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Does the Home Run Derby hurt a player the rest of the reason? Not really, but the myth still lives on.
It’s uncertain when the myth that the Home Run Derby negatively affects a hitter the rest of the season began, but it’s apogee likely came in 2005.
That year in Comerica Park in Detroit, Bobby Abreu came into the Home Run Derby after a great first half of the season. The Philadelphia Phillies outfielder already had 18 home runs on the season, then proceeded to put on a show in Detroit. He hit 24 in the first round, a new record, and 41 total on his way to taking home the trophy. It was a bright spot in the career for the then 31-year-old, making just his second All-Star appearance in his 10th big league season.
Abreu, though, was never the same after that. He hit just six home runs the remainder of that 2005 season, and although he would stick around in the Majors until 2014 he never hit more than 20 in a season, less than he hit in the opening round that night in Detroit.
It’s no wonder that ever since some of the best players in the game have tried to avoid becoming the next Abreu. Mike Trout, the Los Angeles Angels eight-time All-Star and one of baseball’s most recognizable players, has always avoided competing in front of a national audience and passed again this year. “I’d rather just have that night with my family, spend time with them,” he said on the eve of last year’s Derby. “I just want to relax and enjoy the day. Just watch it. I just never had any interest in doing it. It looks tiring.”
Some news for players like Trout, though: competing in the Home Run Derby has no discernible effect on a player’s performance in the second half of the season. Twenty-four players have taken part in the last three Home Run Derbys. Their combined batting average going into the All-Star break is .278. In the second half that drops modestly by 12 points.
Some factors that come into play in explaining even that slight drop are that players competing are already having great seasons, and some regression to the mean is to be expected as the season goes on. Also, as the games pile up late in the season, injuries are more likely. Miguel Sano, for example, the Derby runner-up in 2017, saw his average drop by 40 points but was dealing with a shin injury and missed a big portion of the second half.
Of the 24 Home Run Derby competitors, only seven of them have seen a significant drop in their second-half OPS. Five have actually increased their OPS afterward. Giancarlo Stanton, then with the Miami Marlins, won the Derby at Petco Park in San Diego in 2016 by hitting a record 61 home runs. While his OPS declined slightly, from .823 to .800, his batting average went up by more than 20 points. The following year he was so bothered by the 16 home runs he hit in the Derby that he hit 33 in the second half and finished the year with 59. The 2017 champion, Aaron Judge, was still fourth in home runs after the All-Star break with 22 and in the top-15 in baseball in OPS.
Then there was last year’s Derby in Washington. Bryce Harper was selected to take part in his home ballpark despite going through a season-long slump that saw him bat just .214 in the first half. He then rode the Nationals’ fan support to hit 45 home runs and take home the title. In the second half, still with momentum from the Derby, he was a much better hitter.
Harper’s batting average in the second half went up nearly 90 points. His OPS increased by 140 points. He suddenly started looking like the former MVP and used that second-half surge to sign a 13-year, $330 million deal with the Phillies in the offseason.
Christian Yelich, the MLB leader in home runs this season who was to take part in Monday’s Derby but had to drop out on Sunday, explained last week that he doesn’t believe in any post-Derby slump. “I do basically the same thing during batting practice every day, so I think it will be fine,” he said (Yelich was replaced by Oakland’s Matt Chapman).
So, for all you fans of Josh Bell, Pete Alonso and Alex Bregman, instead of fearing your star player is going to be the next Abreu, instead picture them becoming this year’s Stanton or Harper. Whatever they do the rest of July and into August and September, the Home Run Derby won’t be the reason why.
The 2019 Home Run Derby takes place on Monday, July 8 at Progressive Field in Cleveland.