hitting a Home Run; the clock restarts when they swing and fail to record a Home Run. There is no limit on how long the clock can be stopped, so in theory, if a player continuously hits Home Runs during their final minute, they can hit unlimited dingers.

Players are also granted one 45-second timeout in the first, second, and third rounds. The two third-round finalists are also granted a 30-second timeout in addition to their 45-second timeout.

Tie breaker protocol: Players who end a round with the same number of HR as their opponent are each given one minute (with no stoppages) to hit as many HR as possible. If both players record identical HR totals during the one-minute-swing-off, there will be a “sudden-death” swing-off in which the first player to fail to record a HR is eliminated (and killed).

HRD_Bracket_1280_hahb4a8w_a2cobvyp.jpg

I’m sorry but Charlie Blackmon just looks ridiculous. That’s an 1800’s gold-miner beard if I’ve ever seen one.

So there you have it. Now what? Does the Home Run Derby really mean anything?

No, of course it doesn’t, but meaningless things can still be fun. Just look at The Puppy Bowl.

The Home Run Derby gives fans an opportunity to see the best Home Run hitters in the world doing what they do best. Unlike the All-Star Game (a can of worms that I’ll be opening tomorrow, so stay tuned), which throws a mishmash of fan-voted greats onto the same field with no chemistry, no gameplan, and most importantly, half-hearted effort for the cameras as they all try desperately to avoid getting injured in an utterly meaningless exhibition, the Home Run Derby is safe for players to go all-out on while giving the fans a fantastic show.

This year’s bracket, which appears above, is one of the most anticipated in recent memory. Last year’s reigning champion, Giancarlo Stanton, will face off against StatCast Studs like Miguel Sano and Aaron Judge, phenom power-hitting backstop Gary Sanchez, a gigantic Moose, rookie sensation Cody Bellinger, who-hits-this-many-homers-as-a-leadoff-guy Charlie Blackmon, and Stanton’s Miami Marlins teammate Justin Bour.

These are all big bats, but I foresee only one outcome: Judgement Day.

JudgementDay

You may have already read my coverage of Judge and why he’s an absolute monster (a monster with an adorable gap-toothed smile, though), but I feel compelled to let you know why you’re going to see a victorious Judge on ESPN tonight.

Exit Velocity. Average EV measures the speed, on average, that a baseball travels when it leaves a hitter’s bat (kinda like the hitter’s version of pitch speed/radar gun readings for fastballs). This is very strongly correlated with power and strength, as stronger players are able to hit the ball harder and faster, helping the ball travel further (thus more HR) and gives defenders less time to react (more likely to get hits).

The MLB Average Exit Velocity for batted balls is 87.73 MPH in 2017.

Aaron Judge leads all of baseball with an Average Exit Velocity of 97.2 MPH. That’s an almost 10 full MPH difference, which is enormous. Giancarlo Stanton? Last year’s HR Derby winner? Average EV of 91.9 MPH. Still amazing, and still extraordinary: Stanton’s 4 MPH above league average EV is considered elite. Judge is hitting nearly 6 MPH above him. So that’s extra-elite. The next highest EV after Judge? Fellow Derby participant Miguel Sano, who clocks in with an outstanding 94.9 MPH Average EV. Still a nearly 3 MPH advantage to Judge.

To put that in perspective, the difference between league average EV and elite power hitters like Giancarlo Stanton is about 4 MPH. That 4 MPH difference might not sound like a lot, but it’s huge, and players who record a +4 MPH EV from the league average are considered elite. Aaron Judge is hitting 4, 5, and 6 MPH more than guys who are already hitting at an elite-level. That’s just insane.

The MLB also records the hardest hit balls in all of baseball in a handy list, and of the four hardest-hit balls of the 2017 season….Judge has hit all four of them. The fifth hardest-hit after him? Giancarlo Stanton. The sixth hardest hit after Stanton?….that’s Judge again. So yeah, of the 6 baseballs that have been hit the absolute hardest on the planet, Judge owns 5 of them.

This is no case of correlation not adding up to causation, either. Judge leads the MLB in Home Runs with 30. So that powerful Exit Velocity is sure as hell translating into balls leaving the yard. And those are in real-game situations against world-class pitchers trying their hardest to get Judge out. In batting practice? Forget about it. I think Judge is well on his way to a Derby victory. But that’s just a biased Yankee fan’s opinion.

No matter how it shakes out, this should be an exciting event to watch even in spite of Chris Berman’s obnoxious home run calls (seriously man, stick to football).

The Beer

Today I’m reviewing a beer out of Michigan’s Great Lakes Brewing Co: Lake Eerie Monster Imperial IPA.

great lakes.jpg

Our carpet is pink and it is awesome

This Imperial IPA clocks in at a robust 9.1% ABV, which is probably why it comes in a 4-pack instead of a 6er.

Lake Eerie Monster pours a thick, coppery-amber color with a small head of decent white foam and solid lacing.

I get notes of malt and citrus on the nose, with a bit of earthy/hoppyness along with it, though it’s not overpowering in any sense.
The taste is smooth and crisp, and quite simple for an Imperial. I get notes of citrus/grapefruit/lemon on a heavy bed of hops. The grassy, earthy, maltyness of the hops is what really shines through in this medium-bodied IPA. It has some sweetness to it, and surprisingly low bitterness (listed at 80 IBU though).

Overall, I found it to be a little too one-dimensional for its own good. The malty, hoppy flavors were not accompanied by the bitterness you’d expect, nor by the sweet, juicy, or resinous citrus flavors we so often see in IPAs. It was smooth and palatable, and was not bad by any means, but I would probably not buy it again, as I was disappointed by an overall lackluster flavor profile.

In summation, it’s a well-made beer (as GLB Co’s beers often are) that’s smooth and drinkable, but focuses too much on the malt/hop profile without much else going on.

Cheers!

-Josh

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2 thoughts on “The Home Run Derby: How it Works, How it Started, and How it Shakes Out in 2017

  1. Pingback: Buy or Sell, Add or Drop: Hot Takes and Analysis after the Trade Deadline | Baseball and Brews

  2. Pingback: Judging the Judge: Which is the Real Aaron? | Baseball and Brews

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