Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (27) celebrates after winning the 2023 All-Star Home Run Derby at T-Mobile Park. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (27) celebrates after winning the 2023 All-Star Home Run Derby at T-Mobile Park. (Joe Nicholson/USA Today Sports.)

This year’s MLB Home Run Derby (Monday, July 15 at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN, also with a StatCast alternate feed on ESPN2) will see significant format changes.

Each hitter will see a maximum of 40 pitches during each of their timed rounds, a significant reduction from what we’ve seen in some recent years where the pace has been much higher (and where that’s spawned injury concerns).

On a Tuesday media conference call, ESPN Vice President of Production Phil Orlins and main feed announcers Karl Ravech, Eduardo Pérez, and Todd Frazier spoke to the media about what’s ahead for this year’s event. There, Frazier and Orlins offered some particularly notable thoughts on the format change (which ESPN announced on their Baseball Tonight pregame show Sunday). Frazier, who won the event in 2015, said this feels like a return to how the Derby was when he competed in it, and like something that should help reduce the fatigue for competing players.

“I think in 2015 when we first started doing it, for me, each round I took 39 exact swings. I look back — I remember Aaron Boone saying it live, 39 or 37, I forget the exact number, but that’s under 40 swings,” he said. “I think it was a little bit more — we had four minutes, but we were cruising.

“At the same time, I think it’s a really good format. Guys aren’t going to be as exhausted. You’re going to see guys maybe take their time. You’re going to see guys maybe want to get it over with, feel like they can get in a groove. So I think it’s going to be very interesting. But I think it does help out for the exhaustion level of the whole derby.”

Orlins said this is a dramatic reduction from where things were the past few years.

“There’s a lot of analysis done, the number of swings, like Todd was alluding to, interestingly enough, like you said, 39 back in 2015. We were actually trying to enforce balls landing before the next pitch was thrown, unsuccessfully at that time.

“Over the years, that wasn’t even tried anymore. Last year Randy Arozarena peaked with 57 swings in three minutes, and the lowest amount of swings was 43 swings in three minutes. So that just gives you a little bit of an idea of where the pace evolved to as it got more and more competitive and more and more desire to get as many pitches and swings as possible.

Tampa Bay Rays left fielder Randy Arozarena during the finals of the 2023 All-Star Home Run Derby.
Tampa Bay Rays’ Randy Arozarena during finals of the 2023 All-Star Home Run Derby. Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Ravech asked Frazier how he’d feel after 57 swings, and Frazier said “Not very good at all. I don’t know how some of those guys did it. I was exhausted after that, after the first time.”

Orlins said this should help make ESPN’s coverage smoother for viewers as well, citing the rule shift and what it will lead to as what will be the biggest change for ESPN’s coverage this year.

“One of the things I’m really excited about is sort of the containment of the pace, a little more like the three-point shootout within the first three minutes, but also we’re going off the clock for the bonus — I try not to call it bonus time because there will be no clock. Call it the bonus period that follows each at-bat.

“To be able to go back to the out-type format, three outs, an additional bonus out can be earned. So four outs if you earn the bonus. The opportunity to go off the clock, not be in a split screen, shoot all the action full, have reactions and orient that towards the biggest moments of the contest has been a really big priority, and with that, some redesign of the way — like some of the graphic layouts change. Again, a little bit more like three-point shootout where you’ll see across the bottom of the screen like 40 slots for each pitch, and each one will get filled in with either a home run or an out, things of that nature changes.”

Orlins said there will be another significant change with where their “4D replay” cameras are.

“We have added 4D replay, which we’ve done before, but we’ve always done it at mezzanine level. So 4D replay is the immersive, 180-degree kind of matrix spin cameras. We’ll be putting them just outside the batter’s dirt circle, so they’ll be 15 feet away from the hitter. 180-degree spin shots, freezes, all that kind of stuff.

A graphic showing ESPN's "4D" camera locations for the Home Run Derby.
A graphic showing ESPN’s “4D” camera locations for the Home Run Derby. (ESPN.)

Orlins said there will be some time challenges with that setup, however.

“We have to set that up in 30 minutes after the batting practice ends, so that will be an exercise to watch in and of itself.”

A graphic showing some of ESPN's "4D" camera locations for the Home Run Derby.
A graphic showing ESPN’s “4D” camera locations for the Home Run Derby. (ESPN.)

He said he’s also excited about the second year of the Statcast alternate feed (this year, featuring Kevin Brown, Jessica Mendoza, and Mike Petriello). Orlins said the 30-second delay on that feed (to allow time for the necessary graphics) can make it an easier watch, although it may not be as differentiated there from the main broadcast given the format change.

“I’m really excited about the second year of the Statcast alternative show, the animated portrayal of the home runs with the data. I think it’s one of the really great usages of data and new technology to create a truly differentiated visual experience,” he said. “It got tremendous — look, I don’t think it’s going to be as essential because the actual live contest will not be quite as out of control as it was the last couple years, but it still is a really, really comfortable, easy way to watch and see all the home runs relative to the live presentation, where it’s like cut, cut, cut, and multiple balls. It just is what it is when you’re trying to shoot a hitter, a pitch, and two or three balls in the air at the same time.”

Ravech said trying to call this kind of event live is always a challenge, but he likes trying to deal with chaos.

“I love the event. There’s a couple of things I liken it to. To me it’s a lot like an air traffic controller. There’s planes up in the air, and you’re trying to figure out which one is coming in to land and who’s taken off and who’s fallen in behind it. It’s a challenge, because honestly, we only have two eyes. We have a multiple number of screens.

