As we can see by just peeking at Home Run Derby history, which goes back to 1985, a lot of things have changed.
Sure, the format has changed approximately 10 million times, but it’s also led to a lot more action than we ever could’ve imagined as recently as 25 years ago. To put things a bit more in perspective with just how this event has changed throughout the course of this century, let’s go back briefly to the 2005 Home Run Derby, which Bobby Abreu won with a then-record 41 total home runs.
I remember watching and being in awe of Abreu slugging those dingers and essentially running away from the rest of the field. Fast-forward 14 years later to the 2019 Derby, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Joc Pederson nearly equaled Abreu’s 2005 total…in one freakin’ round.
That’s absolutely insane. What made it even more insane was that Vladito and Pederson accomplished this in a second-round head-to-head matchup, making for some legendary theater that will last a lifetime.
The Most Epic Rounds in Home Run Derby History
Here are the best single-round performances in the history of the Home Run Derby, and my goodness, prepare for all the dingers.
2019 Second Round: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (40 HR) vs. Joc Pederson (39 HR)
The 2019 season was Guerrero’s rookie campaign, and with just eight home runs by the All-Star Break, he only received an invite to the Home Run Derby because the event lacked participants. By the time he finished, just about everyone hoped he’d do it every single summer (and it was sad when he said he wasn’t doing it in 2021).
This second-round performance was crazy because the Toronto Blue Jays slugger was fresh off breaking the single-round record in the first round by slugging 29 homers. He didn’t just hit 40 straightaway, though. He led off the second round and made things tough on Pederson by matching his record with another 29 dingers.
So, no big deal for Joc, right? All he needed to do was at least tie the single-round Home Run Derby record to have a shot at advancing (I’m kidding). Just about everyone in the park and at home watching on TV likely thought Guerrero was a lock to move on, but Pederson wasn’t just going to roll over and let him win. He actually tied his fellow slugger with 29 homers of his own, which meant these two were headed for some overtime.
Guerrero and Pederson were each given another minute to blast as many homers as they could to determine a winner. While fatigue had to be setting in at this point, they both slugged another eight homers to remain tied at 37 dingers apiece. This led to the next kind of tiebreaker: a swing-off. Guerrero and Pederson were each given three swings (untimed) to determine a winner. They only hit one homer each in the first swing-off, remaining tied and needing another one.
Guerrero hit two of his three balls out, and Pederson had a chance to tie after hitting one out on his first swing, but he couldn’t muster another homer to keep the dream alive. Although Pete Alonso was the eventual winner of the 2019 Home Run Derby, this second-round matchup between Guerrero and Pederson will be talked about for years.
2021 First Round: 35 Home Runs for Pete Alonso
The COVID-19 pandemic forced us to go without a Home Run Derby for the first time since it was canceled due to rain in 1988, and boy the entire event didn’t disappoint. There was some extra pressure for Pete Alonso, entering as the defending champ. It was also the only All-Star festivities he’d be a part of since he wasn’t selected to participate in the midsummer classic.
The first baseman proved to be up to the task, hitting the 35 bombs you see in the video above. Some credit should be given to Dave Jauss, who was a machine when it came to putting balls in Alonso’s happy zone.
This is absolutely insane from Dave Jauss. pic.twitter.com/9YssrgVX37— David Fucillo (@davidfucillo) July 13, 2021
And, just in case you needed to see it in action, here’s an awesome four-pitch overlay of him throwing to a nearly identical spot for Alonso to do damage.
Dave Jauss, 4 Pitch Overlay (consecutive pitches). ???? pic.twitter.com/5ORxsFB1ns— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 13, 2021
One would imagine that after a performance like this, it’d be easy to have a let-down in the following round, especially since Alonso hit first in his first-round matchup and then had to wait until after Juan Soto did his work in Round 2 to step up to the plate again. It obviously didn’t bother him at all, as he cruised to his second straight Home Run Derby victory.
What’s fun to note, too, is that he beat Trey Mancini in the finals by a score of 23-22, which was the exact same score in which he beat Vlad Jr. during the 2019 finals to secure his first crown. This doesn’t just happen during the Home Run Derby, though. Check out Pete Alonso’s home runs through the years here.
