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Does the Home Run Derby affect Second Half Performance?


Did you know that the Home Run Derby was once a non-televised event? In fact, during its origins in the mid-80’s, it was nothing more than an afterthought show in the fashion of other All-Star side events. However, the Derby has become an integral part of the All-Star festivities, competing in popularity with the game itself, deserving special consideration year after year.

The 2015 version of the Derby saw hometown hero Todd Frazier win the event with a memorable performance under the new rules implemented by MLB. But while the new format was a big success for the fans and players, it is also important to mention that the Derby has not always been a blessing. In fact, even to this day some sluggers see it more as a burden than a reward, skipping the Derby despite their power potential.

Some anecdotal evidence has taught us that some players have struggled after participating in the Derby, noting that there has been a change in their swings or at least their mindset. While it could be understandable that vying only for power in the Derby can produce an effect when returning to the season’s normal activity, has it really produced dramatic changes?

Today we take a look at all the Derby participants from the past 10 competitions, and contrast their slugging numbers and homerun totals from before and after the event. This can paint a clearer picture on the matter and determine if there has been a negative (or positive) effect for the hitters who were tasked with nothing but to reach for the fences.

This sample consisted of 80 player seasons, taking out Jose Bautista’s 2012 appearance as well as Troy Tulowitzki’s 2014, as they both became injured shortly after the All-Star break and missed the rest of the year.

The averages of this sample produced these results:

1st Half SLG

2nd Half SLG

 

1st Half HR

2nd Half HR

 

0.5517

0.5069

-0.0448

19.5062

12.3086

-7.1975

 

While, by definition, All-Stars and Derby invitees tend to be first half overachievers, the difference does become significant, as nearly 50 points in slugging are lost on average. In fact, out of the 80 players sampled, only 28 actually increased their slugging. The top 10 in positive differential were:

Player

Year

Slugging Diff.

Ryan Howard

2006

0.169

Albert Pujols

2007

0.115

Ryan Howard

2009

0.092

Matt Holliday

2007

0.078

David Ortiz

2006

0.066

Adrian Gonzalez

2009

0.063

Evan Longoria

2008

0.057

Ryan Howard

2007

0.056

Jose Bautista

2014

0.054

Prince Fielder

2012

0.053

 

It’s remarkable to see Ryan Howard here, as he has become mostly a joke and a cautionary tale. Still, it seems as if he used the All-Star break and Derby invitation as a launching pad to monster second halves. However, that seems mostly in line with his career tendencies, as his slugging over the second half has been 70 points higher than what he does before the break. The other players have been mostly known as sluggers with huge numbers over their careers. Also, these players (except for Evan Longoria) share that they have been part of at least 2 HR Derbies each, so maybe they learned to adapt to the mid-season change of scenery.

On the other hand, here are the 10 largest negative differentials:

Player

Year

Slugging Diff.

Carlos Gonzalez

2012

-0.174

Justin Morneau

2007

-0.197

Chris Davis

2013

-0.202

Dan Uggla

2008

-0.209

Lance Berkman

2008

-0.217

Jose Bautista

2011

-0.225

Brandon Inge

2009

-0.234

Jose Bautista

2012

-0.246

Mark Trumbo

2012

-0.249

Matt Kemp

2012

-0.258

These drops in performance can be attributed to a number of reasons, like unsustainable slugging figures (Bautista, Davis, Gonzalez), to players that were probably miscast to join the Derby (Uggla, Inge), and some others that simply saw an aggressive pullback to the mean and had to settle for solid seasons (Berkman, Trumbo).

Seeing that the previous 10 Derbies had featured players from varying degrees of power and success (Hee-Seop Choi made it in 2005!), and that even some of the game’s prime sluggers have had mixed after-effects, it appears that while the Derby could have some blame, it’s just another factor to consider.

For example, if we only take the 10 winners into consideration, here are the results:

Player

Year

1st Half SLG

2nd Half SLG

 

Bobby Abreu

2005

0.526

0.411

-0.115

Ryan Howard

2006

0.582

0.751

0.169

Vladimir Guerrero

2007

0.547

0.548

0.001

Justin Morneau

2008

0.495

0.503

0.008

Prince Fielder

2009

0.614

0.59

-0.024

David Ortiz

2010

0.562

0.498

-0.064

Robinson Cano

2011

0.521

0.547

0.026

Prince Fielder

2012

0.505

0.558

0.053

Yoenis Cespedes

2013

0.42

0.473

0.053

Yoenis Cespedes

2014

0.442

0.462

0.02

Only 3 of them were worse after the Derby, but none other than Howard’s 2006 and Abreu’s 2005posted an exaggerated above-average result either way. While these players could justify a big change from being present for more rounds and more homers, there was no real enduring effect.

In the end, the new format may decrease any of the Derby’s perceived negative effects, as the players won’t have to wait long for their chance to bat, and it all could seem like a fast batting practice. Normal fatigue and regressions to the mean seem to be better explanations as to why Derby participants see their power numbers normally degree after taking part in it.

So next time your favorite player of the one that is carrying your fantasy team chooses to take part in the HR Derby, be aware that his power numbers are probably due to decrease, but not by much, and certainly not because he shot a few dingers just for fun.



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