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If I Were In Charge Of The Home Run Derby

Josh HamiltonI can't stand "analysis" of the Home Run Derby. Here's what you need to know. Eight sluggers are going to step to the plate, and try to hit home runs. One of them is likely to get in the zone in the first round, and whoever does will be remembered best, whether they win or not.

Instead of mindless analysis, I thought I'd write a more interesting piece (at least in my eyes) about the Home Run Derby in general. I don't have any serious qualms with it, but there are a series of changes I would make to the format. I've put them in order from most to least realistic, at least in my estimation:

  • Give a reward for the longest home run. Technically, distance doesn't matter in the derby, just the total home runs. However, in reality, distance does matter. Whoever hits the longest home run deserves something.
  • The reigning champion is always invited. Where is Justin Morneau this year? Sports fans always like following a title defense. Inviting the previous champ builds in a guaranteed storyline for each Home Run Derby. Then again, this may require the next change...
  • Invite sluggers not on either All-Star team. Technically, there is no rule against this. Also, MLB "broke" it to have all the active hitters with 500 career home runs battle in a derby a couple years ago. Maybe I'm partial as a Mariners fan, but I want to see Russell Branyan in a Home Run Derby. Just like the NBA goes beyond their All-Star teams routinely for their skills competitions, Major League Baseball should simply try to pick the best home run hitters.
  • Have home runs carry over from round to round. Let's be honest, Justin Morneau won last year's derby, but who really won it? Josh Hamilton, that's who. He was voted a starter in this year's midsummer classic despite missing a couple months of the first half. That's how powerful his 2008 derby performance was. He put on the most memorable derby performance of all time, so he should be the winner. Carrying home run totals from round to round would have ensured that. You could argue that it would make the derby more boring, especially in cases where a guy like Hamilton explodes in a round, but I have an answer for that to...
  • Shorten the derby to two rounds. Think back on the derby rounds you remember. They are almost all in the first round. The only exceptions I can think of are Sammy Sosa's second round in 2000, and Barry Bonds in the 1994 final. Hitters are fatigued by the third round every year, setting the stage for an anti-climactic final. Shortening the derby to only two rounds should make the final more interesting when first round totals are close (remember, I want totals to carry over), and also get through guaranteed anti-climactic finals quicker when someone has an epic first round.
  • Extend the derby field to nine, and have three go on to the second (and final) round. With the current 8-hitter, 3-round format, a total of 14 "at-bats" take place. My proposed format has 12 "at-bats," so it is not much shorter. I like nine because then the first round resembles a regular batting lineup, and then I would have podium for the end to award first, second, and third place. All ties would be broken by the current "blast-off" rule.
Under my rules, here is what the 2009 Home Run Derby lineup would look like:
  1. Josh Hamilton
  2. Ryan Howard
  3. Nelson Cruz
  4. Prince Fielder
  5. Russell Branyan
  6. Adam Dunn
  7. Adrian Gonzalez
  8. Carlos Pena
  9. Albert Pujols
It's very lefty-heavy, but I don't know who I would remove. Technically, under my own rules I should include Justin Morneau, but I'm counting Hamilton as last year's winner. He would have been if my modified derby rules were used. Though this year's actual derby lineup looks great, I like this theoretical one more.

The Home Run Derby isn't broken, but it could be even better. A few tweaks would make it even more entertaining.