The 2014 Home Run Derby used a new format that featured brackets and byes, and it was dumb. The whole Derby itself is not dumb -- it's a spectacle that's created some enduring moments and plenty of shocked faces from both players and fans alike, and that's the entire point -- but this specific setup was. That's because Major League Baseball went out of their way to take the most exciting pieces of the first round of the dinger tournament off of our televisions.
Wanting to reward Jose Bautista for successfully hitting 10 homers and leading the AL squad makes sense, but it just doesn't work with what the Derby is supposed to be doing. The whole point of this is to entertain millions of people through homers -- long, majestic, towering homers hit off of batting practice pitchers, hopefully in large quantities. MLB made the audience victims of Bautista's success, however, by taking him out of the second round of play, while removing Giancarlo Stanton from the NL side for his team-leading six shots, with the byes introduced for this year's contest. That's cool for Bautista and Stanton, who surely wanted to win this whole thing, but it makes the rest torture for the people this is supposed to be entertaining in the first place.
The Derby was dead at the start, thanks to an hour-long rain delay, and that's not MLB's fault. As it was still raining and was all of 56 degrees at first pitch -- the coldest ever start for a Home Run Derby in history -- baseballs weren't traveling all that far off the bat. It stopped raining just in time for Bautista, and he injected life into the show by going deep 10 times. This brief moment of optimism and joy was crushed once again when Troy Tulowitzki, Justin Morneau, Yasiel Puig, Adam Jones, and more failed to excite all that much in their turns up, and a situation was created where Todd Frazier got to advance despite hitting two homers. Yoenis Cespedes, like Stanton, was a respite from the dullness, but he didn't exceed Bautista, so he wasn't taken from us with a bye.
MLB's new bye system created a scenario where two of the only exciting pieces of the first round were no longer allowed to try to hit home runs for our amusement. Instead, we got to watch more Frazier. We didn't get to see Giancarlo Stanton try to top this shot...
...we got to see a cold Stanton come back after watching other people fail to be as jaw-droppingly awesome as he is, only to miss out on hitting any additional homers and see himself eliminated by Frazier, who hit 11 homers total despite getting to the finals. Rather than see Bautista continue to dominate Target Field -- a park he's bashed 11 homers in all of 14 career games in during his career -- we were subjected to more Adam Jones. Jones is a fine player, but he's not Bautista, nor does he possess his power.
MLB has already shortened the process a bit by going from 10 outs to seven. Maybe the next step is to eliminate the need for the byes by cutting down on how many batters advance. The idea behind guaranteeing an AL vs. NL finals is sound enough, but it shouldn't come at the expense of seeing more of the best the first round has to offer. If byes are eliminated and a round of the Derby goes with it, MLB could compensate for it by adding another player on each side in the first round -- there are advertising dollars at stake, so wanting to cut down on the broadcast length probably isn't their idea of a good time. From that point on, though, just advance the two leaders from both the AL and NL sides in the first round, then have the winners of those matchups face off in the AL vs. NL finals MLB clearly wants. If they insist on avoiding the elimination of a round, then add another contestant on each side as well as another advancing player.
Mixing It Up
Mixing It Up
Please don't do that, though, this thing is long enough as it is.
This isn't that difficult. MLB wants us to watch dingers, and we want to watch dingers. Instituting byes limits our potential opportunities to do just that, though, since it guarantees that whoever was most exciting to watch in the first hour-plus of the annual event is going to be ripped away from us. With any luck, MLB will notice the complaints about the lack of Stanton and Bautista on our televisions, and will go back to the drawing board once more for 2015's Derby.