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July 11, 2011

Resident Fantasy Genius

The Home Run Derby Curse

by Derek Carty

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At the top of my list of guys to enter into trade talks for today: Jose Bautista, Matt Kemp, Prince Fielder, Matt Holliday, David Ortiz, Adrian Gonzalez, Rickie Weeks, and Robinson Cano. At first glance, that might seem like the most obvious list of guys you’d want on your team, but these are the eight players participating in the Home Run Derby tonight.

Around this time every year, we have to hear about the dreaded Home Run Derby Curse (or the Home Run Derby Hangover Effect) in which participants see their power decline in the second half. This rubbish usually comes in the form of anecdotal evidence like “Bobby Abreu hit 18 homers in the first half and six in the second.” This is easy enough to shake off, but other times we may be tricked into thinking it’s real by studies that look at all contestants but don’t consider proper context. This one in particular caught my eye this year:

In looking at the 40 finalists and semi-finalists over the past 10 years, statistics show 60 percent of players saw a decrease in slugging percentage… The Home Run Derby curse is real. Since 2001, derby participants have averaged a .025 decline in slugging percentage. The top home run hitters who did not participate averaged a .036 increase in slugging.

This is an example of selection bias at its finest. If a player is selected to the Home Run Derby, it’s because he had a very good first half, one of the best in baseball. While the players are legitimately good, they have likely outperformed their true talent levels and, of course, will decline in the second half. And at least some of those players who were not selected underperformed their true talent levels and, of course, will improve going forward.

Each of the past two years on this day, I ran a study looking at the supposed Home Run Derby Curse and found absolutely no evidence to suggest it’s real. In fact, between the two studies, I think it’s clear that, on the whole, it does not exist. These are absolutely worth a read if you haven’t seen them yet, and if your leaguemates haven’t either and are worried about their stars “messing up their swings” in the Derby, make them an offer at 80 cents on the dollar.

Home Run Derby Curse fuming aside, let’s move on to some other players…

 - Phil Hughes returned to the Yankees this week. He didn’t pitch particularly well with two strikeouts and two walks in five innings, but there is one encouraging sign: His fastball, which was 89.2 before he went on the DL, clocked up to 91.5 mph. It’s still below where it was last year (92.9), but it’s a step in the right direction. Hughes isn’t mixed league-worthy yet, but he needs to be back on our radar.

- Speaking of returns, Rich Harden recently returned as well, and like Hughes, he’s experienced a slight a velocity bounceback too. It’s not what it was back in his heyday when he was averaging 94 mph, but his 91.4 mph over his first two starts back is above where it was in his disastrous 2010 (90.5) and not too far off from where he was in 2008 and 2009 (92). And it was even higher in his second start, averaging over 92 and touching 95. Perhaps the most encouraging sign is that he has walked just two over his first 11 innings. If he can maintain decent control, he could be quite valuable, especially with Oakland’s O.co Coliseum depressing the home runs of this fly-ball pitcher.

- Mark Reynolds gave owners a scare yesterday when he was hit on the hand by a pitch, but x-rays came back negative, so he appears to be okay. In the five weeks since I last discussed my love for Reynolds (which faced some scrutiny in the comments section), Reynolds has batted .283 with 13 home runs. Hopefully you bought in while you could, but if you didn’t, see if Reynolds’s owner wants to “sell high.” I said it then and I’ll say it now: Reynolds should hit at a near 40-homer pace.

- I probably don’t need to tell you this, but Zack Greinke has the best SIERA in baseball (2.24) but a terrible 5.45 ERA. A pitcher doesn’t post a 12.0 K/9 and a 1.9 BB/9 and maintain a .344 BABIP, 56 percent LOB%, and 16 percent HR/FB over an extended period. It just doesn’t happen. Greinke’s peripherals will obviously get worse, but he’s still one of the best pitchers in the National League, if not all of baseball, and he will be just fine. If you can buy him as anything less than that, do it.

- Delmon Young was activated from the DL yesterday, and Denard Span and Jason Kubel will likely be back at some point this month as well, but Twins manager Ron Gardenhire indicated his desire to keep Ben Revere in the lineup even once everyone returns. Granted, it’s one thing to say it and another to do it, especially when you have five starting-caliber players to fit into three and a quarter spots (three OF plus DH when Jim Thome gets the day off). Still, Revere has batted leadoff for the Twins the past 32 games straight, and Gardenhire loves him.

I like the idea of speed, I like all that running around. It makes it a lot more fun. Keeping Revere in the lineup if I possibly can some way or another would be fun.

 Revere’s speed is impressive; he’s probably a 70 or 75 on the 20-80 scouting scale, and he’s attempting steals at a 32 percent clip, allowing him to rack up 11 steals in the short time he’s been in the majors. I could easily see the Twins trading one or both of Cuddyer or Kubel, making it easier to play Revere nearly every day. And given the injury proneness of the Twins’ outfielders and Thome, I think Revere should see a lot of PT the rest of the year. It’ll be interesting to see if he continues leading off when Span returns, but buy with gusto if you need speed. 

Related Content:  Home Run Derby,  Derby

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