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9 Ballplayers Struck by the MLB Home Run Derby Curse

by: Esteban On  Monday, July 15, 2013

home run derby curse

Have you ever heard of the Home Run Derby curse? It’s the idea that, after players compete in the derby prior to the Midsummer Classic, their production drops off in the second half of the season. And it’s not a myth. It’s a real, measurable phenomenon. Since 2000, the batting average, on-base percentage, and especially isolated power of players who participated in the derby all dropped noticeably in the second half of the season relative to their numbers in the first half. Whereas their average ISO (which is basically the percentage of at-bats in which a player gets an extra base hit) of participants is .278 prior to the All-Star break, it is .252 after the All-Star break. Meanwhile, the ISO of the rest of the league remains basically constant from the first half of the season to the second half of the season. But what’s that? You don’t like the isolated power stat? Okay, that’s fine. So how about just looking at slugging percentage, which measures power by showing how many bases a player earns per at-bat. On average, over the last decade or so, participants in the HRD have seen a drop of .130 points in their combined slugging percentage, from .562 before the break to .432 after the break. So what’s the cause of the derby curse? Nobody knows for sure. Some say that trying so hard to hit only home runs ruins their swings and alters the way they approach at bats. Others say the home run derby wears them out while other guys are getting some R&R. And I say it might have something to do with the fact that the guys who are selected for the home run derby might be having statistically abnormal seasons heading into the break (which is why they are selected for the derby in the first place), and then after the break they come crashing back down to their normal production levels—i.e., they regress back to the mean. Whatever the case, though, the “curse” is a real thing. And today we’re going to take a look at some of its most notable victims since the dawn of the new millennium. Have a look…

9. Sammy Sosa (2002)


Pre-ASG Stats: .307/.419/.641 with 181 OPS+ and 28 HRs (83 games)

Post-ASG Stats: .264/.375/.536 with 141 OPS+ and 21 HRs (67 games)

Sosa’s steroid-aided home run rate in 2002 was pretty steady from the first to the second half of the season, but his other rate stats were all down after his dazzling performance in the Home Run Derby at Miller Park in Milwaukee that year. (I think he hit almost a mile of home runs, if my memory serves me.) So did he just wear himself out? Maybe. It’s also possible that this was just the start of a 33-year0-old Sosa’s rapid decline after years of PED use. He finished the season with a SLG of .594. The next year his SLG would be .553, and the year after that it would be .517


8. David Wright (2006)

David Wright - 2006 Home Run Derby

Pre-ASG Stats: .316/.386/.575 with 148 OPS+ and 20 HRs (87 games)

Post-ASG Stats: .305/.375/.469 with 120 OPS+ and 6 HRs (67 games)

After taking part in the 2006 All-Star game and Home Run Derby, the power numbers of Mets third basemen David Wright really dropped off. So what was going on there? I say it was just a typical regression to the mean. In the previous two seasons, his first in MLB, Wright had put up SLG totals of .525 and.523. His final total for 2006, after an above-average first half and a below average second half? It was .530.


7. Bobby Abreu (2005)

Bobby Abreu - 2005 Home Run Derby

Pre-ASG Stats: .307/.428/.526 with 154 OPS+ and 18 HRs (89 games)

Post-ASG Stats: .260/.376/.411 with 113 OPS+ and 6 HRs (73 games)

In 2005, Bobby Abreu won the Home Run Derby and set the current record for most total home runs with a whopping 41. The crazy thing was that he wasn’t even a real home run hitter. At that point the guy had only his 30 home runs in a season twice. However, in the six seasons prior to 2005, Abreu had slugged at least .521 in all but one of them, so his first half numbers in 2005 were on par with what the Phillies had come to expect. Unfortunately, after his epic Home Run Derby, Abreu’s numbers took a nosedive and were never the same again.

Maybe the contest did mess up his mechanics and/or approach at the plate.


