The Home Run Derby Does Not, in Fact, Screw Up a Guy’s Swing

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It’s inevitable.  One of the participants in this year’s contest will
go into a slump.  And the first thing people will blame is the Home Run
Derby, thinking that somehow his mechanics have been thrown off by what
amounts to taking extra batting practice.  Fangraphs’ R.J. Anderson recently did
a pretty thorough debunking
of this popular myth.  He selected the five participants in recent
history who have seen the most significant decline in power numbers in
the second half, and concluded that most of them were simply playing
above their heads and were bound to come back down to earth
eventually.  And that makes sense.  The event organizers for the Home
Run Derby invite players who, naturally, are hitting a lot of home
runs.  These players are often having a really great first half of the
season and are putting up numbers that just aren’t sustainable.  Bobby
Abreu is probably a perfect example.  He was having a pretty good first
half of the season, hitting .307/.428/.556/.955 with 18 home runs and
putting up career numbers in nearly every offensive category.  Then he
started to cool off after the All-Star break, hitting only six more
homers through August and September.  Obviously, people (including
Abreu himself I believe, but I’ll get to that in a minute) blamed the
Home Run Derby for his perceived slump.  However, Abreu finished the
season batting .286/.404/.474/.879, which is essentially right in line
with his career numbers.  What we were seeing wasn’t really a slump so
much as regression: that is, his production starting was to fall right
back in line with his career averages (or, if you prefer, he was who we
thought he was).  I think it’s also worth noting that Abreu was 34
years old at the time, and those numbers are about what you would
expect from a player his age.

If you’re not into fancy statistical analysis, then perhaps Joe Morgan (of all people) says it best:

“All players get tired in the second half. That is why very few players hit more HRs in the second half.”

Which leads me to Joe Mauer.  Mauer was red-hot in his first month
since coming off the DL, batting .414/.500/.838/1.338.  He’s hit 15
homers already this season, two more than his career mark set in 2006. 
These numbers aren’t sustainable for anyone, especially not a catcher,
and he’s just bound to cool off eventually.  In fact, he already has,
batting *only* .325/.404/.425/.829 in the month of July.  He’ll
probably finish the season batting .326/.414/.487/.901, which is much
closer to his career average and might still be enough to earn him his
third batting title.  SO I DON’T WANT TO HEAR ONE GODDAM THING ABOUT
THE HOME RUN DERBY MESSING UP HIS SWING.

And yet, the idea that participating in the Home Run Derby causes
hitters to slump persists.  Players are always quick to use it as an
excuse, probably because it sounds a lot better than: “Sorry guys, I’m
just tired.”, or “I guess my power numbers are simply regressing to the
mean.”  Both of those are probably much closer to the truth, but nobody
really wants to hear it.

3 Comments

Man, that home run derby is sure gonna mess up Joe’s swing.
Twins Limey

Guys have to get tired the second half of the season – it is so long. I hope all the participants in this years HR Derby do well the second half.

Julia
http://werbiefitz.mlblogs.com/

Marty,I know! He’s going to be totally useless from now on. Let’s trade him to the Yankees for a bunch of prospects!Julia,Me, too. But yeah, the fact that baseball is such a grind probably plays more into these slumps than participating in the Home Run Derby.

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