If you tuned in to ESPN on Monday night, you were most likely doing so in order to watch the Home Run Derby. I mean, I won’t judge if you intentionally were looking for the celebrity softball game, but if I want some Kevin James in my life I’ll just go find some reruns of The King of Queens.
For years, the Home Run Derby had been getting stale. You may remember about a decade ago when MLB tried making it a world affair by having representatives from different countries and Jason Bay ended up with an o-fer while competing for Canada. As I wrote in my FanPost (well, more like “shared Grant Brisbee’s humorous suggestions for changing the Derby”) this spectacle was MLB’s version of the Slam Dunk Contest, where you would have high hopes for it and it just lacked the punch that you hoped to see. I’ll admit that Aaron Gordon took the SDC to a new level this past year and lucky for us, MLB has found a way to do the same.
Yes, I know that this format was officially adopted last season, but it bears repeating: The new format for the Home Run Derby is perfect. If you recall, the old format would give each player 10 “outs,” or 10 non-home runs, to hit as many dingers as possible. What resulted was that a player would take a swing, step out of the batter’s box, adjust his batting gloves, take a deep breath, step back in, take a few pitches that weren’t perfect, then finally swing, and repeat all over again. The contest dragged, we had to hear more Chris Berman, it wasn’t pretty.
The new format added a clock and it has been a wonderful addition. Now, players get four minutes to hit as many home runs as they can. The catch is that the pitcher isn’t allowed to throw until the prior batted ball has landed (though we could tell on Monday that a few pitchers were fudging this rule a bit). Batters are allowed a 30-second time-out during the first two rounds and two time-outs during the final round. Thanks to the power of StatCast, home runs are measurable in real time and if you hit at least two home runs of 440+ feet, you received a 30-second bonus round at the end of your original four minutes.
Josh Donaldson’s nickname is “Bringer of Rain” for the blasts that he hits. Well, at Petco Park we witnessed a torrential downpour. With the new format, players had to be hacking right away or they’d risk losing the round. Rarely did we see guys get into funks where they made out after out. Often they’d trade outs and home runs, but the best part was when they got in the zone and turned the ballpark into Dustin Pedroia’s Laser Show.
Though the night started a bit slow with Corey Seager, he did finish with 15 home runs. The same was true with his competitor Mark Trumbo, though he refocused after taking his time-out by knocking out 11 consecutive home runs to beat Seager. However, that wasn’t even the showstopper because that resided in the 6’6”, 245 lb. frame of the demigod known as Giancarlo Stanton.
We probably should have called this thing The Giancarlo Stanton Classic because he stole the show by knocking out a total of 61 home runs. That’s not a typo. He hit the 20 hardest home runs on the night, he had the 10 furthest home runs and 18 of the longest 19, and he even set StatCast records for the lowest trajectory home run ever recorded at 12.3 degrees (breaking his own record of 13.5 degrees) and highest exit velocity on a home run at 120.4 MPH (game record is 119.2 MPH). The format, combined with perhaps the strongest man in baseball and the latest in technology led to one exciting night. Oh, and my favorite was that the entire contest was over in about 2 1/2 hours.
I just hope that Stanton has no issue continuing to compete in the future. Monday night was fun and though the other hitters were entertaining in their own right, Stanton stood above and beyond everyone else. Hell, let’s hope that Miguel Sano reaches his potential and earns an invite. Sano vs. Stanton would be must-see TV.