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Don't buy post-derby slump talk

7/10/2012

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- It certainly seems like fantasy owners view the annual Home Run Derby with scared skepticism, as they assume the players in the competition drop off heavily in the power department for the second half. Or is it only for the players who do well in the Derby? Regardless, don't buy into this notion. Let's just say there's no need to run to your league message board and offer to trade Detroit Tigers first baseman Prince Fielder for less than he's worth after he won the 2012 State Farm Home Run Derby Monday night, for example.

There are certainly some notable instances in the past where Derby winners didn't have the greatest second-half performances -- see Bobby Abreu in 2005! -- but in many cases it's just natural regression, or they weren't really home run hitters in the first place. Abreu hit 24 home runs during the regular season (including 11 in May), but that magical night in Detroit he mashed 24 in the first round alone! In other words, you can convince yourself there's a Derby jinx and act accordingly, but I'm not buying it!

Fielder joins Ken Griffey Jr. as the only multiple winners of this fun and generally harmless event, with Fielder's first coming in 2009 at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Basically, he's unbeatable in Missouri. Fielder sits at a mere 15 home runs at this All-Star break, a tad disappointing for those who made him a mid-second rounder in ESPN average live drafts. He's currently 41st on the Player Rater, but there's little cause to worry about a poor second half. In fact, in 2009 Fielder went nuts the final two months, reaching double digits in home runs in August and September/October. Don't worry about Fielder. Now seems the right time to buy low, though certainly not from anything he achieved Monday night.

In 2011, Toronto Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista entered the All-Star break with a league-leading 31 home runs, six more than anyone else. That power didn't exactly play out in the Home Run Derby, nor did he continue his success in the second half. Still, if the Derby was the cause of his post-break struggles, as he hit only 12 home runs the final 65 games, why would he eagerly return to the competition? Asked in the Monday afternoon press conference about the physical and potentially extended demands of the competition, Bautista said, "I don't think I'm the right guy to answer this. I just hit four (in 2011), and only in the first round. So I'll pass it on to someone else!"

Bautista fared considerably better Monday night, losing in the final to Fielder, but the big story of this competition was probably not the fellows who did hit home runs, but a pair of players who did not. Defending Derby champ Robinson Cano failed to hit a home run, becoming the first participant since Detroit Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge in 2009 -- Yep, Inge was chosen for this event once upon a time! -- to go completely scoreless, and the fifth in 15 years. The fans in the packed Kauffman Stadium loved every minute of it, booing Cano relentlessly because the team's captain didn't pick hometown hero Billy Butler of the Kansas City Royals to compete in the event. In the end, Butler, who really wouldn't have been a deserving pick to participate anyway, hit as many homers as Cano did.

To keep with our theme of how fantasy owners need not worry about Fielder for the numerous majestic blasts he hit, note that Cano didn't exactly shut the power down after his winning performance last season, either. Cano admitted to reporters he was a bit sore after his power display last season at Chase Field in Arizona, but like Fielder, there's no evidence a jinx ruined his production. Cano slugged better post-break last year, though he hit only two home runs in July. He hit 13 home runs in the season's second half, and posted an OPS 42 points better than the first half. Cano is a top-10 fantasy player, and about as safe as one can get.

Ultimately, Fielder and Los Angeles Angels slugger Mark Trumbo delivered some awe-inspiring home runs on this night, but for Trumbo it might serve as a bit of a coming-out party to those not aware of his ability. Trumbo leads all players in average home run distance this year, and certainly seems capable of blasting 40 round-trippers this season. According to ESPN Stats & Information, 11 of his 22 home runs have traveled at least 420 feet this season. We've discussed Trumbo in this blog numerous times this year, pointing out his newfound attraction to plate discipline (though he's hardly Joey Votto), and while nothing he did Monday night in Kansas City swayed my opinion, I don't regard him as a sell-high choice.

Similarly, I wouldn't regard what Matt Kemp did Monday as any indication a poor second half is pending. Kemp homered once in 10 mostly underwhelming swings Monday, giving him a total of three home runs in the past two competitions. Of course, in real life Kemp mashed 39 home runs in 2011 and has 12 in a mere 36 games this season. Which would you rather have, the real home runs or the All-Star break variety? Kemp is scheduled to come off the disabled list perhaps as soon as Friday. If anything, the fact he competed Monday is a good sign he's healthy enough to join the Dodgers this week, but I remain unconvinced he'll be stealing bases the final three months.