As Angels fans cheered Mark Trumbo on in the annual Home Run Derby, their hearts were filled with hope, pride and perhaps a small, lurking shadow of concern. After all, among the honor of participation and the potential for accolades and lifelong bragging rights that come with a coveted Home Run Derby competition invitation, there is that other, less savory piece of baggage people talk about. You know, the dreaded Home Run Derby Curse, dun, dun! *eeek* Because, seriously, if one is going to talk about curses, then I think it ought to be accompanied by ominous Hollywood-style minor key sound effects and off-camera shrieks or, at the very least, italics. But I digress…
When it comes to Trumbo and the Home Run Derby, I don’t think fans have anything to worry about. Have you ever seen this man take batting practice? Never mind, you just watched the Home Run Derby so, in essence, you have. Clearly Trumbo had no trouble transferring his usual barrage of TrumBombs from the Big A’s rock pile to the many walls and waterfalls of Kaufman Stadium this evening, resulting in an impressive third place achievement while opening many eyes in both leagues. With bombs travelling an average distance of 435 feet, the TrumBlitz struck near the gleeful MLB Fan Cave dwellers’ slide, in the alley, one of the waterfalls, the wall of Royals’ Hall of Fame Wall as well as its roof, among other targets. Trumbo even managed to confound stadium measures with one of his hits, much like earlier this season at Target Field. Is 428 the new 415?
But, for Angels fans, this was nothing new. Anaheim’s Scott’s lawn display, visitors' bullpen and rock pile all have similar tales to tell. I’m sure Trumbo will have no problem transferring his hits right back to the Big A again. After all, by all accounts Trumbo made an effort to treat the Home Run Derby as just another batting practice, even down to his pitcher of choice, Mike Ashman, a retired college coach who throws batting practice for the Angels. And, much like every analyst kept remarking of Prince Fielder, that was Trumbo’s normal, everyday swing.
Even so, thinking about Trumbo and the Home Run Derby did get me thinking about the dreaded Home Run Derby Curse, dun, dun! *eeek* Namely, is there still really enough evidence to support such an idea? I’ve seen the statistics showing that the average Derby participant’s slash line goes down in the second half of the season. I’ve heard the anecdotes from players like Josh Hamilton and Bobby Abreu who feel that the Derby adversely affected their swings. And I’ve seen these same individual players’ stats tossed around. But I had never really investigated the subject so I decided to pull up the first half/second half batting splits for all of the participants in the last five seasons and see what I could see.
Obviously, I went into this exercise with skepticism and I’m not an expert statistician, but I did have a few expectations of what I should find if there is, in fact, a Home Run Derby Effect – because I won’t call it a curse, except in jest. If there is such an effect, it seems logical to expect that:
- far more Derby participants will experience reduced batting stats in the second half than not,
- this effect will be even more noticeable in participants who make it into the top 4 because they’re taking more swings and hitting more home runs over a longer period of time,
- and, this effect will be apparent in the stats of participants in every year in which they participate.
What I found, however, was different than expected. Looking at all Derby participants from 2007 to 2011:
- In 18 out of 40 cases, players did experience a noticeable decline in batting average, on base percentage and slugging percentage in the second half of the season following their Derby participation.
- However, in 18 out of 40 cases, players experienced either a noticeable improvement in these statistics or maintained similar stats in the second half of the season following their Derby participation.
- In the remaining 4 cases, players experienced what I’m calling mixed and inconclusive results -- either their batting average went noticeably up while their slugging percentage went noticeably down, or the inverse.
Looking at all Derby participants who made it to the Top 4 during the same period:
- In 7 out of 20 cases, players experienced a noticeable decline in batting stats following the Derby.
- And in 10 out of 20 cases, players experienced either a noticeable improvement in these statistics or maintained similar stats.
- In the remaining 3 cases, players experienced mixed and inconclusive results.
And what of participants in multiple Home Run Derbies? Honestly, there doesn’t seem to be any one, consistent effect or result:
- Matt Holliday, frequently cited as a Home Run Derby Effect victim in 2011, experienced improved stats following the 2010 Derby and a similar to improved stats in 2007.
- Adrian Gonzalez, also sometimes cited as a Home Run Derby Effect victim in 2011, experienced improved stats following his participation in the 2009 Derby.
- Prince Fielder has experienced all possible outcomes, maintaining similar stats following participation in the 2011 Derby, improving his stats following the 2009 Derby and “falling victim to the Derby Effect” in 2007. It will be interesting to see what 2012 holds for Fielder.
- David Ortiz and Albert Pujols also did not follow any particular pattern in how their batting stats fared post Derby appearance, though some of those stats take us beyond the scope of the last five Home Run Derbies.
There may indeed be correlation between Home Run Derby participation and second half statistics. However correlation does not imply causation and, although my sample size is small and my analytical methods are quick and dirty, I believe there is enough here to suggest that the axiom is certainly true in this case. The effects of Home Run Derby participation, at least in the last five years, are inconsistent and I would imagine that outside factors – relative states of health at the break, lineup protection before and after the break, pitching match ups on either side of the break, etc. – and individual player quirks, such as swing and preparation, have at least as much of an effect as the Home Run Derby itself.