We’ve all heard the tale of the Home Run Derby (HRD) curse. A player changes his swing so dramatically that it causes him to go into free fall post-All Star Game while he tries to reacquire his stroke. There seems to be a sarcastic grumble from owners when they see a player of theirs entered in the contest for fear of this second half swoon. Is the trepidation justified, or are we making too much of an overblown fallacy?
Yoenis Cespedes won his second consecutive Derby crown on Monday night, outlasting a superb field of ten including a throttling of Todd Frazier in the finals. For the night, Cespedes hit a total of 28 bombs into the Minneapolis night, twice as many as his closest competitor, Jose Bautista. Does this mean Cespedes is due for a major slide the rest of the year?
In order to better evaluate this popular belief, let’s take a look back at the last ten Home Run Derbies to gauge just what it does to second half production. Instead of examining the winner of the event, we’re going to instead take the player from each year’s derby who hit the most home runs as, theoretically speaking, they are the ones who should be affected the most.
Since we are talking home runs here, the criteria used to judge effect will be a player’s HR% between pre- and post-Derby performance. If a player showed no significant lag in post-Derby numbers as compared to his pre-Derby numbers (<0.5% decrease), or improved in the second half, we’ll label the Derby performance as having no effect. If there was a small noticeable difference (between 0.5% and 2.0% decrease), we’ll classify that as a minimal effect. And if a player completely fell off the table after taking the crown (>2.0% decrease, that will be known as a major effect. Time to dig into the annals.
2013: Yoenis Cespedes has already tasted victory as he won the 2013 iteration of the event by blasting 32 taters on the night. Coming into the HRD, Cespedes was slashing .225/.293/.420 with 15 HR in 307 AB giving him a HR% of 4.89%. After the HRD, Cespedes went on to slash .261/.296/.473 with 11 HR in 222 AB, actually resulting in a small jump in HR% to 4.95%. Tacking on the increase in AVG and SLG%, Cespedes actually had a slightly better second half than first half.
Verdict: No Effect
2012: In an all-AL final, it was Prince Fielder who took home his second trophy and hit 28 long balls on the night in Kansas City, outlasting Jose Bautista in the finals. Fielder seems built for contests like this, but surprisingly came into the Derby with the second fewest HR of all the competitors so far. He had 15 HR in 321 AB (4.67% HR rate)while slashing .299/.380/.505, so it’s not as if Prince was having a terrible season. Post HRD, Fielder ramped it up big time, slashing .331/.448/.558 and hitting another 15 HR in just 260 AB (5.77%).
Verdict: No Effect
2011: In one of the more competitive derbies in recent history, Robinson Cano pulled off a mild upset edging out Adrian Gonzalez and crushing 32 dingers in Phoenix. Cano has never been known as a super elite power hitter, so logic dictates that he might suffer some adverse affects more than others. On the contrary, Cano finished the first half slashing .296/.342/.521 with 15 HR in 338 AB (4.44%). In the latter half of the season, Cano slashed .309/.358/.547 with 13 HR in 285 AB (4.56%). While not a huge increase in performance, numbers show that Cano was better after his HRD victory. (Side note: Gonzalez’s HR% did drop from 4.70% to 3.73% after his HRD runner-up finish.)
Verdict: No Effect (Side note: Gonzalez’s HR% did drop from 4.70% to 3.73% post HRD)
2010: It was Big Papi David Ortiz who captured the crown, defeating Hanley Ramirez in the final and tallying 32 HR himself in Anaheim. Ortiz had a very strong first half, slashing .263/.384/.562 on his way to 18 HR in 251 AB (7.17%). Ortiz becomes the first player to show a statistical drop off in the second half as he slashed .277/.355/.498, hitting just 14 HR in 267 AB (5.24%). While still impressive numbers, we do have to classify Ortiz as tailing off somewhat after the Derby.
Verdict: Minimal Effect
2009: This was the first victory for Prince Fielder as the current Ranger squeaked out a win over former Ranger Nelson Cruz. The totals for this Derby in St. Louis were relatively low as Fielder needed just 23 knocks to take the title. Heading in to the contest, Fielder slashed .315/.442/.614 with 22 HR in 308 AB (7.14%). After his win, he slashed .283/.377/.590 with 24 HR in 283 AB (8.48%) the rest of the way. Just as they would three years later, Fielder’s HR numbers actually spiked after his initial title.
