In years past, MLB All-Star Week was one of the most anticipated events of the season. The “Mid Summer Classic” had meaning, with the winning division owning the home field advantage in the World Series. Since this has changed, the All-Star game has turned more and more into the Pro Bowl. While the players still put forth a noticeable effort, the intensity is clearly gone.
With this came a lower interest in the Home Run Derby. Ratings have been sporadic over the past few years. In 2016, Giancarlo Stanton put on a clinic and defeated the 2015 winner in Todd Frazier. Even with his stellar performance, ratings took a slight drop from the prior year. In 2017, young star Aaron Judge helped ratings reach an eight-year high only to see last year’s derby regress and pull in a 20-plus year low. The ratings for last night’s derby are a tick higher from 2018’s putrid numbers, although to me last night was the most fun I have had watching the derby in years. We saw a night full of record-breaking performances and young stars making names for themselves. Here is a round-by-round recap of what happened:
The first round was interesting right off the bat. As shown in the bracket, this is a list that is full of young, up-and-coming stars. This is without including the initial #1 seed in Christian Yelich, who was dealing with back issues and opted to not participate. His spot was taken by Matt Chapman, the young third baseman for the Oakland A’s. The field consisted of two rookies in Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Pete Alonso, as well as a second-year player in Ronald Acuña Jr.
Joc Pederson vs. Alex Bregman
The first matchup of the derby featured two very different hitters. Joc Pederson fits very well with the derby format in that he naturally has a home run swing, often sacrificing contact for power throughout the season. He started off slow, but eventually found a groove and hit 13 home runs in the final two minutes while also earning 30 seconds in bonus time for hitting two home runs 440 feet or further. As is the case in just about every other derby, the streaks of multiple home runs in a row by the opposition can be tough to overcome, as was the case for Alex Bregman. While Bregman is a tremendous hitter and possesses power (as shown by his 23 homers at the All-Star Break), his level swing is more suited for line drives against 98 MPH pitching and not the batting practice style that is used in the Home Run Derby. The high wall in left field also cost Bregman a few homers that might have left the yard at more righty-friendly stadiums. Bregman wasn’t able to qualify for the 30-second bonus, and Pederson took the first round match up 21 to 15.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. vs. Matt Chapman
Many doubted whether Guerrero was worthy of being in the competition as his eight regular-season home runs were significantly less than anyone else in the field, but there was no doubt that he silenced those critics with his monstrous homers that destroyed the left field bleachers, including his furthest of the round that traveled 476 feet. He earned his bonus and went on to hit an astounding 29 home runs to break the record for home runs in the first round.
This turned out to be a tough deficit for Chapman to overcome, who received his offer to take Yelich’s place just over 24 hours prior to the event. Lack of preparation aside, Chapman did well early and hit a few far enough to earn his bonus. However, he didn’t have quantity on his side and with some questionable pitching from his father, lost to the mighty Guerrero 29 to 13.
Ronald Acuña Jr. vs. Josh Bell
Acuña’s first round was certainly impressive, as he showed power to all fields by hitting a few homers to dead center and a few to the opposite field. This skill shows how advanced of a bat Acuña has with how young he is, as most derby contestants tend to pull the ball. He earned his bonus with a few towering shots to left field and ended the first round with 25 homers.
All-Star first baseman Josh Bell was certainly a deserving participant in the Home Run Derby as he has turned his career around this season. After a slow beginning to his first round, Bell earned his bonus but the stellar performance by Acuña was too much to overcome. Acuña took this round 25 to 18.
Carlos Santana vs. Pete Alonso
The hometown nominee Santana began the round with a slow start but found somewhat of a groove following his timeout. Most of his frozen rope homers that left the yard didn’t have too much distance to them, so he didn’t qualify for his bonus and ended up with 13 homers. The rookie phenom Alonso went second and was immediately jeered by the Cleveland fans. Anytime Alonso left a ball short, the hometown fans would cheer what seemed to be louder than they cheered for any of Santana’s actual home runs. This didn’t affect Alonso, however, as he surpassed Santana’s total of 13 on his final swing, advancing with a score of 14 to 13.
Guerrero vs. Pederson
This turned out to be, without a doubt, the best matchup of the derby. Guerrero went first and matched his first-round total of 29 homers. He continued to hit the ball with ease and even hit one up to 488 feet. This seemed to be an insurmountable overtaking for Pederson, but he overcame fatigue and tied Guerrero. At first, it looked as though he had 30 homers, but one that was initially counted was taken back because it fell just short of the right-field wall. This sparked debate online as to whether the canceled homer should have counted, but regardless overtime was forced.
The one-minute playoff resulted in another exciting scene, as both players again tied each other with eight homers. This then forced ANOTHER playoff, this time the sluggers each got three swings each to do damage. As you might have guessed, the two tied once more after both hitting one homer. The same format ensued for the next playoff round, which Guerrero won two homers to one. In a valiant effort, Guerrero advanced past Pederson, who put up an incredible fight but ultimately fell short due to fatigue and a decent amount of homers that had the distance but went foul. Guerrero broke yet another record and advanced following an exhilarating round, 40 to 39.
Alonso vs. Acuña Jr.
In a tough act to follow up, Acuña and Alonso squared off, with Acuña batting first. While he hit a few moonshots and performed decent, his total of 19 seemed certain to be surpassed as fatigue was once again a factor down the stretch. Alonso didn’t even wind up needing his bonus time, as he hit another buzzer-beater to finish with 20 homers and a trip to the final with a score of 20-19.
Guerrero vs. Alonso
In a matchup featuring two exciting rookies, Guerrero hit first and put up a quick 22 homer performance. It was clear that his overtime match up in the semi-finals impacted him, as he was clearly fatigued and took his timeout very early on. This lead to Alonso running away with the derby when it was his turn. He was working quick and once again didn’t need his 30-second bonus. In dramatic fashion, Alonso took home the 2019 Home Run Derby Trophy and the $1 million prize. Seeing as Alonso is on his rookie deal and is making about $550K a piece, this was a solid paycheck for the young New York Met.
Even with no local Chicago stars in the mix for this year’s derby, the drama and excitement made this event exciting to watch. It certainly was a great way to market the game of baseball with a crop of young, exciting talent.
Featured Photo: AP Photo/Tony Dejak