Miguel Cabrera will be in the Home Run Derby tonight. Ever since that bit of news was announced, folks have been worrying that he'll hurt his swing, cost himself a chance at the Triple Crown and kick the Tigers' chances of competing for the division title right in the shin.
Why? The examples come to mind quickly. Bobby Abreu. Josh Hamilton. Brandon Inge. They all went into the MLB Home Run Derby as skilled hitting machines and came out of it a shell of their former selves. The conclusion? The contest can take a sweet swing and destroy it faster than Chris Berman can say "Backbackback."
That is the popular notion anyway.
i've never found it to be believable, however. Take a couple handfuls of baseball players who had very successful starts to the season, add a random point in the year and see if all of them do as well after that mark as they did before it. I'm going to bet you see a couple of players continue to hit well, a couple of them drop off and a few over several seasons completely flame out.
The HR Derby makes a nice excuse, and it even seems plausible when you think the activity of swinging for the fences a couple of dozen times.
I hadn't looked for or found any studies to shed more light on the subject, however.
Fortunately a pair of sources looked at the numbers today, and they back me up.
The Snyder boys at Motor City Bengals did one of their own over the weekend.
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.
(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.
Now two things could have made this a better study: expanding the number of years a bit farther, and taking a random sample of players from the MLB to compare it to. But just as a quick glance at reality, I think it was a nice busting of the myth. Could being a derby participant mess up a batter? Sure. It's possible. But on the whole you can say the derby doesn't mess up everyone who dares enter it.
The HardBall Times actually has a much deeper study, but it's not as easy to quickly digest as the one at MCB. But the conclusion is the same:
What we see is that the Home Run Derby participants and our control group have identical first-half home run rates and nearly identical second-half home run rates. They differed significantly in 2008 (Lance Berkman, Dan Uggla, Chase Utley, and Grady Sizemore all had steep declines), but that's the only real outlier here. On the whole, we again find that the Home Run Derby has no effect on a player's second half. And with more than 20,000 at-bats in each bucket, our sample size is pretty large.
So let's look at Cabrera specifically -- and again thanks go to the Snyders for doing this. He participated in the derby in 2006. His second half was nearly identical in the rate stats: .988 OPS on both sides of the All Star Break with a small uptick in slugging average driven by a higher batting average.
This season, whether or not he was a participant the statistics point toward a slow-down in his second half. He currently leads the major leagues in OPS (1.074) and batting average (.346). He's never finished a season above 1.000 OPS or .339 average before.
Fangraphs.com has a nice piece on derby contestants that finishes with this:
Six out of eight project to hit worse in the second half. Some of these guys have greatly exceeded their previously established level of performance. Even accounting for the spike in production ... they figure to regress somewhat when games resume Thursday. If (Corey) Hart doesn’t continue hitting bombs at a prodigious rate, it’s not because of some HR derby hex — it’s the product of regression to the mean.
I left the part in about Hart because he leads only Cabrera in their measure of a player overperforming.
Personally, I am not worried about Cabrera. And I'm glad Tigers fans have some rooting interest in the spectacle tonight.
Are you worried he'll mess himself up? I'm not.