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Tuesday morning was good to me. I woke up with David Ortiz as the home run champion (or Jose Ortiz if you’re Bobby Valentine) and George Steinbrenner dead. Apparently God had been getting my letters about my deep seeded desire to witness a Red Sox player be named the best at batting practice and see the timely death of a guy who inspired a Seinfeld character both occur within a 24 hour window.
But of course…every silver lining has a cloud.
First I realized that with major sports in a mid-summer lull and every media mouthpiece now in their refractory period after a four-day long LeBron James reactionary orgy, that this Steinbrenner dying bit was going to get the good ol’ ESPN “beat a story ‘til death then display it on a pike for the whole world to see” treatment.
The other thing that pissed on my picnic other than the deification of a guy who was a 55-gallon drum of douche that created the most vilified franchise in American sports was this email from my editor:
In winning the HR Derby, does David Ortiz have any power left? We saw what the Derby did to Bobby Abreu and Josh Hamilton in recent years. Will it have the same effect on Ortiz?–KC
Fan-friggin’-tastic. Now I couldn’t even enjoy Ortiz’s victory in being “the best home run hitter” because apparently winning that imaginary title is often responsible for cursing players with the very real title of “dude that crapped the bed in the second half.”
But could this Derby Curse be real? Or was it was just one of those stupid things that the media makes up so they’d have something to fill their 24-hour news cycle—like the Madden Curse or NESN’s Pocket Money? Well I had to know. Unable to engage in any sports media due to the love-fest over Steinbrenner’s rotting corpse, I figured I’d spend my new found leisure time doing something that I have never done for one of my columns—research.
I started with the past two Derby winners: Prince Fielder of the Brewers and Justin Morneau of the Twins. They’re two well-respected hitters, so I figured they wouldn’t let this Derby nonsense mess with their highly refined swings. Wrong. Last season Fielder went from hitting .315 before the All-Star break to .283 afterward. Morneau went from hitting .323 before his Derby victory to .267 afterward. Not exactly a positive precedent.
When I turned to look at Abreu and Hamilton (as well as Garret Anderson)—the centerpieces of this curse—it got even uglier. Abreu (who won the Derby in ’05) went from hitting a homer once every 17.9 at-bats before the break to once every 44.2 AB after. Anderson (Derby winner in ’03) went deep the first half of that season every 17.2 AB—in the second half: once every 40.5 AB.
Then there’s was Josh Hamilton. The curse of the Home Run Derby was even worse to him—because it hit right away—most notably by him not even winning the Home Run Derby despite belting 13 more HR than the next closest guy. On top of that dubious honor, Hamilton went from going yard once in every 17.95 AB to once every 22.45 AB—as well as retroactively becoming a crystal meth addict.
“This is why you don’t do research,” I began to mutter to myself. “Why don’t you just stick to making crap up and doing dick jokes? You may not have written with much substance, but at least you were blissfully ignorant.”
My sub-conscious was right. All this was doing was turning a superstitious curse into a pretty well-founded belief that Ortiz was going to completely suck in the second-half, which was too bad, because he was just starting to come out of a multi-season funk. He recovered from an abysmal April to hit .263 in the first half. He put up pretty respectable power numbers and is being feared again for his potency at the plate (he’s going deep once every 13.9 AB and is tied for 1st in the AL having been intentionally walked 8 times). Now comes along this damn Derby—where guys get into a groove swinging at 70 mph practices tosses instead of game quality pitches—which isn’t the best practice to get into, especially for Ortiz, a player whose major problem at the plate the past few years was that he was swinging the bat like every pitch was 70 mph when in fact they were going 90.
Even worse than a drop in power numbers is the distinct possibility of the Josh Hamilton Corollary to the Home Run Derby Curse coming into play. We all know Ortiz has had a past with drugs (come on…we ALL know), so it’s perfectly safe to assume that he can retroactively become addicted to crystal methamphetamine. If that happens, don’t expect to see the affable, salsa making, home run hitting drug user that we grew to love. Oh no my friends, I’ve watched enough Breaking Bad to know if Papi starts smoking ice in his past that he will be a total bummer, get really crappy forearm tattoos that resemble an Ed Hardy shirt and maybe even crush Dan Shaughnessy’s head with an ATM after reading one of his scathing criticisms (OK, so maybe it won’t be all bad).
But before I could delve deeper into despair, buying into scenarios where Ortiz’s power numbers decline and he becomes a meth-head, my research actually uncovered some positive news:
Since Abreu won the Home Run Derby in ’05, every winner saw his AB per HR drop or pretty much hold after the break (Fielder: 14/11.8, Morneau: 26.1/28.7, Guerrero: 22.2/20.2, Howard: 11.3/8.8). And of those five guys, the only player to have his batting average see a sharp decline was Morneau (.323/.267, but he shouldn’t really count anyways because he’s Canadian).
Then if we look at Ortiz’s splits the news gets even better. From ’07-’09 (the seasons he started to ‘decline’), Ortiz hit a combined .277 with 34 HR in the months of April through June. From July to September he hit .293 with 52 HR. So it’s pretty clear to see that he’s more of a second half guy, which makes perfect sense because the MLB tends to test for steroids during spring training and it can take several weeks to get your cycle right.
So fear not my fellow Sox fans. Enjoy Ortiz’s Home Run Derby victory in the secure knowledge that it won’t necessarily lead to a precipitous drop in performance (or even a crippling drug addiction). Papi will be just fine, if not better, in the second half of baseball.
And even better yet—George Steinbrenner is still dead. Let there be peace and happiness across the Nation.