MLB Stats Guru: Home Run Derby Messing Up Second Half Is a "Total Myth"
Brewers fans are breathing a comparative sigh of relief that Christian Yelich opted out of the Home Run Derby, which airs at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN this evening and will have a Statcast simulcast on ESPN2 with Jason Benetti, Eduardo Perez, and MLB Statcast analyst Mike Petriello. While the back issues Yelich has been battling this season are concerning in the long run, at least the Derby won’t mess up his swing, right? Well, according to Petriello, the idea that the Home Run Derby actually has adverse effects on its participants is actually a “total myth.”
Petriello, who wrote a story about his thesis this past weekend, tells The Big Lead that there are two prevailing reasons for his belief. If you just look at numbers of home runs in the first half vs. the second half, that doesn’t hold water because there are more games in the first half. “The term first half is a total misnomer — it’s about 60 percent of the season,” he said.
Secondly, Petriello noted: “Being in the Home Run Derby is not any more dangerous than simply being an All-Star. What I mean by that is you only get to chosen to be in the Derby or ASG if you’ve had a really good first half — in some cases, the best first half that you’ve ever had: the kind of thing that’s unlikely to sustain for the final three months.”
Petriello compared the eight guys who were in the Derby each year to all of the players in the ASG who weren’t in the Derby. In 2017, the Derby participants declined from .945 OPS in the first half to .934 in the second half. “Giancarlo Stanton got his swing so messed up that he only finished with 59 home runs,” Petriello joked. Further, he noted, all the All-Stars who weren’t in the Derby declined by 87 points in the second half.
“You’ve got all these guys who weren’t really stars, but had really good first halves that they couldn’t sustain,” Petriello said. “Like Corey Dickerson fell apart in the second half. It was the same thing last year. Yeah, Jesus Aguilar did way worse in the second half, but Bryce Harper won the thing and he was awesome in the second half.”
“I think you’ll see that again this year. If you look, for example, at Carlos Santana — he’s having the best start of his career,” Petriello continued. “He’s never had a first half like this and he’s been around for a decade. I’m going to almost guarantee he’ll do worse in the second half. But I’d say the opposite about Vladimir Guerrero Jr. He’s only actually been okay so far. I think he’s gonna be a lot better in the second half.”
Now, while I used the Yelich example in the introduction given that Brewers fans were concerned, Petriello did note that in the case of injury concerns he is in favor of holding them out of the Derby. We spoke before the news that Yelich had pulled out, but Petriello understood why Rangers slugger Joey Gallo didn’t want to be taking 100 full power swings amidst an oblique injury. Nevertheless, for able-bodied participants, it seems as though concerns about Derby participation are unfounded.