Home Run Champ Hangover?

The Home Run Derby is arguably the best exhibition of an athlete’s skill of any of the major sports. How great is it to see players blasting 500 foot home runs one after another? But how do we explain when some players fall into horrible slumps after their appearance in the derby? In 2005, Bobby Abreu claimed that his horrible second half numbers were due to him winning the derby. Some players alter their swings to create more lift or they over swing and believe that has an effect on them for the rest of the season. Baseball players are arguably the most superstitious of any of the professional sports. They are so superstitious some of them will not compete in the home run derby for fear of the effect it may have on their careers. But is this fear a real worry or just a superstition? I decided it needed further review.

To say that Todd Frazier has struggled since his triumphant assault on the home run derby would be an understatement. Since the All-Star break, he is 22 for 122 for a .182 batting average. He has only four home runs and 16 RBIs. He is in such a slump he recently used Brandon Phillips’ bat. Is Frazier’s fall-off due to normal regression or from winning the home run derby? To analyze this question I went back and reviewed the first and second half stats of every home run champion over the last 15 years. I compared their home runs per-at-bat in the season’s first and second halves:

Year Home Run Champion ABs pre-All Star HRs pre-All Star HRs per AB ABs after All Star HRs after All Star HRs per AB
2015 Todd Frazier 342 25 13.68 122 4 30.50
2014 Yoenis Cespedes 353 14 25.21 247 8 30.88
2013 Yoenis Cespedes 307 15 20.47 222 11 20.18
2012 Prince Fielder 321 15 21.40 260 15 17.33
2011 Robinson Cano 338 15 22.53 285 13 21.92
2010 David Ortiz 251 18 13.94 267 14 19.07
2009 Prince Fielder 308 22 14.00 283 24 11.79
2008 Justin Morneau 365 14 26.07 258 9 28.67
2007 Valdimir Guerrero 311 14 22.21 263 13 20.23
2006 Ryan Howard 316 28 11.29 265 30 8.83
2005 Bobby Abreu 323 18 17.94 265 6 44.17
2004 Miguel Tejada 344 15 22.93 309 19 16.26
2003 Garret Anderson 370 22 16.82 268 7 38.29
2002 Jason Giambi 314 22 14.27 246 19 12.95
2001 Luis Gonzalez 330 35 9.43 279 22 12.68
2000 Sammy Sosa 338 23 14.70 266 27 9.85

You can see that only five times did a player see a noticeable decrease in his stats (Luis Gonzalez in ‘01, Garret Anderson in ‘03, Bobby Abreu in ‘05, David Ortiz in ‘10, Yoenis Cespedes in ‘14 and Frazier this year). Of all of the decreases, Frazier’s was easily the worst. Some players even saw an increase in their home run rates after the derby. To Frazier’s credit, he is not blaming the derby for his struggles, and rightly so. It looks like being the derby champion is not a curse, Abreu’s superstitions notwithstanding.