*Pete Alonso really wants to compete in the Home Run Derby next month at Progressive Field in Cleveland. The Mets definitely would like that to happen, too.
But should he?
Aaron Judge thinks so. And if you remember, the 2017 Derby champ had a bumpy second half afterward, due to a shoulder injury sustained during the event that slowed him until a September resurgence, when he recovered to hit 15 homers over his final 27 games.
“It was a lot of fun,” Judge said this week. “I enjoyed it and I’d recommend it for him. After seeing his swing, he’s going to do pretty well in it. I know that.”
Major League Baseball has yet to invite players to the Derby — that process will start later this month. But officials are encouraged that a number of prominent sluggers already have expressed interest publicly, and the new $1-million prize for the winner certainly won’t hurt recruitment.
As for Alonso, they had him at hello. The Mets’ charismatic first baseman should be an absolute lock for an invitation after crushing 19 home runs, good for third in the majors behind the Brewers’ Christian Yelich (21) and the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger (20) through Friday.
He also isn’t too concerned about any negative impact in the second half, which aside from Judge’s misfortune two years ago, is largely a fallacy that doesn’t seem to be based in fact over the long haul.
“Well, I mean, my thing is just hit the ball hard,” Alonso told Newsday’s Tim Healey. “That’s it. Home Run Derby, that’s just going to be the same thing I do every day. I’m a big, strong guy. I’m going to do the best I can to stick with it, you know? Stick with my same swing.
“I don’t want to manipulate my swing, how I get to the baseball. I don’t want to change anything — swing, mechanics or anything — for the Derby. I want to stay exactly who I am. I just want to trust my regular swing, which plays in a Derby. If I hit enough balls hard enough, I feel like they’re going to carry over the fence.”
Alonso has proved that, beyond a shadow of a doubt. The only question many sluggers and their teams wrestle with as the All-Star break approaches every year is weighing the potential pitfalls of personal glory against the greater good of a playoff chase in the second half. Or at least that’s the perception.
Turns out, the reality is somewhat different.
Yes, taking part in what amounts to a batting-practice exhibition may carry more risk than sitting on the beach for a few days. Hunting in the backwoods, we’re not so sure. But from a numbers perspective, the perils of those extra swings — despite maybe requiring some additional muscle — are mostly a myth.
An examination of the Home Run Derby over the past four years, involving 32 individual cases (30 players), shows slight changes in overall performance, with the only known injury from the event itself being the shoulder ailment suffered by '17 winner Aaron Judge.
Some regression is expected, when you’re looking at players who have out-slugged the rest of the league in order to be selected to the Derby. But in a snapshot of three offensive categories, comparing the pre-break and post-break numbers, the discrepancy is slim.
Batting average: minus-0.0172
Slugging percentage: minus-0.0541
At-bats per home run: plus-4.5185
Again, this an expansive breakdown of 30 players, some of whom you wouldn’t consider among the sport’s most consistent run-producers. Todd Frazier had one of the more noticeable tumbles after he won the Derby in '15 for his host Reds at Great American Ball Park, but he’s always been a streaky hitter, prone to such spikes.
Two more recent examples, from the '17 Derby, display just the opposite effect. Gary Sanchez went from a .276 batting average with 13 home runs and an .850 on-base plus slugging percentage over 57 first-half games to a .280 average, 20 homers and .896 OPS during the final 65. As for then-Marlin Giancarlo Stanton, he batted .277 with 26 home runs and a .933 OPS in 86 games before the break, only to see that performance jump to .287, 33 and 1.095 over his final 73 games.
Judge beat out both of them to win the ’17 crown at Marlins Park, a Derby packed with so much entertainment value and jaw-dropping power that I wrote at the time it revived what in recent years had become a tired All-Star spectacle. The next morning, coming off that ratings bonanza, commissioner Rob Manfred nominated rising-star Judge as possibly the new face of baseball.
“You’ve got to put on a show for the fans, and I just enjoy doing that,” Judge said this week when asked about his Derby memories. “That whole experience was pretty cool. It’s the All-Star break, and you [miss] some down time, but I enjoyed the competition.”
