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SETTLING THE SCORE: DOES THE DERBY MESS UP YOUR SWING?

Alex Rodriguez: Conscientious Derby Objector Getty Images

[Ed.'s Note: Mag Associate Editor Jordan Brenner is a trustworthy sort. So who better to take on the burning issues of sport in something we call Settling the Score. Basically, he'll take your questions via email and bug the experts for answers. This week's question: Does the Home Run Derby really mess up your swing?]

Come Monday night, baseball's top sluggers will be swinging for the fences. Except for Alex Rodriguez. Instead, he'll be looking on, clinging to the dugout fence & and to a myth.

It's the last All-Star game in Yankee Stadium you know, his home park but A-Rod is still skipping the Home Run Derby. Why? He thinks it'll screw up his swing. Hey, he has competed three times, so he should know, right? Besides, every July, people keep writing stuff like this, even quoting other players who back up his claim. So, clearly there's no argument & until you look at the math. And if there's one guy you'd think would be focused on numbers, it's A-Rod.

But as it turns out, if the Derby is a swing-killer, someone forgot to tell A-Rod's box scores. If his swing suffered after past contests, you'd expect his power numbers and/or batting average to have dropped after the All-Star break. To check, we did a before/after comparison of at-bats per home run and average. And just in case the effect is short-lived, we charted his at-bats per home run during the three weeks following the break, too:

Looks pretty consistent, doesn't it? But this isn't all about A-Rod. It's about a myth perpetuated every time someone leaves the Derby and enters a slump. We heard about it in 2005 when Bobby Abreu went into the break with 18 homers, hit a record 24 dingers in the first round of the Derby, then went 19 games and 69 at-bats without a home run, finishing with just six in the second half. Mets fans remember David Wright's 20-homer first half and six homers after the break in 2006. Last year, Justin Morneau hit 24 before the Derby and just seven after.

So, we studied the 64 Derby performances this decade, and found that any negative effect is minimal, at worst. After the break, 27 players hit home runs at a higher rate, while 37 slowed down. And that includes plenty of statistically insignificant changes, like Barry Bonds "dropping" from a home run every 8.6 at-bats before the 2002 Derby to one every 9.0 at-bats after the break. In batting average, 26 players improved, 36 declined, and two stayed exactly the same. The only remotely meaningful stat was the three-week power rate, where 21 players picked up the home run pace while 43 slowed down. But that sample size is so small that it's tough to draw a Derby-related conclusion, especially when there are so many better explanations for a second-half decline. What are they?

Glad you asked.

  • Players are selected to the Home Run Derby based on & exceptional performance in the first half of the season.
    Should it really be surprising if an invitation-worthy player falls off later in the year? Of course not, because &

  • Over the course of the season, stats will regress to the mean.
    Abreu had never hit more than 31 homers prior to that infamous 2005 season, and for most of his career has been good for about 20-25 jacks. Maybe his drop from 18 homers before the break to six after was extreme, but so was his first-half performance. And Abreu also leads to another point, which is that &

  • The Home Run Derby has included a lot of second-tier sluggers.
    Check out some of the names who have competed in the event this decade: Carl Everett, Ivan Rodriguez, Jim Edmonds, Bret Boone, Hank Blalock, Hee-Seop Choi, Alex Rios. We can go on, but you get the point. Not surprisingly, those guys' stats fluctuated more than classic home run hitters like A-Rod, Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa. Did the Derby fundamentally alter Alex Rios' swing? Doubtful. The better explanation is that he'd never hit more than 17 homers in a season before last year and that his 17 dingers before the break were an aberration. (See above) Sure enough, he tallied just seven after the Derby and has four this season.

Or, we could just listen to David Wright. "I think that's one of those urban legends," Wright told my colleague, Doug Mittler. "It doesn't mess up your swing. Just ask Ryan Howardit didn't affect his. If you're at this level, your ability to make adjustments has to be pretty high. Those guys in the Home Run Derby can make adjustments."

Hear that, A-Rod? You can make adjustments, too. So are you really afraid your swing will abandon you after stepping to the plate Monday night? Or does your absence have something to do with the fact that you've hit nine total homers in three Derbies?

Hey, maybe A-Rod does know which numbers matter after all.

For more of Settling the Score, check out Jordan's archive.