2022 First Round: 32 Home Runs for Julio Rodríguez
Julio Rodriguez not only entered the 2022 Home Run Derby as the only rookie, but he was also the youngest and had just 15 career big-league homers to his name. Well, you wouldn’t have guessed that while watching him launch moonshot after moonshot as he led off the entire event.
These bad boys weren’t cheap, either. J-Rod’s longest homer of this round checked in at 463 feet, and he launched nine balls more than 440 feet. In total, his 32 home runs measured out to 2.15 miles, which is just a ridiculous amount of work for just four total minutes of swings. He also had an average exit velocity of 109 mph. So, the Mariners’ rookie phenom did a little bit of everything with this performance.
Since he went first in his head-to-head matchup with Corey Seager, he put all the pressure on the Rangers shortstop. And it’s not like he didn’t perform well – Seager finished with 24 home runs in Round 1. That was the second-highest total of any slugger, but it wasn’t good enough to advance.
2022 Second Round: 31 Home Runs for Julio Rodríguez
Prior to this season, the Home Run Derby had produced four rounds of 30-plus homers in the event’s history. Rodríguez not only added to that in the first round, but he came back in Round 2 and became the first player to have two such performances in one Derby. Talk about announcing yourself to the baseball world on one of the sport’s biggest stages, right?
He once again led off his head-to-head matchup, this time against two-time defending Derby champ, Pete Alonso. Those 31 homers put pressure on the first baseman, who couldn’t get into a groove and eventually lost to J-Rod after slugging 24 homers.
In addition to being the first player to post two 30-homer rounds in one Derby, it’s worth noting he also did it in consecutive rounds, which is just ridiculous to think about.
2021 First Round: 31 Home Runs for Juan Soto
Juan Soto was having a solid year for the Nationals heading into the All-Star break, but not necessarily from the perspective of power. Soto was slashing .283/.407/.445 through 332 plate appearances with Washington, but it included just 11 home runs. So, while he earned an invite to participate in the Home Run Derby, it put him as the eight-seed. That meant he’d go up against eventual AL MVP, Shohei Ohtani, who had already slugged 33 homers for the Angels.
Soto didn’t disappoint, though, as he finished his round with 22 homers, which tied Ohtani and meant they went to a one-minute swing-off. Both took advantage of the opportunity by each hitting another six home runs to bring the tie to 28. Next was a three-pitch swing-off, which Soto won to move on and face Pete Alonso in the second round.
He wouldn’t advance any further that night, but his home-run swing was fixed, as he slugged 18 dingers over his final 322 plate appearances in the second half, yielding a .639 slugging percentage.
2019 First Round: 29 Home Runs for Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
Vladito was one of baseball’s top prospects heading into the 2019 season, and there was a considerable buzz when he made his debut on April 26th. His first taste of big-league action was good but not great, as he slashed .249/.328/.413 with eight home runs and 25 RBI in 253 plate appearances, giving him a 97 wRC+.
One of the things that have always been talked about with Guerrero is his batting practice sessions, which were usually very impressive. And once he was confirmed as a Home Run Derby participant, he immediately began taking it seriously by practicing for the event in his spare time:
That practice paid off in a big way as he continually smashed Home Run Derby records virtually every time he stepped into the batter’s box. It all started with his first round, of course, which you can take a gander at above.
In the field of eight participants, Guerrero was the eighth seed, tasked with facing top-seeded Matt Chapman of the Oakland Athletics. Since he was the lower seed, Guerrero took his hacks first and put on a show with not only a record-setting number of homers but also with just how majestic and beautiful they were while sailing into the stands. He had no problem getting some extra time for hitting long-distance homers, and his longest one of this round traveled 476 feet.
2021 First Round: 28 Home Runs for Shohei Ohtani
Part of Ohtani’s AL MVP season included hitting an MLB-best 33 dingers in the first half. That honor earned him the top seed in the Home Run Derby, and while he didn’t advance after a battle with Soto (which you can see above), he made it worth everyone’s while. The initial three-minute period yielded 22 home runs for the two-way star, along with another six in the one-minute swing-off that followed.
After Soto went perfect in the three-pitch swing-off, Ohtani missed on his first chance and that was it for him. All in all, though, it was an impressive first showing for the Japanese slugger, and we obviously hope he’ll be back in the future.
