It’s time to change Home Run Derby format

By Michael Dixon
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Pitchers want a part of the Home Run Derby. It’s abundantly clear.

Other than Noah Syndergaard, the idea of pitchers in the home run derby has also been endorsed by Madison BumgarnerJake Arrieta, Adam Wainwright, and Jose Fernandez. Whether it’s being allowed in the regular Home Run Derby or a separate event pitting the pitchers against each other, these guys want in.

We’ve actually got an idea to allow that to happen. A Hitters vs. Pitchers Home Run Derby.

How it would work?

The biggest concern regarding pitchers in the Home Run Derby isn’t so much the number of swings that are taken, but how they’re spaced out. This is also a concern with hitters, as sluggers participating in the Home Run Derby often struggle in the second half of the season.

So, let’s do away with that. Let’s have five men per side with each man hitting only once. We can stick with normal round rules, with each hitter getting 10 unsuccessful swings.

Also, instead of having each man compete for himself, let’s make it a team battle.

There are a couple options with that scenario.

  1. Probably the most straightforward option. Each team has their five guys hit and at the end of the derby, whichever side has more home runs wins the tournament.
  2. A format similar golf’s Ryder Cup.

Specific players don’t matter right now, but for the sake of argument let’s say that the five hitters this year will be David Ortiz, Nolan Arenado, Yoenis Cespedes, Mark Trumbo, and Todd Frazier and that they’re going against the aforementioned five pitchers.

Each team makes a lineup with their five players. For now, let’s make that:

Matchup 1: Madison Bumgarner vs. David Ortiz

Matchup 2: Jake Arrieta vs. Nolan Arenado

Matchup 3: Adam Wainwright vs. Yoenis Cespedes

Matchup 4: Noah Syndergaard vs. Mark Trumbo

Matchup 5: Jose Fernandez vs. Todd Frazier

Each side would take their swings. Winning a matchup would earn one point for the team. Ties would either result in one-half point for each team, or could be broken in some kind of swing off.

At the end of the five matches, the team with the most points wins.

What are the advantages?

As we’ve already gone over, it would limit the injury risk that comes from hitting, sitting down, and hitting again.

Also, this year’s Home Run Derby would take place at San Diego’s Petco Park, which featured a rather famous pitcher-hit home run earlier this season.

If seeing Bartolo Colon’s homer over and over again doesn’t appeal to you, you may well be made of stone.

The big advantage is that it wouldn’t take as long. The Home Run Derby generally lasts a few hours. It shouldn’t be more than 90 minutes at the most.

Regardless of which scenario we went with, the five-on-five battle would take about as long as the first round in the current format. That’s a good thing, as a shorter derby would help attract (and keep) younger audiences, which is something baseball should be perpetually trying to do.

At the same time, this wouldn’t do anything to alienate the older audiences. How many people who watch the derby would complain about hearing less of Chris Berman’s act? If we used both hands, we could probably count all of those people with room to spare.

Even with the abbreviated derby, the breaks between hitters would leave time for nine commercial breaks, plus whatever happens at the beginning or the end.

Additionally, it could create a genuinely fun competition, providing something that players and fans alike look forward to each year.

Who knows? Maybe the pitchers will surprise some people and give the hitters a genuine test, or even beat them. If not? So what?

This doesn’t need to be permanent of it doesn’t work. If the position players completely dominate the hitters in the event, then we either return to the current format or go back to the drawing board.

It’s a one-year experiment that could make the event much better. If it doesn’t, it will show that, despite its flaws, the current format may just be the best way.

Even if this is a complete bust, the fans would still get to see plenty of plenty of tape measure bombs from the league’s best sluggers. They’d also no doubt see a few from pitchers like Madison Bumgarner, even if the hurlers didn’t do well overall.

The Home Run Derby is an event that can use a breath of fresh air. Given the clamoring from now five big-name pitchers, this seems like a pretty good chance to experiment.