Maybe Alex Rodriguez is on to something.
The likeliest player, should he stay healthy, to dethrone Barry Bonds as the home run king opted to not take part in this yearís annual Home Run Derby because he didnít want to mess up his swing. While his participation, especially in the stadium that Rodriguez plays in 81 times a season, would have likely added to the buzz in Yankee Stadium created by Josh Hamilton, he could have very well been looking after his own good.
Rodriguez has only to peer across the Yankees locker room to teammate Bobby Abreu as an example. Abreu thought his one and only appearance in the contest messed up his swing, and his second-half performance may have lead A-Rod down the path to pass on participating.
Since 1991, when the format of the Home Run Derby was changed from two innings to three rounds, seven of the 17 winners have seen their second half home run production improve after winning the contest. Furthermore, 13 of those winners saw their batting average drop after the break- not exactly numbers that general managers want to read.
Before the All-Star Break in 2005, Abreu hit a home run in every 22.06 plate appearances and then saw that number plummet to one home run every 53.67 plate appearances. In 2003, Garret Anderson became a victim of the Home Run Derby slump, going yard once in every 17.64 plate appearances before and then once every 40.71 PA afterward.
Winners arenít the only ones that seem effected. Ask David Wright.
The Mets third basemen, who finished second behind Ryan Howard at PNC Park in 2006, had 20 homers at the break (HR every 19.3 PA). He then hit only six more the rest of the year (HR every 45.8 PA). In 2007, the Blue Jaysí Alex Rios had 17 home runs before the break (HR every 22.88 PA); He hit seven more the rest of the season (HR every 46 PA). In 2003, both Jason Giambi and Albert Pujols saw their numbers fall off their first half pace as well. Of this group, only Rios saw his batting average improve after the competition.
All of this brings us to this year's winner, Justin Morneau. Thatís right, he won, not Hamilton, despite everyone falling over baseballís feel-good story of the year. Morneau, it turns out, has the worst first-half HR:PA ratio of any Home Run Derby winner since the í91 format change Ė one homer in every 29.42 PA. Heís been off pace of the 31 homers he belted a year ago (and the 34 he hit in í06) and was the final player invited to participate in this yearís competition. Maybe his victory is just what the doctor ordered to get his power back. As for Hamilton, itís likely heíll cool down from his impressive first half (a season ago, he got fatigued in Cincinnati late in the 2007 season), but I expect heíll fair better than Wright and Rios did as runners-up.
As for A-Rod, if he canít get into the groove soon, Yankee fans wonít care whose numbers heís concerned with.
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