Can The Home Run Derby Really Ruin A Player's Swing?

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Can The Home Run Derby Really Ruin A Player's Swing?
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Holidays come once a year. There’s only one Christmas. There is only one Thanksgiving. Unless you’re really multicultural, there’s only one Independence Day. I suppose there could be more than one Friday the 13th, but if that’s your holiday of choice, you might need to reassess your life. Or at least consolidate your celebrations and save them for Halloween.

For baseball players, the All-Star break is that once a year holiday where everyone gets a present. Those players who make the team get a chance to increase their name recognition, while possibly even getting a bonus and increasing their future contract value. For those who don’t make the team, it’s the only multiple day break from baseball all season; a chance to heal injuries and rest the mind.

The fans also get a present every year during mid-July. They get the gift of lame excuses. The home run derby is one of the coolest events in all of sports. When it comes to All-Star Weekends, the games are generally very boring. Nobody cares which conference is the first to 200 points in the NBA game. And nobody really cares if the Yankees will get home field advantage in the World Series.

People are interested in the All-Star Break for the festivities. And aside from the NBA Dunk Contest, the home run derby is the best there is. How can you not enjoy watching larger than life players blast 500-foot bombs left and right? The players should practically be encouraged to take illegal substances before taking their swings. That’s how entertaining this event is. Hell, since there’s a mute button, not even Chris Berman can ruin the derby.

Then came 2005. Bobby Abreu was having a tremendous year, and he made the All-Star team. He participated in the Home Run Derby, hit 41 out of the park, and proceeded to have an awful second half of the season. So what did he do? He blamed the Home Run Derby for ruining his swing.

You see, some players alter their swings for the derby to get more of an uppercut and knock the ball that much farther. Abreu essentially said he couldn’t un-alter his swing. And because of his comments, many players today are afraid to participate in the derby, and some coaching staffs are reluctant to let their
players swing. They don’t want to end up like Abreu, having to make up an excuse for their second half slump.

This is superstition at its finest. One person makes a ridiculous claim, and others are afraid to test the legitimacy of said claim.

Professional athletes take a lot of pride in their work, and most love the game they play. So some will jump at the chance to hit in the derby. But there are plenty of valid reasons not to participate. Perhaps you need to rest an injury. Maybe you’re afraid of getting hurt, or would rather just have the extra day off. But players put on home run displays every day in batting practice. They’ve certainly put enough balls over the fence to get selected to the derby, so it’s not like a player’s swing needs a complete makeover to be successful in the Home Run Derby. But, to say that you don’t want to participate in the Home Run Derby because you don’t want to ruin your swing is simply asinine.

Let’s take a look at the evidence. Here are a few of the slash lines (Avg/OBP/OPS) before and after the break of random 2005 All-Stars, including this year’s champ, David Ortiz:

Derby Contestants:

Bobby Abreu    – Before – .307/.428/954; After – .260/.376/.787 (Huge second half decline)

Jason Bay      – Before – .299/.384/.930; After – .314/.422/.998 (Second half increase)

Ivan Rodriguez – Before – .292/.304/.760; After – .252/.270/.697 (Huge second half decline)

David Ortiz    – Before – .314/.396/.981; After – .282/.398/1.024 (Decline in Avg, increase in power)

Non-Derby Contestants:

Carlos Beltran – Before – .266/.321/.755; After – .267/.340/.731 (Identical Avg, decline in power)

Miguel Cabrera – Before – .333/.388/.959; After – .311/.383/.933 (Second half decline)

Vlad Guerrero  – Before – .335/.388/.972; After – .299/.400/.946 (Sizeable second half decline)

Johnny Damon   – Before – .343/.386/.859; After – .282/.343/.740 (Huge second half decline)

The results are exactly what I had expected. While some players had a better second half here and there, most players experienced a significant second half decline. It didn’t matter if they participated in the swing-destroying derby or not; most players couldn’t live up to their first half numbers.

This makes sense when you examine why the players were in the all-star game in the first place. They made the team because they were performing better than the rest of the league, and in many cases, they were performing better than their usual selves. It’s completely reasonable to expect an All-Star to regress a to their mean in the second half. It’s not reasonable, however, to blame that regression on 100 or 200 batting practice swings.

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