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Just The Sports: Home Run Derby Effect

Just The Sports

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Home Run Derby Effect

Having a favorite player enter the Home Run Derby can be a source of contention for many a baseball fan. They think, and rightly so, that being in the derby forces a player to adopt an unnatural swing, a swing that will affect a player for weeks and even months following the All-Star weekend. There is some credence to that notion, but the Home Run Derby does not affect each participant in the same way.

Without a doubt, there are some players who quite simply have a natural home run swing and have to make no changes to their swings during the Home Run Derby to hit a home run. Ken Griffey, Jr. of the 90s comes to mind as well as Jim Thome. The best statistic I can find to get some idea of a how much a hitter has a natural home run swing is HR/FB%. As I wrote right after Ryan Howard won the Home Run Derby, he is the most proficient in the home run-to-flyball ratio. At the time of the derby, Howard had a 35.9 HR/FB% and now it has increased slightly to 36.6 HR/FB%, more than making up for his high groundball-to-flyball ratio. Because of his home run hitting prowess, Howard has seen no ill effects in his actual home run numbers. Before the All-Star break, Howard had hit 28 home runs in 316 at-bats for a ratio of one home run every 11.3 at-bats. Since the break, 10 home runs have been hit by Howard in 79 at-bats, good for one home run every 7.9 at-bats.

Wright came in second to Howard in the Home Run Derby, but he is by no means Howard's equal when it comes to hitting home runs. For the season, Wright has a 15.2 HR/FB%, far below Howard so when Wright was hitting home runs, he was having to try harder to hit them because it is so unnatural for him. His home run stroke pre-All Star gave him a home run every 16.95 at-bats and since then he has hit a home run every 33.5 at-bats. I think some of that reduction can be attributed to Wright regressing to the mean, but maybe a case can be made the All-Star Break adversely affected his swing or maybe this is just a random variation caused by only having 67 post-All Star at-bats.

Another player who famously had a power outage after the All-Star Break is Bobby Abreu. Abreu is another player who does not have a natural home run swing. In the last five seasons, he has yet to top 20% with his HR/FB%. Before Abreu stepped into the batter's box for the 2005 Home Run Derby, he had a home run-to-at-bat ratio of 1:17.6. After he finished his power display and went back to playing for the Phillies, he had a home run-to-at-bat ratio of 1:44.2. It looks like having to make a drastic change to his swing in other to hit home runs did adversely affect his future performance, but he was never a great home run hitter to begin with.

So before a player enters the Home Run Derby, maybe he should give some thought to how much of a change he will have to make to his swing to succeed in the contest.


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