How to improve the Home Run Derby? Brackets

Friday July 5th, 2013

Aside from Josh Hamilton's spectacular display in 2008, the Home Run Derby rarely causes much excitement.
John Iacono/SI

Everybody knows the All-Star Home Run Derby is stale. Players take too many pitches. The pace is maddeningly slow. You can hit the most home runs -- by a lot -- and still lose (see Josh Hamilton, 2008). Too many of the sluggers people want to see don't even participate. The leagues are evenly represented, as if leagues matter in a home run contest.

Well, there's an easy fix for the Home Run Derby and it can be summed up in one magic word that sets people's hearts aflutter:


Yep, fire up those office copy machines, folks. To have an honest-to-goodness competition that gets people talking a week in advance about it and gives them a vested interest in the outcome (i.e., they'll actually tune in), you need mano-a-mano competition among the biggest sluggers and biggest names in the game.

Here's how it works. You get 16 participants. The nine leading home run hitters are guaranteed entry. The host team gets one entrant. (It still boggles the mind that Justin Upton wasn't selected in Arizona nor Billy Butler in Kansas City.) The defending champion also gets a spot. That leaves five wild card entrants. The Home Run Derby Committee, a panel of baseball officials and media personnel, will select the wild cards based on . . . well, let's be honest: you pick the five remaining guys people most want to see.

The committee seeds the players one through 16 -- not based strictly on leagues or home run totals (though the two guys with the most home runs should get the 1 and 2 seeds), but generally on the most entertaining matchups. This is entertainment, folks.

It works like the NCAA brackets. You go head-to-head against another player. It's one-and-done or survive-and-advance. Each player gets 10 swings. The higher seeded player chooses to go first or second. The one with the most home runs moves on. Simple. In the event of a tie, the one with the longest home run advances, putting a premium on putting on a show.

Now we've got an improved pace to the contest. You don't have guys standing up there for 15 minutes, taking a ton of pitches or hitting meaningless home runs. When a win is clinched -- say the first guy hits seven out of 10 and his competitor hits no homers on his first four swings -- that head-to-head matchup is over. Every swing is meaningful.

I can hear your first complaint: You think this is going to take forever. Afterall, we are doubling the size of the field from eight to 16. Don't worry. The maximum number of swings for the entire night is 300 -- and that's only if every head-to-head matchup is decided by one home run so that the second hitters get all 10 swings.

And that's not a big number when you consider that in 2008 the eight hitters took 245 swings. And that doesn't count all the pitches taken. In the bracket format you won't get hitters taking so many pitches, which they use for rest in those lengthy turns at the plate. You may wind up with fewer pitches but more excitement.

Okay, now the best part. You finally get to see baseball turned into a true one-on-one competition among the biggest names in the game. It never made sense to me that many of the hitters people most want to see are right there in uniform but sitting on the field and watching.

Just how exciting can it be? Let's look at how it would work this year. Here are my 2013 Home Run Derby bracket entrants:

Automatic qualifiers (9): Chris Davis, Miguel Cabrera, Carlos Gonzalez, Edwin Encarnacion, Adam Dunn, Domonic Brown, Pedro Alvarez, Paul Goldschmidt, Robinson Cano.

Host team entrant (1): David Wright.

Defending champion entrant (1): Prince Fielder.

Wild card entrants (5): Yasiel Puig, Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Evan Gattis, Jose Bautista.

Okay, got your attention yet? If not, try this: How about a first-round matchup between Trout and Harper with the winner taking on the winner of a Cabrera-Fielder matchup? Tell me you're not watching that.

How about Cano vs. Wright in the battle for New York, New York? Davis vs. Gattis in the ultimate baseball strongmen competition?

The possibilities are tremendous and the bracket format keeps you interested all night. No more lame. No more boring. Just fast-paced excitement and the allure of bracketology to get even casual fans to buy in.

If you're still not convinced, just check out my entire 2013 Home Run Derby bracket. It's bound to have office machines humming and an online competition flooded with entrants from all over the world:

1. Chris Davis, Orioles vs. 16. Evan Gattis, Braves

8. Robinson Cano, Yankees vs. 9. David Wright, Mets

5. Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks vs. 12. Adam Dunn, White Sox

4. Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies vs. 13. Pedro Alvarez, Pirates

3. Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays vs. 14. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays

6. Domonic Brown, Phillies vs. 11. Yasiel Puig, Dodgers

7. Bryce Harper, Nationals vs. 10. Mike Trout, Angels

2. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers vs. 15. Prince Fielder, Tigers

2. Don't expect the biggest Fish to be traded . . .

Everybody's favorite trade rumor piece, Giancarlo Stanton of the Marlins, isn't going anywhere. A team looking for a bat recently called Miami about Stanton and was told, "We're not entertaining offers right now."

Stanton is making just $537,000 this year. He then has three arbitration-eligible seasons before he is eligible for free agency after the 2015 season. The Marlins have the makings of a quick turnaround, with Stanton and pitcher Jose Fernandez giving them two foundation pieces and outfielders Marcell Ozuna, Christian Yellich and Jake Marisnick and third baseman Colin Moran, the sixth overall pick last month, providing more hope.

"I got the sense it was coming from ownership," said an executive who called on Stanton. "And I don't know why they'd rush it. The package you're going to get isn't so different if you trade him with 2 ½ years of control rather than 3 ½ years. Without Stanton, there's almost nothing out there at all in terms of impact bats."

3. . . . but a Donkey might be moved

Does anybody want Adam Dunn? The White Sox slugger nicknamed the Big Donkey is hitting .199 and is due $22 million over the rest of this season and next. But a team source said Chicago is highly motivated to move Dunn, 33, and is willing to eat a chunk of the money.

The White Sox "will move Dunn," the source predicted, and they "definitely will eat money on a deal." The Rays appear to be the best fit for Dunn -- if there is one at all. Only Houston has a worse OPS out of the DH spot than Tampa Bay. Oakland (10th in DH OPS) might be a longshot.

The four-year, $56 million contract Chicago gave Dunn in December 2010 is another example of teams misunderstanding how baseball is played and how players age in the testing era. Dunn had just turned 31 years old, had a bad body and no defensive or baserunning value whatsoever when the Sox gave him that huge deal. In three years with the White Sox, Dunn has hit .188/.313/.403 and struck out in 37 percent of his plate appearances.

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