For better or worse, the Home Run Derby conjures up plenty of opinions. Some view it as harmless fun while others view it as a pointless spectacle. One Detroit sports radio host even went as far as saying it is a proven fact that the home run derby messes with player’s swing. It would be one thing to put the supposed ill-effects of home run derby participation on par with the Madden Curse or the SI cover jinx, but a proven fact? Such a statement might make for good ratings on the radio, but the numbers do not back it up.
(Get Nerdy after the jump!)
When I first started looking for evidence that competing in a home run derby could lead poor second half performance I went straight to what I felt would be the most relevant to Miguel Cabrera: his 2006 statistics. Miguel participated in the 2006 derby and hit nine home runs in the first round and six more in the second round before being eliminated with the event’s third highest total. A quick glance at his pre and post-All-Star break numbers did not show me any reason to be concerned about Cabrera’s participation in this year’s home run derby.
If you have been a reader of this blog hopefully you have become somewhat versed in wOBA. (If not, thats ok, read this) Essentially, wOBA is an improvement on OPS as a way to measure the totality of a batter’s offensive output. It takes the best of on-base percentage and slugging percentage to create the weighted on-base percentage that may mean more to a baseball fan. .400 is great, .340 is average, and less than .300 is bad; just like regular on-base percentage. While Cabrera’s OPS in the above table suggests his second half performance was equal to his first half performance, his second half wOBA actually increased by .012.
OK, so Miguel Cabrera is one player that competed one time. That sample size is awfully small and we already know that he is something of a freak of nature. Maybe Cabby is just too good to succumb to the pitfalls of a “regular” All-Star. Wrong again.
With the help of fellow MCB blogger, Matt, we looked at the stats for all home run derby participants in the last five years and compared their post-home run derby numbers with a three year average made up of the year before, year of, and year after their home run derby participation. Five years worth of data compared against three years worth of career averages shows that the derby guys average .004 wOBA points higher after the break and the rate at which they hit home runs increases by just one percent.
With the myth of declining performance following a home run derby busted, it is interesting to point out that the data set shows that 23 players showed at least .001 wOBA point improvement over their three year career average, 1 showed zero difference, and 16 showed some decline. The player with the biggest difference between his three year wOBA and post-home run derby performance was Brandon Inge in 2009. As Tigers fans know, there is a much better explanation for this decline than simply participating in the home run derby: bad knees. Removing Inge from the data set single-handedly increases the set’s second half wOBA from .004 to .006 better than the three year average.
While the numbers suggest a very slight increase in home run derby participant’s second-half performance I would be much more comfortable simply stating that participating in the home run derby does not mess with a player’s swing. Good news Tigers fans, you can sit back, relax and cheer on Miguel Cabrera during Monday night’s event without having to worry that he is somehow harming his future production.