With the hometown fans behind him, the Reds' Todd Frazier defeated the Dodgers' Joc Pederson to take the new-look 2015 Home Run Derby. Check out our commentary and analysis from the night.
The 2015 Home Run Derby has ended, and Reds third baseman Todd Frazier took home the title in front of the hometown fans at Great American Ball Park, beating Dodgers rookie Joc Pederson in the final, 15–14. Below, you can find SI's commentary and analysis for the event, plus videos of the night's best home runs.
Jay Jaffe: Todd Frazier won, but the bigger winner was MLB as a whole, because this new format—particularly shortened due to the fears of rain—was miles beyond previous formats in terms of creating drama and eliminating tedium. Hopefully the league can resist the temptation to go with the five-minute rounds as originally intended, because in this case, less is definitely more.
Cliff Corcoran: Agreed, the head-to-head format and timed rounds were tremendous improvements, and the simplified bonus time and shorter regulation time, which resulted from the need to get the Derby in before threats of severe weather at 11:00 p.m. (it ended at roughly 10:35 ET) likely improved on what MLB intended. They should keep those simplified rules next year rather than reverting to five minutes and the more complicated bonus time.
Not only was this new format more compelling due to the head-to-head competition and quicker pace due to the clock, but also because the players could take unlimited swings within their four minutes, allowing every participant to get into a grove. As a result, Anthony Rizzo's eight homers to lead off the competition was the lowest single-round total of the night. By comparison, only two of the ten participants in last year's derby hit that many in a round.
Meanwhile, I have to point out that this has been a fantastic month for Rutgers athletes. Winning the Home Run Derby isn't exactly on-par with winning a World Cup, but Frazier and U.S. women's soccer player Carli Lloyd overlapped briefly at the State University of New Jersey in 2004, and now they're both champions within the span of a few weeks.
Todd Frazier (2) vs. Joc Pederson (4)
Living up to his pre-Derby billing as the favorite via the Statcast metrics and vying to become the first rookie to win the Derby since 1986, Pederson made it into the Finals, but with a quick turnaround since his semifinal win, he again started slowly, going homerless until the 3:00 mark. Then came a flurry of homers on six straight swings, a timeout at 2:15 and another streak of five in a row before hitting a popup. He finished his four minutes with 13, some of them towering, majestic shots, but added just one more in the bonus round—still good enough to tie for the highest mark in any round.—Jay Jaffe
Frazier boasted the highest single-round total in this Derby heading into the finals with 14 in the first round. Pederson tied that figure in the finals, setting the bar high for the hometown slugger, who managed just one home run in last year’s final against repeat champion Yoenis Cespedes.
Frazier got a significantly longer break than Pederson between the semi-finals and finals, not only batting before Pederson in the semi-finals but also before the Stand Up To Cancer promotion, which extended the break between the two semi-final matchups, then stepping in for his final round after Pederson went a full four minutes plus bonus time and ESPN took a commercial break. Fraizer got on the board with his third swing off his big brother, Charlie, but didn’t really hit stride until hitting an opposite-field wall-scraper toward the end of his first minute. That was the first of four quick home runs, which earned him his bonus time, and soon after that flurry ceased, he took a timeout with 2:35 remaining.
Stepping back in, Frazier again took a few swings to get back in the groove but eventually found it with about 1:30 left. He got to 11 with 1:00 left, a dozen with 50 seconds left and 13 with just more than 30 seconds left. His next two swings fell short, but with 12 seconds left, he tied Pederson at 14, then just missed with a warning-track shot as regulation expired. After a short break, Frazier needed just one in bonus time to win the Derby and got it on his very first swing on a line drive over the leftfield wall, making him the first Red to win the Derby since Eric Davis in 1989 and the first player to win in his home stadium since Ryne Sandberg won it at Wrigley Field in '90.—Cliff Corcoran
FRAZIER DEFEATS PEDERSON, 15–14
Albert Pujols (1) vs. Joc Pederson (4)
Pederson had more than a minute left on the clock when he beat Manny Machado with his 13th homer in the first round, but he worked at a much slower pace in this round, not hitting his third homer until after a minute had elapsed. After hitting a weak grounder with 2:20 left, he took a timeout, still stuck at three dingers. After resuming he continued to struggle, hitting pop-ups and flares until finally getting his fourth with roughly 1:40 left. His fifth just barely made it out to the rightfield gap, but with a minute left he turned on the juice, hitting four in a bunch to get to nine in his initial four minutes. He then came out firing again in bonus time, going to both fields with his first two swings then adding another on this third swing to finish with an even dozen, seven of which came in his final minute and a half of time.—Cliff Corcoran
