It is one of the most common reasons a major leaguer uses in forgoing the opportunity to hit in the Home Run Derby: “It will mess up my swing”. We set out to explore whether or not this excuse is fact, or just a myth.
For our research, we looked at each Home Run Derby contestant since 2006. We calculated each contestant’s at-bat per home run rate for the first half of the season and compared them to their at-bats per homer in the second half. We did the same for the entire league, and for All-Stars not participating in the Home Run Derby.
Of the 40 Home Run Derby contestants since 2006, only 13 improved their home run pace, and just 16 improved their batting averages following the Derby. But that doesn’t tell the whole story.
Average HR Derby Contestants
Home Run Derby contestants clearly outslug the league in the second half, but overall, the league tends to improve after the break, while the contestants decline. What stands out is that these sluggers see only a slight dip in their homer pace and in their batting averages.
We also examined how age may play a factor in the second-half decline, but that turned up little difference as well. Contestants aged 28 and younger averaged 2.26 more at-bats per homer after the derby, while contestants aged 29 and older averaged 2.95 more at-bats per homer afterwards. A small, and likely insignificant difference in the two groups.
Average All-Star Since 2006
Another interesting trend is that All-Stars (excluding Derby participants) see a significant drop-off in their batting average in the second half of the season. In fact, these non-Derby All-Stars have come into the break with a higher cumulative batting average than the Derby contestants, but have hit slightly worse in the second half compared to the contestants. Although the non-Derby All-Stars also see their at-bats per homer decrease, the decrease is less than that seen by Derby contestants.
However, there is one area where the Derby participants see a significant decline, especially when compared to their non-Derby All-Star peers: the non-Derby All-Stars actually see a slight increase in their average home run distance in the second half, while the Derby sluggers see a fairly significant decrease.
One last question we tried to answer was how Home Run Derby champions performed after the break. Of the five champions since 2006, three (Prince Fielder, Vladimir Guerrero and Ryan Howard) actually improved their home run pace.
Last year’s champ David Ortiz saw his at-bat per homer pace slow following the Derby, but actually improved his batting average by 14 points. Among the last five champions, the 2008 winner Justin Morneau, saw his overall performance significantly decline after the Derby. That’s not surprising though, as Morneau has hit nearly 40 points higher and averages over five fewer at-bats per homer before the All-Star Break compared to after it for his career.
Fans, coaches, owners and sluggers alike can all rest easy. Their numbers may decline a bit, but Home Run Derby contestants still remain far better sluggers than the rest of the league.
The Elias Sports Bureau and ESPN Stats and Information Group’s Home Run Tracker team contributed to this report (Stats courtesy of Elias Sports Bureau and Baseball-Reference.com)