“You just can’t be everywhere at the same time. You think a ball that’s hit really well is a homer when, in fact, it ends up hitting off the top of the wall.”

Ravech has been calling the Home Run Derby for ESPN since 2017. He said that experience has taught him some lessons.

“Look, there are a number of challenges that go into it, and I think what I’ve learned over the last couple years is in a sense to let the moment kind of build up until the end where the graphics are accurate because, I’ll be honest with you, there have been times where the numbers in the stadium aren’t the same that are on the screen in front of you, and it can get a little confusing if you let it.”

He also cited his time on Baseball Tonight as something that’s helped him here.

“I will say that all the Baseball Tonight experience that I had hosting that show with somebody in my ear and updates coming instantly, I got to a place where I would relish when things are not going well. It’s my job to land this plane smoothly. I think I was prepared for this environment through all the work that I did prior.

“I loved when things got screwed up, I really did, behind the scenes. My goal was to make sure the viewer at home had no idea that all these fires were burning. I love that. I literally would kind of come off of a show somewhat deflated when nothing went wrong.

“I think this Home Run Derby provides that. It’s an automatic. It’s a lot. There are going to be things that are happening that are beyond our control that allow me to feel like, okay, I got to be Sully Sullenberger here. We’ve got to find a body of water to get this thing down smoothly and have no one really know what’s going on in the kitchen, or as The Bear now on TV, with all the stuff that goes on in that kitchen, we don’t anybody to know how stressful it is out there when that meal is coming out. And I love those opportunities.”

Orlins said the Home Run Derby is a great opportunity for ESPN to appeal to multiple audiences, offering a more traditional version on the main ESPN feed and then the alternate Statcast presentation.

“I get a little nerdy about research and audience and all that stuff. I think of a little bit of sort of a bell curve for our audience where the majority of our audience falls into — this gets wonky, nerdy, gets into what we call traditionalist and diehard viewers. They probably make up more than 50 percent of our audience.

“Therefore, the main broadcast is always designed to provide an entertaining, fairly aggressive, progressive documentation of the event, a fair amount of new data and that type of stuff. But not enough to alienate either of those core groups.”

He said their approach is to be slightly progressive on the main broadcasts, but that leaves a choice to make for the alternate feed.

“I always look at it as the bell curve is the middle. We want to be a little on the progressive side of that largest group, whether that’s Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN or whether that’s Home Run Derby on ESPN. I think Todd, Eduardo bring experience, enthusiasm. Karl’s great at calling the event, conversational, makes it comfortable, natural, all those kind of things.

“The Statcast one, you sort of have to decide, where else do you want to go with the alternative? Do you want to go what I would call like the diehard/new school direction, which is really on the progressive cutting edge? Or do you want to go for an entertaining, casual approach, which is what you could say for some of our Kay-Rod Casts or our Manning Casts or things of that nature?”

Orlins said with Statcast, they lean in hard to that cutting edge.

“The play with this is to go really aggressive, differentiated, and talk about stuff in a different way than we ever would with real deep layers of data. We skipped most of the interviews except for the winning interviews. We’re just diving all the way in.

“Every swing, we’re going to have strike zones, and you can see where every pitch is thrown. Hot zones, where the hitter likes it, where the pitcher is trying to throw it, ball marks for it, exit velocity and launch angle as it leaves the bat, distance it lands. All those pieces are in there.

“It’s extremely aggressive. We like it. We do borrow from it on the primary coverage. We’re always trying to figure out the right spot for each.”

Pérez noted that he (who previously worked on some of the Statcast alternate broadcasts for games) and his fellow main-feed commentators can get just as nerdy at times, though.

“Don’t doubt that Todd and I, we can geek out on you guys, too, just in case. We can geek out on you guys. We can talk bat speed. We can talk bat length. Can we talk that? I know we can, but we’ll think about it.”

And he added later in the call that Orlins has always encouraged that authenticity from commentators.

“The one thing that has stood out the entire time since I’ve had to work alongside with Phil, I remember he’s always saying be inclusive and be a forward thinker, and do not be afraid just to think outside the box and implement that.

“We’ve been able to do it obviously on the technological side of it, and I’ve been fortunate to grow with that. When he included me in the Statcast version of it, I thought it was awesome. It opened up a new world to the old-school thinking of me because I grew up in the sport the entire time, and I’ve seen it grow. He’s been a major part of it now.

“To be able to see it from this angle and to see where it’s gone because of him pushing us to see where we can take this sport and the basis of technology, but the most important thing is he puts the fan first. I think that’s what is important.

“I think it adds to, but it doesn’t take away from, that old-school person watching the game or watching the event. I think that’s where he’s made us a lot better.”

Regardless of which feed viewers consume, there will likely be lots of viewers for this. Ravech said the Home Run Derby has shown remarkable endurance, and some of that’s about the appeal of massive home runs.

“With regards to baseball, I have a feeling that the idea of hitting a baseball that far appeals to everybody that’s ever had a bat and a ball, whether it be baseball or softball, and just how unique that skill set is,” he said. “It’s a tradition that, as we all know, goes back hundreds of years, and yet we’re still mesmerized by it. They’re just so darn big, and television does such an incredible job of allowing you to be up close and personal with the people that are pitching and hitting, and maybe equally, the people in the stands that are amazed by it, that get drawn into it. I do think it’s a unique event that people have no ability to relate to, but everybody thinks they can relate to it, if that makes any sense.”

The Home Run Derby will air on ESPN and ESPN2 at 8 p.m. ET on Monday, July 15.

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.