Pujols earned his bonus time with his first two swings of the semifinals. In fact, his first three swings resulted in home runs of 440 feet or more. After a grounder and a fourth homer, he hit a bit of a slump, however, hitting a number of warning-track shots and finding himself stuck on five homers until taking a timeout with 2:13 left. As has been the trend, after the timeout, Pujols got back in the groove, hitting three quickly. After stepping out with just more than 1:30 left, however, he began struggling again and appeared to have trouble with his bottom hand slipping off the bat, leading to a series of grounders. By the time he hit his ninth home run, he was under ten seconds left, though he managed to get one more in regulation, putting him two shy of Pederson going into bonus time. After getting that left hand wiped down by Nelson Cruz and getting some rosin on his bat, Pujols hit a 452-footer to come within one of Pederson, but a couple of high flies left him one shy of Pederson when his bonus time expired, making him the first low seed to lose a matchup in this Derby.—CC
PEDERSON DEFEATS PUJOLS, 12–11
Todd Frazier (2) vs. Josh Donaldson (3)
With Bob Tewksbary—not to be confused with the slow-tossing former major leaguer (Tewksbury)—throwing, Donaldson got on the board with his first swing but managed just two over the next minute and a half and looked somewhat out of sync or fatigued. He took his timeout at 2:11, having tallied five, with a long of 450 feet. He continued the slow pace coming out of the break, taking a full minute to add another pair, and then seemed to run completely out of gas, adding just one more to finish the four-minute period with eight. His first swing in the bonus period hit the leftfield foul pole, but that was all he got, finishing with nine.—Jay Jaffe
The hometown hero got off to a slow start the second time around, beginning his turn with three straight grounders before just clearing the leftfield wall at 375 feet, and it took him until around the 3:00 mark to score his second, on his eighth swing. He picked up speed in the second minute and reached six homers before calling timeout at 1:49, then homered on his first swing out of the break. A 437-footer clinched his bonus just before the 1:00 mark, but like Donaldson, he seemed to run out of gas in the final minute, with eight straight homerless swings before hitting the tying blast with six seconds and the winning one, a 444-footer, just as the clock expired.—JJ
FRAZIER DEFEATS DONALDSON, 10–9
Albert Pujols (1) vs. Kris Bryant (8)
With his dad pitching to him and throwing a steady diet of inside pitches, Bryant got his first home run 30 seconds into his turn on his fourth swing and later pulled a 462-foot shot just inside the leftfield foul pole, but he managed just four in the first half of his time before taking a timeout with 1:59 remaining. After resuming, he took 44 seconds to get another and looked like he was going to finish his regulation time with just six, but he got two more just under the buzzer on this final two swings. In bonus time, he added one more buzzer-beater, which cleared the wall with just two seconds left, but did not get another swing off before his time expired, leaving him with nine—a solid total, but an under-whelming one given the previous two matchups.—Cliff Corcoran
Pujols showed off some warning-track power in response to Bryant, not going deep until his fifth swing, 45 seconds into his turn, and managing just three before taking a timeout with 2:23 remaining. After resuming, he had more success, earning his bonus time and creeping up on Bryant. At one shy of Bryant with just 45 seconds remaining, Pujols stepped out of the box to catch his breath and regain his focus. He then tied Bryant with ten seconds remaining and, when Angels coach Dino Ebel let go of his final pitch just as the clock ticked down to zero, Pujols destroyed the pitch to knock Bryant out of the competition.—CC
PUJOLS DEFEATS BRYANT, 10–9
Todd Frazier (2) vs. Prince Fielder (7)
Two-time Derby champion Fielder went deep on the first two pitches from coach Sandy Guerrero and kept a steady pace of dingers up thereafter, hitting nine home runs—including two of sufficient distance to trigger 30 seconds of bonus time, one of them a whopping 474 feet—before taking a timeout with 1:09 left. After a breather, a drink of water and a bite of blue cotton candy from his son, Fielder again homered on the first two pitches he saw and got one more in just under the buzzer and just beyond the 404 sign in center. Passing on another offer of cotton candy before his bonus time, he got two more, again just under the buzzer, to total thirteen for the round.—Cliff Corcoran
Hometown hero Frazier took a while to get going but compiled five homers before taking a timeout with 2:37 left. He then homered on his first swing after the timeout. His big shot was No. 8, 450 feet into the upper deck in left, which earned him 30 seconds of bonus time. He seemed to slow after that, but a reach over the wall by a fan got him his 12th, and he managed to tie Fielder’s 13 within his original four minutes. On the first pitch of his bonus time, he hit a 455-foot shot that bounced Fielder from the competition and sent Frazier into Round 2.—CC
FRAZIER DEFEATS FIELDER, 14–13
Josh Donaldson (3) vs. Anthony Rizzo (6)
Rizzo was given the unenviable task of being the guinea pig for the new format. He began his turn swinging at everything but was out in front, with no homers through the first minute, so he called a timeout. He finally collected his first homer on his 11th swing, drilling one to centerfield, but didn't get his second until around the 1:50 mark. One shot hit the base of the wall, at least a couple went long foul. He ended his four minutes with seven homers and got a 30 second bonus for hitting two at least 425 feet; during that, he added one more, with two that died at the warning track, to finish with eight. His longest homer of the round went 430 feet.—Jay Jaffe
