Saturday, July 21, 2012

Breaking Down the Home Run Derby Myth (43/81)

Mark Trumbo's swing is more than just a thing of beauty, it's a weapon of mass destruction. Many of us had this underlying fear that participating in the Home Run Derby would affect Trumbo's swing. Those fears have been quickly put to rest thanks to a hot second half start for the bomber, including a screaming Trumbomb-on-a-rope over the left-center field wall as the Angels beat the rival Texas Rangers in a 6-1 contest Friday night.


There is a myth in baseball that says that players are reluctant to participate in the Home Run Derby because of the fear that it will mess up their swing. This myth has apparently no effect on Trumbo. With his latest dinger, Trumbo now has 5 home runs in 31 at-bats since the Home Run Derby. Not only has Trumbo come charging out the gates after the All Star Break, but he seems to be hitting home runs with more frequency and authority. Based upon Trumbo's immediate success after the break, I thought it would be appropriate to break down the home run rates of the past five Derby winners before and after their participation in the slug-fest.


2007 Winner Vladimir Guerrero

Before the All Star break, 2007 Vladimir Guerrero was crushing opposing pitchers. In 85 games, he had already amassed 101 hits, 14 home runs and 75 RBIs with a .325 batting average. He was invited to the Home Run Derby at AT&T Park in San Francisco and then proceeded to become the second Angel to ever win the Derby by smashing 17 total home runs. Following the Derby, his numbers were nearly identical when factoring less games played. In 65 second half games, Guerrero had 85 hits, 13 home runs, and 50 RBIs with a .323 batting average on his way to winning 3rd in AL MVP voting. First place was Alex Rodriguez who, that year, smashed 54 home runs and 156 RBIs.


2008 Winner Justin Morneau

Before the 2008 season, Minnesota Twins first baseman, Justin Morneau had been on a tear. In 2006, Morneau smashed 34 home runs and 130 RBIs and followed that up in 2007 with 31 home runs and 111 RBIs. In 2008, Morneau had 118 hits, 14 home runs and 68 RBIs with a .323 batting average in 95 games before the Home Run Derby. He was hitting the ball great, but entered the Derby as the contestant with the lowest home run total at the break, so it was not surprising that his bat regressed in the second half to more career averages, but his power stayed the same. In 68 second half games, Morneau had 69 hits, 9 home runs, 61 RBIs and a .267 batting average that fell in line with his previous career numbers. 14 home runs in 95 games versus 9 home runs in 68 games isn't enough of a drop off to defend the urban legend.


2009 Winner Prince Fielder

Coming into the break, Milwaukee Brewer's rotund slugger, Prince Fielder had smashed 22 home runs and 78 RBIs with a .315 batting average in 88 first half games. After smashing 22 home runs to win the Derby at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Fielder went on to improve his power with 24 home runs and 63 RBIs in 74 second half games while finishing 4th in NL MVP voting.

2010 Winner David Ortiz

When Anaheim, California was finally able to host its first Home Run Derby in 2010, the Angels didn't have any of their own players in it (Vernon Wells was still playing for the Blue Jays at the time). David Ortiz entered the break batting .263 with 18 home runs and hit a colossal 32 home runs to win the Derby. Following the Midsummer Classic, Ortiz continued his pace while hitting another 14 home runs and raising his average to .270. No evidence of drop-off in production here.

Side note: I was working for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Garden Grove at this time and we had a few kids that were able to sit on the field during the Home Run Derby. Vernon Wells was representing our program, and disappointingly only managed to hit two home runs during the Derby. The little girl we sent to the field had a great time, so it didn't really matter, but in retrospect, Well didn't hit well inside Angel Stadium and it would've been nice to know his career numbers while visiting Anaheim before the Angels signed him.

2011 Winner Robinson Cano

I'm sure everyone is familiar with Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano being booed at Kauffman Stadium a few weeks ago for not including Royal's slugger, Billy Butler in the Home Run Derby, and even more so for not hitting any home runs. However, in 2011 he was on top of his game and smashed 32 home runs in the Derby at Chase Field in Arizona. His numbers in 87 games before the break: 100 hits, 15 home runs and a .296 batting average. After the break: 72 games, 88 hits, 13 home runs and a .309 batting average. Nearly identical numbers.

It's too early to determine what effect, if any, this year's Home Run Derby will have on its champion, but so far it looks like the competition has done nothing but improve Trumbo's swing. He's on pace to hit 47 home runs, a franchise record held by Troy Glaus, and he's shown no signs of slowing down. I would not be the least surprised if he breaks 50 home runs and finishes the season as the home run leader. The guy never stops improving.

(I know Mark Trumbo did not win the Home Run Derby, and maybe I am unfairly comparing him to past winners, but historically speaking, the Derby has not had an adverse effect on batter's swings. Some players have a hot first half and then regress in the second half to fit their career averages. We see this all the time. It's the ones who don't regress, and actually get better in the second half, guys like Jose Bautista, Alex Rodriguez, and maybe Trumbo, who end up being the players we talk about for years to come. If you would like to read more about the urban legend, here's ESPN's blog from a few years ago breaking down ARod's numbers before and after competing in the Derby: http://sports.espn.go.com/espnmag/story?id=3483235)

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