6. Luis Gonzalez (2001)

Luis Gonzalez - 2001 Home Run Derby

Pre-ASG Stats: .355/.443/.745 with 206 OPS+ and 35 HRs (87 games)

Post-ASG Stats: .290/.412/.620 with 171 OPS+ and 22 HRs (75 games)

The numbers Luis Gonzalez put up in the second half of 2001 were absolutely ridiculous…just not as ridiculous as his numbers in the first half. This 33-year-old guy who was a pretty good hitter but never had more than 20 home runs before his age 30 season suddenly went bonkers and his 57 home runs in 2001, posting and OPS of 1.117…and none of those numbers even led the league, because everyone* was on steroids.

*Except Pujols. His typical Albert numbers in 2001, his rookie season, were downright paltry compared to the Gonzalez, Sosa, and Barry Bonds: 37 HRs and a 1.013 OPS. Of course, Pujols would go on to produce those types of numbers long after baseball started testing for steroids, while all those other guys are not tainted forever.


5. Garret Anderson (2003)


Pre-ASG Stats: .316/.345/.597 with 144 OPS+ and 22 HRs (92 games)

Post-ASG Stats: .313/.344/.463 with 114 OPS+ and 7 HRs (67 games)

From 2000-2002, Garret Anderson averaged 30.6 home runs and a .512 slugging percentage. He finished 2003 with 29 home runs and a .541 slugging percentage. So basically, after winning the Home Run Derby that year, his power just dipped and brought him back down to earth.


4. Albert Pujols (2009)

Albert Pujols - 2009 Home Run Derby

Pre-ASG Stats: .332/.456/.723 with 211 OPS+ and 32 HRs (90 games)

Post-ASG Stats: .322/.427/.582 with 167 OPS + and 15 HRs (70 games)

Pujols’ numbers in the first half of 2009 were pretty ridiculous, even for him. I mean, an OPS of 1.179? That’s just nuts. In the second half the guy just went back to “normal Pujols”—which is still ridiculous.

However, it should also be noted that it was 2009 that Pujols first started showing signs of decline. In 2010 his OPS went down to 1.011, followed by a dip to .906 in 2011, then .859 in 2012, all the way to .753 so far in 2013.

So this “Derby Curse” may just be a case of aging.


3. Jim Edmonds (2003)

Jim Edmonds - 2003 Home Run Derby

Pre-ASG Stats: .303/.398/.668 with 177 OPS+ and 28 HRs (88 games)

Post-ASG Stats: .214/.357/.507 with 129 OPS+ and 11 HRs (49 games)

Jim Edmonds was an excellent hitter in the peak of his career in 2003. However, two things combined to create a derby curse for him in 2003: (1) the fact that his numbers in the first half were extremely good even for him, and (2) the fact that he suffered an injury shortly after the break that limited his abilities for the rest of the season.

Then again, maybe the injury was part of the curse.


2. Paul Konerko (2002)

Paul Konerko - 2002 Home Run Derby

Pre-ASG Stats: .328/.379/.949 with 152 OPS+ and 20 HRs (87 games)

Post-ASG Stats: .270/.332/.332 with 96 OPS+ and 7 HRs (64 games)

Were Paul Konerko’s first half numbers in 2002 higher than his typical numbers at that point in his career? Yep, the previous two years he’d averaged .290/.356/.494 with 26.5 home runs. But low and behold, Konerko’s sub-par, post-derby performance in 2002 managed to lower his season numbers to .304/.359/.498 and 27 home runs.

So was that a curse, or was it just mathematical probability?


1. Lance Berkman (2008)

Lance Berkman - 2008 Home Run Derby

Pre-ASG Stats: .347/.443/.653 with 193 OPS+ and 22 HRs (93 games)

Post-ASG Stats: .259/.384/.436 with 116 OPS+ and 7 HRs (66 games)

Berkman’s numbers from the first half of 2008 were extraordinary and well beyond his “normal” performance throughout his career. Thus, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that Berkman’s numbers fell off in the second half; however, nobody expected them to fall off that much.

Well, maybe nobody except Mother Nature. It seems that maybe Berkman’s decline in the second half of 2008, when he was 32-years-old, might just have been related to the knee issues he would have in 2009 and 2010.

In any case, regardless of the reasons, Lance holds the ignominious distinction of suffering from the worst post-Home Run Derby “curse” of the 21st century.