Now that I am back from vacation, and more importantly, my readers are back from vacation, let us recommence the blogging...
I have a particular penchant for the Home Run Derby. I can remember many times throughout the years sitting in a box (box seat) in front of the television, watching the game's great sluggers do their best to muscle the ball over the fence. I've seen Oriole greats like Cal Ripken, B.J Surhoff, Miguel Tejada, and (removing the "great" label) Rafael Palmeiro hit the ball as hard as they could to win the coveted two golden bats crossed on a stand trophy. The derby is just a fun event, and it's a treat for the fans.
Unfortunately, in the past years, the derby has started to become a bit of a joke around All-Star time. More and more hitters are taking the night off instead of slugging it out, MLB introduces goofy new formats (remember that US vs. the World crap from a few years ago?), and Chris Berman gets less air time to chant "Back-back-back" as the ball soars. And this year, sadly, is no exception.
This year's derby field is comprised of Alex Rios of the Blue Jays, Vlad Guererro of the Angels, Magglio Ordonez of the Tigers, Justin Morneau of the Twins, Albert Pujols of the Cardinals, Ryan Howard of the Phillies, and Prince Fielder of the Brewers. The notable peculiarity of the field is that it's only 7 people as opposed to the traditional 8. That's because the Marlins' Miguel Cabrera withdrew yesterday due to a shoulder injury, and there are apparently no other people in AT&T Park who can hit homeruns (put up or shut up, Barry Lamar).
The second oddity in the derby lineup has to do with who is allowed to participate. Ryan Howard won the Home Run Derby last year in Pittsburgh. He is not part of the All-Star roster this year, but is still begin permitted to participate in the derby. He is being flown to San Francisco for the sole purpose of taking batting practice in front of the world. What a crock. If you aren't good enough to be an All-Star, why should you be allowed to sully the good name of the Home Run derby? How ridiculous would it be for the winner of All-Star week's most prestigious event to not even be an All-Star? Here's hoping Howard continues the fine tradition of not winning consecutive derby's.
The final anomaly in the lineup has to do with who isn't in the lineup. The 7 participants in tonight's derby rank 2, 3, 6, 13, 17, 37, and 57th in the league in homeruns. That's right folks, pay good money to go to AT&T Park and see Magglio Ordonez, the 57th best homerun hitter in all of baseball. Ordonez is behind such powerhouses as Hanley Ramirez, Jhonny Peralta (I didn't spell that wrong, either), Ian Kinsler, and Xavier Nady. Who wants to see that? Are they going to have to construct an artificial fence around the infield dirt just so tonight's competitors can hit homeruns? Are we going to allow ground rule doubles to count as homeruns? How about foul balls that travel far enough?
What's worse than the fact that All-Stars Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey, Torii Hunter, J.J Hardy, and Barry Lamar Bonds are not participating are the reasons they give for not participating. Quoth Bonds, "It's too much waiting. You can't do that." Says Rodriguez, "I've worked hard for my swing and I definitely don't want to let anything get in the way of that." Others cite the damage that can be done to your mechanics, or the fatigue that sets in from participating in the derby.
The most ridiculous excuse, however, deals with one of my all time favorite topics: curses! Some players think that the derby carries a mystique that can derail a player. They usually cite Bobby Abreu as evidence. Abreu won the derby in Detroit two years ago. Since then, he's been junk. Experts say his swing isn't the same because he developed too many bad habits trying to hit the ball out. Unfortunately for said experts, they also posted the first half and second half homerun totals for the top four finalists in each derby since 1998. Being a statistician in my off time, I took notice.
At first glance, it seems as though the derby may cause a little bit of fatigue that lasts into the second half of the season. On average, derby participants hit 6.5 fewer homeruns in the second half of the year than the first. However, 6.5 homeruns is NOT statistically significant. In order to be significant, the player would have to be somewhere around 24 fewer homeruns in the second half (don't ask me how I know, just know that it's right). That means that the drop in production among derby participants can be attributed to other things, like injury, fatigue from the season, or slumps. The lesson that needs to be learned here is that the derby does not do as much harm as the players want you to believe. The real reason they don't want to participate is because they are afraid of embarrassing themselves on the grand stage. There is not such thing as a "Home Run Derby Curse".
So am I going to watch the Home Run Derby tonight? Hell yeah! I'm saying Vladimir Guererro wins it all. But that does not take away from the fact that today's derby is just a watered down shadow of the great spectacle it used to be.