For one night, on one stage, in an event that showcases one signature skill, the sport without a clock embraces the entertainment of a ticking timer and the buzz of the occasional buzzer beater. The T-Mobile Home Run Derby has featured many rules iterations in its 33 years of existence,
For one night, on one stage, in an event that showcases one signature skill, the sport without a clock embraces the entertainment of a ticking timer and the buzz of the occasional buzzer beater. The T-Mobile Home Run Derby has featured many rules iterations in its 33 years of existence, but the decision in 2015 to do away with the "outs" and subject the sluggers to a time limit added a new -- and needed -- energy to the event.
• Hometown favorite Harper joined by 7 in Derby field
That energy will be palpable at Washington's Nationals Park, where the Derby, broadcast at 8 p.m. ET tonight on ESPN, will feature the Brewers' Jesus Aguilar, the Nationals' Bryce Harper, the Dodgers' Player Page for Max Muncy, the Astros' Alex Bregman, the Cubs' Kyle Schwarber and Javier Baez, the Braves' Freddie Freeman and the Phillies' Rhys Hoskins.
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In succession, Todd Frazier (2015 at Great American Ball Park), Giancarlo Stanton ('16 at Petco Park) and Aaron Judge ('17 at Marlins Park) validated the tweaked Derby format with epically entertaining performances. The same format will be used this year.
• Home Run Derby history
So here is a refresher course on how this Derby will go down:
How are the seeds decided?
Because defending champion Judge opted not to return for the Derby and claim his No. 1 seed, the seeds were determined by 2018 home run totals entering Wednesday's play. Tiebreakers were determined by home run totals since June 15, as stipulated in the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
That put No. 1 Aguilar (23) vs. No. 8 seed Hoskins (14), No. 2 Harper (22) vs. No. 7 Freeman (16), No. 3 Muncy (21) vs. No. 6 Baez (17) and No. 4 Bregman (19) vs. No. 5 Schwarber (17). (From June 15 until Wednesday, Schwarber had six homers to Baez's three.)
• Play the T-Mobile Home Run Derby Bracket Challenge game
What is the format?
It's a single-elimination bracket system with three rounds total. In each bracket, the higher seed hits second.
Batters will have four minutes per round. The clock starts with the release of the first pitch. Interestingly, when the new format was created in 2015, batters were supposed to have five minutes per round. With rain in the forecast in Cincinnati that night, the decision was made to shorten the rounds to four minutes. The event went so well that MLB opted to keep the four-minute rounds in effect.
It should be noted that once the second player in a given round exceeds the home run total of his opponent, the round ends. There is no need for a player to add to his tally.
After the first round, the winner of the Aguilar-Hoskins matchup will meet the winner of Bregman-Schwarber. On the other side of the bracket, the Harper-Freeman winner faces the Muncy-Baez winner. The two players left standing will meet in the final round.
Can players stop the clock?
Yes. In the first round and semifinals, each batter is entitled to one 45-second timeout. In the finals, each batter gets two timeouts -- one for 45 seconds and another for 30 seconds.
In the 2015 semifinals against Josh Donaldson, Frazier took his timeout with one minute, 49 seconds remaining in the round while trailing, 9-6. He regrouped and wound up tying Donaldson with less than 10 seconds left before drilling a 444-foot blast just as time expired to advance to the finals against Joc Pederson.
The timeout wound up working against Frazier a year later, because after Stanton hit just six homers in the first 1:35 of the finals, he took a timeout, then pounded out 14 more following the breather to take the title away from the Toddfather.
Can participants earn bonus time?
Yes, 30 seconds of bonus time will be awarded for hitting at least two home runs that each equal or exceed 440 feet. Distances will be tracked and posted using Statcast™. Any bonus time will be awarded at the end of the initial four-minute round and the timer will not stop during the bonus time period.
Last year, Judge hit four homers that traveled more than 500 feet, so he maxed out his bonus time -- and he needed that extension to exceed opponent Justin Bour's total of 22 homers in the first round.
How are ties broken?
Ties in any round will be broken by a 60-second swing-off with no stoppage of time or additional time added. If a tie remains after the swing-off, batters will engage in successive three-swing swing-offs until there is a winner.
There has not yet been a swing-off under the format installed in 2015.
Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.