The 2016 Home Run Derby has now come and gone. Every year on the night before the All-Star Game, players step up and swat the ball out of the park as often as they can and as far as they can, often to great effect. “He hit how many???” is a common refrain as fans jaws drop at the displays of sheer raw power. These homers don’t count in the standings or toward players’ stats, and the participants’ feats aren’t often remembered along with, say, Bill Mazeroski’s or Kirk Gibson’s famous home runs. The participants are not there to bunt, or hit singles or line drives. If they hit a slump after the contest, fans might fairly wonder if their participation hurt their swings or timing, thus affecting the games that do count. Is there a curse for Home Run Derby winners?
Eric Kabakoff and Jeremy Bourque took a look back to 2005, analyzing ten years’ worth of data to see if there was anything to the theory that winning a Home Run Derby just might hurt a player later on. Here’s how each of the past ten winners were affected:
2005: Bobby Abreu
Abreu hit 18 home runs in the first half of the season but just 6 in the second half. His entire season was skewed, though, by his monster May. That’s when he hit 11 homers and drove in 30 runs, which was more than he knocked in over the next two months combined. He only had one homer in the entire month of July, but then again, he only had five in the month of June. He hit 24 on the season but really just rose to the occasion for the Home Run Derby at Detroit’s Comerica Park. So there was no slump here, just a return to his norm.
2006: Ryan Howard
Man, could this guy rake a decade ago. He hit 28 home runs in the first half of the season, won the Home Run Derby, and then hit 30 more home runs. He had 71 RBI in the first half and then topped it with 78 in the second. And anyone who bats .355 over the entire second half of a season isn’t exactly slumping. If winning this Derby at Pittsburgh’s PNC Park caused a slump, it was a major one that began several years later.
2007: Vladimir Guerrero
Vlad the Impaler hit 27 homers that season but remarkably had zero in the month of July (excluding the Derby, of course). He still batted .292 in the month and had about half of his season total of home runs after the break. So he had a power outage after winning the Derby at AT&T Park in San Francisco, but then batted a ridiculous .353 in August and finished 3rd in MVP balloting when the season concluded. A minor slump, maybe, but clearly it wasn’t devastating.
2008: Justin Morneau
Morneau was two years removed from his MVP season and firmly in his Minnesota Twins prime when he won the ’08 Derby at [old] Yankee Stadium. He slipped a little in the second half, dropping from 14 home runs to 9 and his batting average drop more than fifty points. However, that was due to a September in which he batted .243. He actually hit a robust .360 for the month of July. So the man had a solid first half, won the Derby and then had a great run before struggling at the end. Can’t blame the Home Run Derby for struggles in September. He even came in 2nd in MVP balloting that year behind Dustin Pedroia.
2009: Prince Fielder
It’s getting harder to remember that Fielder was a Milwaukee Brewers monster back then. He was coming off the 2008 MVP Award and finished 2009 with 46 homers, a league-leading 141 RBI *and* the Home Run Derby title. He hid 22 homers in the first half of the season, won the Derby and then hit 24 more (21 starting in August). The man started strong and finished strong. No slump here either.
2010: David Ortiz won the Derby in Anaheim and came into the contest with a modest .263 average, a decent .547 slugging, and an excellent OPS of .933. After the Derby, his power numbers dropped slightly as he compiled a .277 average, a .513 slugging, and an OPS of .867. However, his adjusted OPS remained constant with a first half of 147 and a second half of 144. Not a tremendous drop off and a solid season for the big DH in Boston.
2011: I (Jeremy) was fortunate enough to attend this in person out at Chase Field in Phoenix, and it did not disappoint if you like the long ball. The Finals featured a Red Sox – Yankees match up as Robinson Cano defeated Adrian Gonzalez to take home the crown. Cano came into the contest batting .296, with a .521 slugging, and an .863 OPS on the season. His second half was far better than his first and he hit .309, slugged .547, and had an OPS of .905. His first and second half adjusted OPS were just as solid as he was rated at 140 before the break and 145 after. Another solid season for the Yankee slugger before he headed west.
2012: Prince Fielder stole the show and outlasted the competition in Kansas City at Kaufman Stadium. He came into the Derby batting .299 on the season, with a .505 slugging, and an .881 OPS. However, after winning the contest he dramatically upped his game! Prince hit .331 in the second half, with a .558 slugging, and a 1.006 OPS. His adjusted OPS was also lopsided as he came in at 144 before the break and 178 after. A nice second-half run for Fielder.
2013: Yoenis Cespedes ruled his future Citi Field home and took the crown with an impressive power display. Even though his numbers were not the best in the first half, he was still given an All-Star nod. He came into the derby with a .225 batting average, a .420 slugging, and a .713 OPS. There was an improvement for the Cuban slugger in the second half as he improved to a .261 batting average with a .473 slugging, and a .769 OPS. His adjusted OPS show that he was below league average before the break at 97 (100 is average) and above in the second half with a 114. Despite this, baseball fans everywhere were introduced to a future star that finally began to live up to his hype!
2014: Yoenis Cespedes became the first player since Ken Griffey Jr (‘98 & ‘99) to win back-to-back crowns, this time at Minnesota’s Target Field. His first half numbers were not really All-Star worthy per say as he came in with a .246 average, a .442 slugging, and a .741 OPS. He won the crown and continued his trend of a better second half coming down the stretch. His numbers improved to a .279 batting average, with a .462 slugging, and a .764 OPS. His adjusted OPS was 108 before the break and 119 after, even though he only totaled 8 home runs in the second half after being traded to Boston.
2015: Todd Frazier was up for the big stage at his hometown park in Cincinnati. He eventually took the crown and put on a great show under the new format that was developed by MLB to make the derby more exciting. Frazier’s numbers were solid at the break as he came in with a .290 average, with a .500 slugging, and an OPS of .853. However, he drastically fell off pace in the second half as his number dropped across the board. After taking home the crown he batted .247 with a .396 slugging, and a .707 OPS. His adjusted OPS show the tale of the tape as he was rated at 140 before the break and 104 after. Was it the Derby that did him in? History would say probably not.
2016: Giancarlo Stanton matched Roger Maris in one evening with a ridiculous 61 home runs. He had a somewhat soft (for him) first half with 20 homers, a .233 batting average and a .495 slugging percentage. Second half: who knows?
From our exhaustive and unscientific study, it would appear that there’s no Home Run Curse that afflicts the Home Run Derby’s winners. The losers? That’s a question for another article. Let’s see if Giancarlo Stanton can uphold the [mostly] winning trends of his predecessors.