The Home Run Derby is one of baseball’s most popular events. Showcasing the game’s finest power hitters, the Derby has been held every year except one since 1985, when it showcased Hall of Famers such as Carlton Fisk, Ryne Sandberg, and Cal Ripken Jr. For many years, the format was simple: hit the most home runs before recording 10 outs and you were the winner.
This year, however, the game has changed.
Instead of 10 outs, there’s now a time limit on each hitter. Each player will have five minutes to swat as many big flies as possible. Additionally, the Derby will have a bracket format, as players are seeded and will try to hit more homers than their opponent. (Kid Reporter Max Surprenant has more on the new Home Run Derby format.)
This year’s Derby features its fair share of big names: Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, to be specific. But it also has a slew of young stars, like National League rookies Kris Bryant and Joc Pederson, the first rookies to compete in the Derby since Evan Longoria in 2008.
Here’s a look at the matchups in the Home Run Derby, along with predictions as to how they will play out:
Quarterfinal #1: Albert Pujols (Angels) vs. Kris Bryant (Cubs)
This year in spring training, the 21-year-old Bryant captured America’s attention by slamming eight home runs in 40 at-bats. Pujols, meanwhile, is Pujols – a future first-ballot Hall of Famer experiencing a career renaissance who has participated in three past Derbies and reached the finals in 203. This is being heralded as the most interesting matchup in the Derby: a collision of the past and future of our national pastime. In the present, however, Pujols’ experience will trump Bryant’s youthful power. Prediction: Pujols
Quarterfinal #2: Joc Pederson (Dodgers) vs. Manny Machado (Orioles)
In this battle of young stars in their first Derbies, the rookie, Pederson, holds the upper hand. Despite his low batting average (.230 as of Sunday morning), he eclipses Machado in a key statistic – Isolated Power (ISO), a metric that measures raw power by subtracting average from slugging percentage. Pederson will likely fare well in the launching pad of Great American Ball Park. Prediction: Pederson
Quarterfinal #3: Josh Donaldson (Blue Jays) vs. Anthony Rizzo (Cubs)
Donaldson rode a tidal wave of votes into the All-Star Game. (He broke Josh Hamilton’s all-time record for most votes received.) But he meets a tough challenger in Rizzo. This should be the Derby’s closest matchup. Donaldson has out-homered Rizzo this year, 21–16, but Rizzo has outdone him in most advanced categories, including ISO. Add that to the fact that Rizzo plays in Great American more than a few times a year, due to his being in the NL Central, and it’s likely the Cub has the upper hand. Prediction: Rizzo
Quarterfinal #4: Todd Frazier (Reds) vs. Prince Fielder (Rangers)
Yet another intriguing duel features Frazier, a 25-homer man playing in his home park, versus Fielder, a two-time former winner (2009, ’12) poised to claim a crown with a third different team. It goes without saying the advantage lies with Frazier, both due to his home-field knowlegee and because of the fact that, with Giancarlo Stanton injured, he is probably the most prolific slugger right now in the National League. Predication: Frazier
Predicted Semifinal #1: Pujols vs. Pederson
Pujols bests one rookie only to find himself toe-to-toe with another one. Pederson, because of his sheer power, poses a significantly bigger threat to the legend than Bryant. Expect a dogfight in a potential meeting between the crosstown rivals. Pujols should be on upset alert against either Pederson or Machado, but he should prevail. Prediction: Pujols
Predicted Semifinal #2: Rizzo vs. Frazier
The ballpark factor is key once again in this clash. Frazier without a doubt holds the upper hand in that category, as well as key statistical categories – home runs, slugging percentage, and ISO, to name just a few. Frazier speeds into the finals relatively unchallenged. Prediction: Frazier
Predicted Final: Pujols vs. Frazier
This would be a very close matchup. Park factor? Pujols played in the NL Central for 11 years. Experience? Pujols has competed in three past Derbies, while Frazier nearly won one of his own in 2014. It’s neck-and-neck, but one thing Frazier will have that Pujols does not is fan support. Riding the wave of the home crowd, Frazier avenges his finals loss last year and captures the title. Predicted Champion: Frazier
To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Home Run Derby, Patrick picked his All-Derby Team. Check a slideshow of his Derby Dream Team!
Photo: American League's Yoenis Cespedes, of the Oakland Athletics, holds the trophy after winning the MLB All-Star baseball Home Run Derby, Monday, July 14, 2014, in Minneapolis. Cespedes defeated National League's Todd Frazier, of the Cincinnati Reds, in the finals. (Jeff Roberson/AP)