2021 First Round: 28 Home Runs for Salvador Perez
Before he went on a second-half homer rampage, Salvador Perez entered the All-Star break with 21 dingers. He was paired up in the first round of the Home Run Derby with Pete Alonso. You’d think that hitting 28 homers would be good enough to advance. In most cases, it would – that total was the third highest of all eight participants in the first round. However, Alonso went first and proceeded to hit 35 dingers before giving way to Perez.
It was a valiant effort by the veteran backstop, who faced an incredible hill to climb just to get within shouting distance of the eventual Derby champ. Perez got to that number by finishing with a flourish. He hit just nine homers in the first minute and a half before taking his timeout. Then, the rest of those dingers started raining down at Coors Field.
He used the thin air in Denver to his advantage, slugging a 491-foot blast and launching 16 balls more than 450 feet. In total, Perez, accumulated 2.36 miles of home runs, along with hitting dingers on six consecutive swings in the bonus round.
The Royals’ catcher was ousted after this performance, but he did end up slugging the most home runs by a backstop in Home Run Derby history. And he did it in just one round, which is awfully impressive.
2008 First Round: 28 Home Runs for Josh Hamilton
Josh Hamilton’s MLB career included a number of twists and turns from the moment the Tampa Bay Devil Rays drafted him first overall straight out of high school in 1999. Substance abuse issues prevented him from playing professional baseball at all from 2003 to 2005. He finally made his big-league debut with the Cincinnati Reds in 2007, posting a .922 OPS in 90 games played.
His real breakout came in 2008 after he was traded to the Texas Rangers. The left-handed slugger slashed .304/.371/.530 with 32 home runs and a league-leading 130 RBI. Hamilton’s 21 homers by the All-Star Break were among the highest totals in baseball, and by the time he was done with the first round of the Home Run Derby at Yankee Stadium, anyone who had forgotten about him was well aware he was back in the game.
It’s safe to say he gave us a bit of foreshadowing before this historic performance, as he told reporters how he wanted to try and hit a ball completely out of the stadium (quote via ESPN):
“You know that little opening [in right field], right there where you can see the subway?” he chuckled. “Watch out.”
It didn’t actually happen — he came close, though — and he did plenty of other incredible things during this round. Like, you know, hitting 13 homers on 13 consecutive swings and launching seven homers 500-plus feet (his farthest was 518 feet).
As one can imagine, he was tired after that power display and eventually lost in the finals to Justin Morneau. Despite not taking home the trophy, you better believe that viewership of the Home Run Derby was so high because of what Hamilton was doing in that first round.
It’s worth noting that Hamilton was used to putting together huge performances in a single night. After all, he’s one of a handful of hitters to slug 4 home runs in a game.
2019 First Round: 25 Home Runs for Ronald Acuña Jr.
(There isn’t a video of just his first round on YouTube, so here’s his second round instead, just so you have something fun to watch.)
The 2019 season was Ronald Acuña Jr.’s first full campaign in the big leagues, and he was on his way to a real breakout performance. En route to posting a 5.6 fWAR, he enjoyed a 30-30 season (41 homers and 37 stolen bases) while driving in 101 runs and scoring another 127 of his own for the Atlanta Braves.
After teammate Freddie Freeman was ousted in the first round of the 2018 Home Run Derby by eventual champion Bryce Harper, Acuña made it to the semifinals before getting beaten by the eventual 2019 champion, Pete Alonso. He didn’t exit without making a ton of noise and impressing those around him, though.
One of the great things you’ll see in the above video is how Acuña didn’t just try to pull the ball to get it over the wall every time — he showed some oppo taco power to right field and center field. He showed off some of that easy power of his, too. Even though he didn’t advance to the finals, hitting 44 homers through his first two rounds of Home Run Derby as a 21-year-old is pretty dang good. Being as young as he is, the superstar will have a number of other opportunities to secure Home Run Derby glory in the future.
More Impressive Home Run Derby Performances to Come
As you can see above, many of the best Home Run Derby performances highlighted have happened not too long ago. With the revamped format, it feels like a formality that more impressive showings will be added in the near future. When it does, stop back and relive it with us.