Donaldson found a groove quickly with three homers in the first 30 seconds and hit his fifth by the 2:50 mark, a 465-footer to left field. By the two-minute mark, he had seven, including an additional 431-footer. He called a timeout at 1:53, and his first swing after that brought the tying homer, but the go-ahead one proved elusive. A 468-footer down the leftfield line was ruled foul, but he finally surpassed Rizzo inside the final 15 seconds to win the round, 9–8.—JJ
DONALDSON DEFEATS RIZZO, 9–8
Joc Pederson (4) vs. Manny Machado (5)
Faced with the tall task of following the heavyweight championship Fielder-Frazier battle, Machado got his first homer at 3:35 and another in the first minute, but a would-be third fell just short on the warning track. He remained stuck on two homers for almost a full minute before finally collecting this third at about 2:25, and found a groove, boosting his total to five before he called time out at 1:50. A 461-footer on his first swing out of the break bought him the 30-second bonus, and then he really started swinging the hammer, with three more of at least 450—including a 469-footer—before his four minutes were done. He had 10 before the bonus time, with another two more in the final 30 seconds.—Jay Jaffe
Pederson wasted no time. He got on the board with his first swing and collected three on four swings in his first 30 seconds, seemingly without breaking a sweat. He kept peppering the right-centerfield stands, launching 10 by the two-minute mark, including 468- and 487-footers. He had 11, one shy of Machado, when he called time out at 1:28, and clinched the victory with 1:05 to go, a model of efficiency as well as power.—JJ
PEDERSON DEFEATS MACHADO, 13–12
Cliff Corcoran: Welcome to SI’s live Home Run Derby tracker, which Jay Jaffe and I will be updating after each hitter in tonight’s contest. For a full breakdown of the new Derby format and rules—which have been further tweaked because of the threat of severe weather late in the evening—the host ballpark and the eight participants, check out my Home Run Derby preview. As we wait for the swinging to start, however, we thought we’d offer our picks.
While I’m disappointed that some of this season’s top home run hitters will not be participating—including Bryce Harper (clown excuse, bro), Mike Trout and J.D. Martinez—we still have a fantastic group of sluggers. They include one member of the 500 home run club (the first since 2004), another member of the 300 home run club and four first-timers aged 25 years or younger, all of whom will get to take their hacks at the most homer-friendly ballpark in baseball. There’s really not a dud in the bunch. Prince Fielder’s power numbers have been down in recent seasons, but he’s one of just three two-time winners of this event, most recently winning in '12. Manny Machado doesn’t hit the ball quite as hard or as far as the others, but he just turned 23 a week ago and over his last 40 games, 9.2% of the fair balls he has hit have gone for home runs.
The only member of this field with a higher home runs on contact percentage over the course of the entire season than Machado is young Joc Pederson, who turned 23 in late April and has a home runs on contact percentage of 10.3 this year and 9.4 for his career. Pederson, who has hit his home runs harder and farther than any of the other participants this season, is a good pick for both that reason and because The Great American Ball Park is particularly friendly to lefthanded hitters, who have homered 52% more often in Cincinnati than at the average major league park over the previous three seasons, per the Bill James Handbook. Pederson, however, has been in a slump for a while, with just three home runs in 146 plate appearances since June 4.
Given that it’s not hard (relatively speaking) to get the ball into the seats at this ballpark, it’s really anyone’s Derby. I’m leaning toward Albert Pujols, who is the oldest participant at 35 but also the top seed due to his American League-leading 26 homers, 18 of which have come since May 28 (with a 12.7 HR/Con rate since then). This is Pujols’ fourth Derby but his first since 2009, and a win would be his first. That said, if Kris Bryant beats Pujols in their first-round matchup, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him win the thing. He may be the eighth seed due to having just 12 homers on the season, but since he hit his first on May 9, he has had an 8.3 HR/Con percentage, and his power potential still feels largely untapped at the major league level.
Jay Jaffe: When I was asked on the radio last week who I'd pick in this year's Derby, I said Todd Frazier, based on the home park advantage, but that was before looking over Cliff's notes (pun intended) and the Statcast and ESPN Home Run tracker data. Now that I've done my homework, the participant who particularly stands out to me is Pederson. Via Statcast, he has an average launch speed of 94.4 miles per hour, the highest of any of the participants, with Donaldson (93.7), Fielder (93.6) and Machado (93.5) bunched closely behind. Via ESPN, Pederson has by far the most homers with a True Distance of at least 420 feet (13), with Donaldson (nine), Fielder (seven) and Pujols (six) all in the rearview mirror. He's the only participant with a homer of at least 475 feet, though StatCast has Bryant with one as well. The consistency of Pederson's advantages in the metrics—particularly the ones that can give him the bonus time—lead me to favor him.
That said, I'm prepared to be surprised by someone who shows we're over-thinking with these metrics, and it wouldn't surprise me if that turned out to be Bryant, given the legend that preceded his arrival in the majors.