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Dodgers Dugout: No evidence the Home Run Derby messes up your swing

Joc Pederson homers in Game 3 of the 2020 World Series.
Joc Pederson homers in Game 3 of the 2020 World Series.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Hi, and welcome to another edition of Dodgers Dugout. My name is Houston Mitchell and if the woman who left her nine children at Chase Field could please go get her kids. They are beating the Diamondbacks 12-0.

In the newsletter before this one, we discussed which Dodgers should make the All-Star team. That brought on a flood of emails from Dodger fans concerned that a Dodger would be named to the Home Run Derby, because everyone knows it ruins your swing for the second half. Even Angels fans (all three of them) wrote me, concerned it would ruin Shohei Ohtani.

So, for those of you subscribed to the newsletter in the last 12 months, we’ll go over this again: There is no evidence to back this fear up, except for a generic “Look what happened to Joc Pederson in 2015!” Of course, the fact Pederson began slumping before the home run derby that year is ignored.

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Before the 2015 All-Star game, Pederson hit .230/.364/.487 with 20 homers and an OPS+ of 139. After the All-Star game he hit .178/.317/.300 with six homers and an OPS+ of 71. Problem solved, right? It was obviously the derby that did him in. But wait. Let’s take a closer look.

In his last 20 games before the 2015 All-Star game, Pederson hit .159/.266/.304, which is even worse than what he did after the All-Star game. So, Pederson’s slump started around mid-June, almost one month before the All-Star break even began.

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How can we blame the home run derby for something that was already happening? We can’t.

The entire home run derby jinx is urban legend, with no facts to back it up. The biggest example most people use is Chris Davis, who hit 37 homers before the 2013 home run derby and only 16 after. But do we really think Davis was going to hit 70 homers that season? His overall numbers were still excellent after the break, so saying it jinxed him is quite a reach.

Davis is no different from Reggie Jackson in 1969. He had 37 homers at the break. After the break, he hit 11. If that happened now, everyone would be screaming that the home run derby had ruined him (though it would have been great to see Reggie in a home run derby).

In 1969, Frank Howard had 34 homers at the break. He hit 14 after. No home run derby to mess up his swing.

Also keep in mind that most players are selected to compete in the derby because they are having a monstrous first half. Mike Trout, the best player in baseball for the last six seasons, has a career OPS+ of 176, making him the active leader. (OPS+ compares hitters to the league average. An average hitter will have an OPS+ of 100. Trout’s 176 means he is 76% better than the average hitter over the same time.) He is the only active player with a career OPS+ of at least 150 (Joey Votto is next at 147) and only 33 players in history have a career OPS+ of at least 150 (minimum 3,000 plate appearances). Trout, by the way, is fifth all time, behind Babe Ruth (206), Ted Williams (191), Barry Bonds (182) and Lou Gehrig (179). He will drop down to seventh once Negro Leagues players are officially added to the MLB stats.

From 2012-19, 27 of the 66 home run derby competitors had an OPS+ over 150 at the time. There was no place for them to go but down, and all but four did. Those four: David Wright in 2013 (from 151 to 154), Jose Bautista in 2014 (158-174), Giancarlo Stanton in 2014 (163-182) and Charlie Blackmon in 2017 (151-182). The other 23 didn’t suffer from a jinx, they just regressed to normal, and all stayed well above average in OPS+.

Of the 66 home run derby participants from 2012-19 (I’m not including two participants who were injured early in the second half and had limited playing time), only eight could have what could be considered a below-average second half, meaning an OPS+ below 100 after the break. Those eight: Mark Trumbo (162-74) in 2012, Carlos Gonzalez (180-99) in 2012, Pedro Alvarez (127-95) in 2013, Albert Pujols (137-91) in 2015, Joc Pederson (139-71) in 2015, Todd Frazier (155-80) in 2015, Wil Myers (133-91) in 2016 and Miguel Sano in 2017 (140-97). And we’ve already talked about Pederson.

Among those players who have improved after the home run derby: Corey Seager, who had an OPS+ of 135 before the 2016 break and 138 after, and Pederson in 2019, who went from 124 to 135.

Only two players have gone into the derby with an OPS+ below 100, Yoenis Cespedes (97) in 2013 and Vlad Guerrero Jr. (98) in 2019. After the break, Cespedes’ OPS+ was 114 and Guerrero’s was 111.

Some players get worse after the break, some get better, and some stay the same. But now we have something to peg it to. Something we can blame it on. Because it is human nature to want to find something to blame. But we’ve picked the wrong thing.

A closer look

The Dodgers are 44-27, 1.5 games behind the Giants in the NL West. Here’s how that 44-27 record breaks down:

Home: 23-12
Road: 21-15

April: 16-11
May: 16-11
June: 12-5

Extra-inning: 1-7

One-run games: 9-13

Blowout (win or lose by at least five): 15-5

Interleague: 9-6

vs. teams .500 or better: 20-22
vs. teams under .500: 24-5

Longest winning streak: 8
Longest losing streak: 4

in Shutout games: 8-1

And now, the Padres

Remember earlier this season, when the two “biggest series of the season” happened, both involving the San Diego Padres. Because the Dodgers and Padres were supposed to be neck and neck all season. The Padres won four of the first seven meetings, and then the Dodgers fell into a 5-15 skid, and the narrative was how much better the Padres were than the Dodgers.

Except the Padres are in third place now. Still a very good team at 42-32, only five games back. Still capable of winning the division. But they have had problems of their own. They have six pitchers on the IL. Blake Snell has a 5.72 ERA. Their bench is weak.

This is why they actually play the games instead of just letting the “experts” pick the winners. And despite the Padres being in third, they would still make the playoffs where they would play the wild-card game against ... the Dodgers, at Dodger Stadium. Of course, there are still about 90 games left in the season for every team.

In case you missed it

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He’s the guy the Dodgers traded for Chris Taylor. He hasn’t given up

Up next

Tonight: Dodgers (*Julio Urías, 9-2, 3.54 ERA) at San Diego (Yu Darvish, 6-2, 2.57 ERA), 7 p.m., Sportsnet LA, AM 570

Tuesday: Dodgers (*Clayton Kershaw, 8-6, 3.36 ERA) at San Diego (TBA), 7 p.m., Sportsnet LA, AM 570

Wednesday: Dodgers (Trevor Bauer, 7-5, 2.45 ERA) at San Diego (TBA), 7 p.m., Sportsnet LA, AM 570

*left-hander

And finally

Vin Scully recalls a story involving Walter Alston and the team bus. Watch and listen here.

Until next time...

Have a comment or something you’d like to see in a future Dodgers newsletter? Email me at houston.mitchell@latimes.com, and follow me on Twitter at @latimeshouston. To get this newsletter in your inbox, click here.


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