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Destruction Derby

June 15th, 2008 by Ray

Barring some amazing turn of events, Adrian Gonzalez is making this year’s All-Star team. With R. II (Lance Berkman) having an amazing season, it’s doubtful that Adrian will crack the starting nine, but he’ll be there. There’s no question about that. Which is good, because it leaves us more time to question whether or not he should take part in the Home Run Derby.

The Home Run Derby, while becoming increasingly irrelevant, is a staple of the All-Star beginning-of-the-week. In recent years, however, it has started to become infamous. Not because the league has cheapened it by forcing players into ugly souvenirs as opposed to the usual team representation, but because it seems that participating in the Derby drains the participate of their power. In 2005, Bobby Abreu came into the Derby with 18 home runs and a .526 SLG. After he hit a record setting 24 home runs on that fateful Monday night, he hit 6 home runs with .411 SLG in the second half.

But is there a correlation?

24 participants took part in the Home Run Derby from 2004 through 2006. I have decided not to include participants in the 2007 Derby because without knowing how their 2008 seasons play out, we can’t know their full stories. Of the 24, exactly half, 12 players, saw their SLG go up in the second half of the season. Of the remaining 12, three players saw only a minor drop in their SLG over the course of the next 81 games, leaving us with 9 players who saw their numbers dip substantially.

Of those nine, only three players (David Wright, Jim Thome, Sammy Sosa) have a career SLG over .500. To be fair, Carlos Lee and the aforementioned Bobby Abreu are stuck at .499, so we’ll group them in. Those are five legitimate power hitters who saw their numbers fail. Of the other four, Jermaine Dye, Miguel Tejada and Hank Blalock saw their SLG drift down closer to their career marks, while Ivan Rodriguez has seen his power drop consistently over the course of the past four seasons. This leaves us with Wright, Thome and Sosa.

Let’s start with Sosa (2004), who took part during his final season with the Cubs. Not only did his SLG drop from the first half of 2004 to the second half of 2004, but it kept dropping into the first and second half of 2005. He then sat the 2006 season out before coming back and hitting for good power with the Texas Rangers in 2007. Given his steady decline, and participation in four of the previous five Derbies, I think it’s safe to say that the Home Run Derby was not responsible for his drop in production.

Jim Thome (2004), like Sosa, is no stranger to Home Run Derbies, having participated in three in his career. Thome saw his SLG drop from .653 to .484. Again, like Sosa, Thome saw his numbers continue to drop into the next season, down to .352 in the first half of 2005 before surgery cost him the second half. Once again, as with Sosa, I think it’s safe to say that the Home Run Derby was not responsible for Thome’s drop in production.

David Wright (2006) has neither age nor injury to blame for his drop. He hit 20 home runs before and only 6 after. His average and OBP dropped .011 points while his SLG dropped .106. This would seem to be our first piece of evidence that the Home Run Derby can affect a player’s power, as it didn’t do anything to any other part of Wright’s game. Making things worse is Wright’s improvement in 2005, the year before, and 2007, the year after.

Carlos Lee (2005), like Wright, saw a minor drop in his batting average, from .268 to .262 while his SLG dropped from .528 to .437. For good measure, his OBP dropped 27 points as well. From 2002 through 2004, Lee actually saw a significant rise in his SLG after the break, from the mid .400s to the upper .500s. In 2004, the year before, he went from .463 to .599. In 2005, though, things started to change. He began to SLG in the .500s in the first half. However, in 2006 and 2007, he managed to keep it in the .500s over the course of the second half. So I’m going to go ahead and present Lee as our second piece of evidence.

Finally, we come to Bobby Abreu (2005). The poster boy. In 2002, three seasons before he made history, he saw his SLG rise from .486 to .556. In 2003, two seasons before, he saw his SLG sort of rise from .461 to .478. Unlike 2002, though, Abreu saw his home run numbers drop, from 14 to 6, as well as his IsoP, from .187 to .143. And in 2004, one season before, he saw his SLG go from .569 to .515, his home runs drop from 18 to 12, and his IsoP to drop from .263 to .219. Looking at this context, it makes a person wonder why there was such a shock. Granted, during the season in question, his SLG alone dropped .115 points. From the first half of 2006 through the 2007 All-Star break, his SLG continued to drop, starting at .467 and falling to .456 and .372. In the second half of 2007, he slugged .528 but he’s evened out now with a SLG of .463. And for what it’s worth, in 2005, his walk rate dropped while his strike out rate went up.

By my calculations, of the past 24 participates of the Home Run Derby, only two players would seem to have a legitimate claim that it adversely affected their power: David Wright and Carlos Lee.

What does this mean for Adrian Gonzalez?

As of the writing of this article, his SLG rests at .565 and his IsoP at .268. His previous season high was last season’s .502 and his career splits see his SLG rise from .490 to .513 after the break. Funnily enough, according to Baseball Reference, Adrian’s fourth most similar batter is Justin Morneau, who took part in the Derby last season. For perspective, coming off his MVP season, Morneau slugged .581 in the first half, winning himself a spot in the competition. Following it, he slugged .384 till the end. The previous season, his SLG did drop but only .056 points. In 05, it dropped .080 points. On his career, his SLG has dropped .069 points after the break.

Should we let Adrian play? I say “Yes.” He’s shown an aptitude for improving as the season goes on, which is a good starting point. And since it would appear that only 8% of the 2004-2006 participants saw a potential Home Run Derby caused decrease in production, the odds are in the favor. The Morneau comparison does show some cause for concern, but not enough in light of everything else.

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