For the second straight year, the Home Run Derby was a smash hit. Yet amidst the breathtaking backdrop in San Diego and a couple of outstanding performances from the likes of Mark Trumbo and Todd Frazier, it was Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton who owned the night. He broke Bobby Abreu’s previous record for home runs in a Derby by smashing 61 long balls- some of which I don’t think have come down yet. It was truly something to see: Stanton’s swing is just so effortless and yet I wouldn’t be surprised if the Padres have to spend a small fortune fixing parts of their ballpark thanks to Stanton’s assault.
Yet while watching Stanton was exciting, his showing might be bad news for the Marlins, who are in the thick of a pennant race. No, I’m not talking about Miami’s marketing gaffe in which they promised that they would cut ticket prices by one percent for every home run Stanton hit: I’m talking about the notion that Home Run Derby champions decline in the second half of the season.
We saw this happen last year after Todd Frazier won the Derby and went on to have a miserable second half. After Bobby Arbeu’s terrific showing in the ’05 Derby, he ended up blaming the contest for his second half struggles in which he only hit 6 home runs. Even players who merely participated in it like Josh Hamilton in 2008 have disappointed after the All-Star break. These horror stories are likely the reason why we see players like Bryce Harper opt out of the competition.
The Marlins can’t afford this to happen to Stanton. They are unlikely to catch up to the Nationals in the NL East, which means they have to hope they secure one of the two wild card positions if they want to make the postseason. This won’t be easy: While Miami is currently tied with the Mets for the second wild card spot, formidable teams like the Pirates and Cardinals are right behind. It will help that reigning NL batting champion Dee Gordon returns from his PED suspension in late July. However, the Marlins don’t have any strong pitchers aside from the sensational Jose Fernandez and their lineup has gotten by so far thanks to breakout performances from the likes of outfielder Christian Yelich and catcher J.T. Realmuto, which aren’t necessarily sustainable. The Marlins could be good enough to be in the hunt until mid-September, but they’ll need Stanton clobbering fastballs consistently if they want to make the playoffs.
Yet here’s my question: Is it really true that Home Run Derby champs decline in the second half of the season? To figure this out, I went back and looked at the first and second half splits of the past eleven Derby champions dating back to Bobby Abreu and added my opinion, based on the stats, of whether they improved, declined, or stayed the same after the All-Star break. Here they are below:
(note: differences in home run totals are deceptive because more games are played in the 1st half)
Todd Frazier (2015)- Declined
1st half: .284 average, 25 home runs, .585 slugging, 17.4 K%, .301 ISO, 7.31% home run/AB rate
2nd half: .220 average, 10 home runs, .390 slugging, 23.7 K%, .170 ISO. 3,61% home run/AB rate
Yoenis Cespedes (2014)- Stayed the Same
1st half: .246 average, 14 home runs, .442 slugging, 19.0 K%, .195 ISO, 3.96% home run/AB rate
2nd half: .279 average, 8 home runs, .462 slugging, 21.1 K%, .182 ISO, 3.24% home run/AB rate
Yoenis Cespedes (2013)- Improved
1st half: .225 average, 15 home runs, .420 slugging, 23.5 K%, .195 ISO, 4.89% home run/AB rate
2nd half: .261 average, 11 home runs, .473 slugging, 24.5 K%, .212 ISO, 4.95% home run/AB rate
Prince Fielder (2012)- Improved
1st half: .299 average, 15 home runs, .505 slugging, 12.1 K%, .206 ISO, 4.67% home run/AB rate
2nd half: .331 average, 15 home runs, .568 slugging, 12.2 K%, .227 ISO, 5.77% home run/AB rate
Robinson Cano (2011)- Improved
1st half: .296 average, 15 home runs, .521 slugging, 12.5 K%, .225 ISO, 4.47% home run/AB rate
2nd half: .309 average, 13 home runs, .547 slugging, 16.0 K%, .239 ISO, 4.56% home run/AB rate
David Ortiz (2010)- Declined
1st half: .263 average, 18 home runs, .562 slugging, 24.3 K%, .299 ISO, 7.17% home run/AB rate
2nd half: .277 average, 14 home runs, .498 slugging, 23.6 K%, .221 ISO, 5.24% home run/AB rate
Prince Fielder (2009)- Stayed the Same
1st half: .315 average, 22 home runs, .614 slugging, 19.1 K%, .299 ISO, 7.14% home run/AB rate
2nd half: .283 average, 24 home runs, .590 slugging, 19.3 K%, .308 ISO, 8.48% home run/AB rate
Justin Morneau (2008)- Declined
1st half: .323 average, 14 home runs, .512 slugging, 13.3 K%, .189 ISO, 3.84% home run/AB rate
2nd half: .267 average, 9 home runs, .481 slugging, 10.0 K%, .213 ISO, 3.48% home run/AB rate
Vladimir Guerrero (2007)- Stayed the Same
1st half: .325 average, 14 home runs, .547 slugging, 8.7 K%, .222 ISO, 4.50% home run/AB rate
2nd half: .323 average, 13 home runs, .548 slugging, 10.3 K%, .224 ISO, 4.94% home run/AB rate
Ryan Howard (2006)- Improved
1st half: .278 average, 28 home runs, .582 slugging, 27.6 K%, .304 ISO, 8.86 home run/AB rate
2nd half: .355 average, 30 home runs, .751 slugging, 23.9 K%, .396 ISO, 11.32 home run/AB rate
Bobby Abreu (2005)- Declined
1st half: .307 average, 18 home runs, .526 slugging, 16.4 K%, .220 ISO, 5.58 home run/AB rate
2nd half: .260 average, 6 home runs, .411 slugging, 21.4 K%, .151 ISO, 2.26 home run/AB rate
1st half: .287 average, 18 home runs, .529 slugging, 17.6 K%, .241 ISO, 5.67 home run/AB rate
2nd half: .288 average, 13.9 home runs, .520 slugging, 17.8 K%, .231 ISO, 5.26 home run/AB rate
It appears there is some truth to the idea that the Home Run Derby champions decline in the second half. The most revealing stat is the difference between first and second half home run rates, which suggests that players see their power decline after they win the Derby.
However, while there have been guys like Frazier and Abreu who regressed, there are as many examples of players who have improved following the Derby (refer back to Ryan Howard, in particular). Plus, the other stats I listed above such as batting average, slugging percentage, and isolated power are nearly identical in both splits. So, overall, I think the notion that Home Run Derby champions are cursed for the rest of the season is overrated.
Generally speaking, most of these players come into the competition performing like All-Stars and leave performing like All-Stars. That being said, there does seem to be a pattern between the players that avoid a decline and those who don’t. Those who don’t continue to perform at a high level aren’t as consistently stellar as the likes of Ortiz, Cano, and Guerrero. I suppose that’s the ultimate question for Miami: Is Giancarlo Stanton on the same level of guys who avoided post-Derby slumps or is he closer to the likes of Frazier and Abreu? Judging by how erratic Stanton has been this year, it’s a difficult question to answer. But based on what we have just learned about the past ten Home Run Derby champions, the Marlins shouldn’t listen too much to those who say that the post-Derby slump is legitimate.
Stanton photo courtesy of Sporting News