What we didn’t realize until weeks later is that Judge had developed a shoulder injury — or the condition had simply worsened — during his Derby participation. Initially, his post-break downturn was blamed on perhaps throwing his swing out of whack by flexing for the fences, because something had to account for the stunning 44-game skid that followed (.179 BA, .690 OPS, 67 strikeouts) even though he still hit seven homers during that downturn.
But it wasn’t from the Derby itself. Just the injury Judge tried to play through.
“I didn’t really want to go on the DL,” Judge said. “We were on a big run, and facing Boston right after [the break]. You’ve got to put up with some things. People kept saying you slumped after [the Derby] but it wasn’t a slump. I just couldn’t lift up my arm. That kind of puts a damper on your swing a little bit.”
Even so, Judge managed to find a temporary fix to get him through September, when he returned to All-Star form by hitting .311 (28-for-90) with 15 homers and a 1.352 OPS in 27 games. Seven weeks later, Judge had arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder for “loose body removal and cartilage clean-up.”
After all that, Judge says he has no plans to compete in the Derby again, unless it’s in New York. It wasn’t so much the ordeal for him, just the been-there, done-that vibe after bashing his way to the ’17 title. In his view, the Derby is a controlled environment, and one that shouldn’t be an issue outside of his rare exception.
“It’s a competition, you know?” Judge said. “So any time you’re competing, the adrenaline’s going to be flowing a little bit. So that adds to it, and the crowd gets into it. And I think I was getting booed the whole time I was there, going up against the hometown guys.”
The way Judge describes the Home Run Derby, it’s tailor-made for Alonso, who loves the dramatic moment. A year ago, in the Futures Game at Nationals Park — the undercard for the Derby — Alonso provided a bit of foreshadowing by swatting a 415-foot moonshot with an exit velo of 113.6 mph. Good thing for the hometown D.C. fans they didn’t let him go toe-to-toe with eventual champ Bryce Harper the next night.
“Winning it, not winning it, I mean, just being there is going to be an honor,” Alonso said. “I’m going to have probably the most fun time there. If I hit zero home runs or all of the home runs, it’s going to be a blast. It’s going to be really special event. I’m just going to be a kid living a dream. That’s pretty much it.”
A look at the past 10 winners of the Home Run Derby indicates their post-break performance remained fairly consistent with what they did in the season’s first half.
2018 Bryce Harper
1st Half ... 94 G ... .214 BA ... 14.2 AB/HR ... .883 OPS
2nd Half .. 65 G ... .300 BA ... 20.3 ......... ... .972 OPS
2017 Aaron Judge
1st H ... 84 G ... .329 BA ... 10 AB/HR ...... ... 1.139 OPS
2nd H ... 71 G ... .228 BA ... 11 ................... .939 OPS
2016 Giancarlo Stanton
1st H ... 76 G ... .233 BA ... 13.9 AB/HR ... ... .823 OPS
2nd H ... 43 G ... .254 BA ... 19.1 ................. .800
2015 Todd Frazier
1st H ... 85 G ... .284 BA ... 13.7 AB/HR ..... .922 OPS
2nd H ... 72 G ... .220 ........ 27.7 ............... .664
2014 Yoenis Cespedes
1st H .... 90 G .... .246 BA .... 25.2 AB/HR ... .741 OPS
2nd H ... 62 G .... .279 BA .... 30.9 ............. .764 OPS
2013 Yoenis Cespedes
1st H .... 79 G .... .225 BA ... 20.5 AB/HR ... .713 OPS
2nd H .... 56 G .... .261 BA ... 20.2 .............. .769 OPS
2012 Prince Fielder
1st H .... 86 G .... .299 BA .... 21.4 AB/HR .... .885
2nd H .... 76 G .... .331 BA .... 17.3 ............. 1.006
2011 Robinson Cano
1st H .... 87 G ... .296 BA ... 22.5 AB/HR .... .863 OPS
2nd H ... 72 G .... .309 BA ... 21.9 .............. .905 OPS
2010 David Ortiz
1st H ... 74 G .... .263 BA ... 13.9 AB/HR .... .945 OPS
2nd H ... 71 G .... .277 BA ... 19.1 .............. ..854 OPS
2009 Prince Fielder
1st H .... 88 G ..... .315 BA .... 14.0 AB/HR .... 1.055 OPS
2nd H .... 74 G ..... .283 BA .... 11.8 ............. .967 OPS