Around this time every year, we have to hear about the dreaded HomeRunDerbyCurse (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:
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Another Home Run Derby requires another reminder--from the players, this time--that participation doesn't result in second-half slumps.
CLEVELAND— Sometimes, it happens just to break up the monotony of the day. At other times, it happens because natural competitiveness bubbles to the surface. Around any given batting cage, on any given day, a big-league team's pre-game batting practice can suddenly morph into an impromptu Home Run Derby.
Few Yankees are better in this setting than second baseman Robinson Cano, whose knack for squaring up the ball on the barrel of a bat translates into mammoth homers. Fans will get a chance to see it for themselves when Cano, who doesn't fit the mold of a typical slugger, takes part in the Home Run Derby.
Hitters who appear in the Home Run Derby actually alter their swings in a good way.
Home Run Derbies have been around in some form for many years, but it officially became part of the All-Star Game festivities in 1985. Since then, hitters have frequently blamed the Derby for messing up their swings. Perhaps among the most notable is Bobby Abreu, who broke the record for the most home runs in the first round with 24 in 2005 at Comerica Park, but then struggled in the second half of the season with just six home runs after mashing 18 in the first half. Of course, this reeks of selection bias as Abreu tied his career-high for first-half home runs in 2005. Most hitters in the Home Run Derby are bound to be playing above their true talent level, and their subsequent regression to the mean in the second half is to be expected. Instead, many have been victimized by their own confirmation biases, correctly noticing declines that were due to come whether the hitters participated in the Derby or not.
David Ortiz, whose career seemed in an unstoppable downward spiral at this time a year ago, punctuates his return to prominence.
Some stat geeks and sabermetric fanatics usually pass-up the All-Star Home Run Derby, calling the event purely commercialized for the younger or more casual fans, not for the true fans that study the game! Well, now at 18, I’d like to think of myself as a “scholar of the game.” I’m increasing my knowledge each and every day with Baseball Prospectus, as numerous research and analytical assignments ensures the expansion of my baseball mind.
However, I can happily admit that there was nothing wrong with enjoying Monday night's showcase of baseball’s best power hitters (well, beside A-Rod, Pujols, and Ryan Howard….). Maybe, aside from bragging rights, it didn’t count for anything, but what it did do was bring to light the competitive nature of a baseball player. Yes, it was just a derby, but it still meant something to each and every one of those participants. Especially for Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz, who was pronounced as good as dead at the same time last year. Now, once again an All-Star, Big Papi put on a show at Angels Stadium in Anaheim.
Can we count on the Home Run Derby to showcase the best sluggers in SoCal?
I have a confession to make, though I suppose it’s nothing shocking: I don’t care who wins the Home Run Derby. When I do decide to tune in, I generally either join the proceedings in progress, or watch the beginning and cut out whenever my exposure to Chris Berman reaches levels toxic enough to make me fear hearing “Backbackback” in my dreams. I dig the long ball as much as the next chick dude (by the way, that commercial sure has taken on some added layers of meaning in the wake of the McGwire ’roid revelations, hasn’t it?), but almost anything can become boring with enough repetition. In the absence of any stakes (even Bud Selig doesn’t try to pretend that the Derby counts), and in the presence of a pitcher who actively attempts to serve up big flies, rather than trying tenaciously to prevent them, even the most prodigious blasts begin to seem routine, at least on television. The players lounging on the field with their camcorders always seem to be having fun, but I tend to have a hard time getting into the spirit of the competition.
The Futures Game deserves better than the billing it's gotten.
The Futures Game deserves better than it gets. It takes place on the wrong day at the wrong time, causing what should be a glimpse at the game's future to be lost amidst a full schedule of its present. If it's important enough to have, it's important enough to have at a time when baseball fans are actually likely to watch it.