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.

Phillies owner John Middleton is in Las Vegas with Bryce Harper

Bryce Harper
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Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia reports that Phillies owner John Middleton flew to Las Vegas for a meeting with Bryce Harper on Friday. Per ESPN’s Jeff Passan, it’s “more of a meet-and-greet than a sign-a-deal” affair, but as the club is still at the forefront of trade rumors involving the All-Star slugger, there remains a possibility (however slight) that something could be completed in the days to come.

Even now, the Phillies aren’t alone in the race to sign Harper, but recent rumors have helped whittle down the competition from five or more teams (Phillies, Nationals, White Sox, Giants, and Padres) to three strong contenders. The Giants are said to be interested in a lucrative short-term deal with the outfielder, while the Padres remain in the conversation despite inking Manny Machado to a mammoth 10-year, $300 million contract this week. It’s not yet clear just how far either team would go to outbid Philadelphia as talks with Harper intensify.

As for the Nationals and White Sox, the former officially bowed out earlier today, and MLB Network’s Jon Heyman adds that the latter won’t make a strong play for Harper as they feel the asking price and competing offers are “getting too high” for the 26-year-old’s services. If a mystery team is still in the mix, there’s been no word on their standing with Harper in the last month or so.