Verdict: No Effect
2008: This is the first instance on our look back into history where the Derby winner was not the player who hit the most HR in the contest. Despite Justin Morneau being crowned champion, it was actually Josh Hamilton who put on the show we most remember at Yankee Stadium, banging out 35 HR on the night as compared to Morneau’s 22. Hamilton hit the most HR ever in a single round when he mesmerized us all with 28 bombs in the first round. Coming into the festivities, Hamilton slashed .310/.367/.552 with 21 HR in 377 AB (5.57%). After his historic showing, Hamilton would go on to slash .263/.331/.448 with only 13 HR in 308 AB (4.22%) the rest of the season. With not only that HR% drop but also a difference in OPS of .240 from first half to second half, Hamilton clearly showed some fatigue down the stretch, giving us decent but not spectacular numbers.
Verdict: Minimal Effect (Side note: Morneau’s HR% dropped from 3.84% to 3.49% post HRD)
2007: In another year where the overall numbers of the Derby were low, no competitor even managed 20 total HR in San Francisco. While Vladimir Guerrero was the overall winner, a young Alex Rios paced the Derby with 19 total home runs. Rios brought to the Derby a first half triple slash of .294/.350/.520 with 17 HR in 350 AB (4.86%). Post-derby, Rios’ slash rates were still comparable (.300/.360/.471), but his HR totals suffered as he his just 7 HR in 293 AB (2.39%). With his HR rate cut by more than half, Rios becomes our first player to succumb to the Derby curse.
Verdict: Major Effect (Side note: Guerrero’s HR% increased from 4.50% to 4.94% post HRD)
2006: Another tight competition saw Ryan Howard outlast David Wright in Pittsburgh and win the title with 23 overall HR. Howard, the prototypical left-handed power hitter, slashed .278/.341/.582 with 28 HR in 316 AB (8.86%) before the Derby. After the Derby, Howard slashed an incredible .355/.509/.751 with a whopping 30 HR in just 265 AB (11.32%). When you add up his regular season total and his Derby total, Howard hit 81 HR during 2006, which would be second all-time to Barry Bonds’ 2001 if this was actually some kind of record. No curse here.
Verdict: No Effect
2005: This is where the roots of the Derby curse are laid. Bobby Abreu put on a show that has gone down in history when he hit a ridiculous 41 home runs in one night (still the overall HRD record), including 24 in the opening round. Abreu was having a fantastic season coming into the night, slashing .307/.428/.526 with 18 HR in 323 AB (5.57%). But the wheels came off after his enchanted explosion. Abreu would slash .260/.376/.411 and hit only 6 HR in his last 265 AB (2.26%) of the season, including a 19-game homerless streak directly after the Derby. Abreu is the father of the curse for good reason.
Verdict: Major Effect
2004: In another rare win for a middle infielder (only four total), Miguel Tejada had 27 moonshots in Houston as he held off hometown favorite Lance Berkman to take down the title. Tejada slashed .311/.358/.506 before the event with 15 HR in 344 AB (4.36%). He continued a torrid pace in the second half, slashing .311/.363/.566 with 19 HR in 309 AB (6.15%) and ending up with 150 RBI for the year. Certainly Tejada showed no signs of slowing down after his victory.
Verdict: No Effect
Judging by the numbers, it certainly appears as if we’ve made a bit too much of a player falling off due to the Derby. Ultimately, there should be a 50/50 chance that a player has a worse second half than better and that’s exactly what history tells us. The two players who did fall off after their Derby championships, Rios and Abreu, were never really known for their home run hitting prowess to begin with, so maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that they were the two who face planted after claiming the title.
As a Cespedes owner, his victory in this year’s Home Run Derby doesn’t concern me one bit. He’s a power guy, not to mention he proved he could overcome this exaggerated curse just last season. For everyone else, maybe you can go to the Cespedes owner in your league and regale him with tales of Bobby Abreu’s 2005 as a scare tactic. If he doesn’t go for it, no harm, no foul. Just don’t be the guy to sell Cespedes or other future Home Run Derby champs short.
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