As the second half begins, a PSA about the Home Run Derby “curse”

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I don’t mean to alarm you, but during the second half of the baseball season, you will come across articles citing the Home Run Derby as the sole reason for a player’s second-half struggles. It happens every year. It will happen again this year, and it will continue until the universe experiences heat death. By simple probability, at least one participant in the Derby (but often half) will have pronounced difficulty in the second half, which causes writers to go scrambling for explanations. Rarely is that explanation “regression after an unsustainable first half”.

In the Fall 2010 Baseball Research Journal, Joseph McCollum and Marcus Jaiclin studied the effect of the Home Run Derby on participants and found no statistically significant results.

Home Run Derby curse, fact or fiction? We have no choice but to conclude that it’s fiction. If we consider all the ways that the statistics should behave if there is no curse, we find that they consistently match that model. Certainly, some players will have a decline in power-hitting statistics from the first half of the season to the second after participating in the Derby, but it is clear from the analysis that this would have occurred for those players regardless of whether they chose to participate or not.

McCollum and Jaiclin are not the only ones. Derek Carty looked at the numbers at The Hardball Times in 2009 and also found no reason to think the Derby is a saboteur. A study posted yesterday at FanGraphs reached the same conclusion.

Friends don’t let friends make wildly unsubstantiated claims about the coolest baseball event of the summer.

Zack Cozart thinks the way the Rays have been using Sergio Romo is bad for baseball

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The Rays started Sergio Romo on back-to-back days and if that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Romo, of course, was the star closer for the Giants for a while, helping them win the World Series in 2012 and ’14. He’s been a full-time reliever dating back to 2006, when he was at Single-A.

In an effort to prevent lefty Ryan Yarbrough from facing the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup (Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, Justin Upton), Romo started Saturday’s game, pitching the first inning before giving way to Yarbrough in the second. Romo struck out the side, in fact. The Rays went on to win 5-3.

The Rays did it again on Sunday afternoon, starting Romo. This time, he got four outs before giving way to Matt Andriese. Romo walked two without giving up a hit while striking out three. The Angels managed to win 5-2 however.

Despite Sunday’s win, Cozart wasn’t a happy camper with the way the Rays used Romo. Via Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Cozart said, “It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion … It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”

It’s difficult to see merit in Cozart’s argument. It’s not like the Rays were making excessive amounts of pitching changes; they used five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The games lasted three hours and three hours, 15 minutes, respectively. The average game time is exactly three hours so far this season. I’m having trouble wondering how else Cozart might mean the strategy is bad for baseball.

It seems like the real issue is that Cozart is afraid of the sport changing around him. The Rays, like most small market teams, have to find their edges in slight ways. The Rays aren’t doing this blindly; the strategy makes sense based on their opponents’ starting lineup. The idea of valuing on-base percentage was scoffed at. Shifting was scoffed at and now every team employs them to some degree. Who knows if starting a reliever for the first three or four outs will become a trend, but it’s shortsighted to write it off at first glance.