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Can the Home Run Derby help swings?

Rhys Hoskins, Bryce Harper and Javier Baez are on fire. We must ask: can the Home Run Derby help?

MLB: All Star Game-Home Run Derby Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Home Run Derby curse doesn’t exist.

That’s what I helped to uncover in last year’s article. The general public seems to have caught on. This year, I didn’t see as many people upset about their teams’ stars entering the competition, a pleasant sight indeed.

Since the Derby, though, we have seen some of the participants jump off to hot starts in the second half. Rhys Hoskins, Bryce Harper and Javier Baez — three of the eight participants — all rank in the top 15 in the Majors in wRC+ since the All-Star Break.

Hoskins, Harper and Baez have raked

Player AVG OBP SLG OPS wOBA wRC+
Player AVG OBP SLG OPS wOBA wRC+
Rhys Hoskins 0.294 0.422 0.750 1.172 0.476 203
Bryce Harper 0.345 0.451 0.655 1.106 0.461 192
Javier Baez 0.342 0.368 0.699 1.067 0.439 178

Hoskins, for one, not only believes that the Home Run Derby can’t hurt one’s swing, but he has also considered the theory that it helped him.

“I think it kind of forced me to be aggressive to the pull side in the Derby,” Hoskins told Corey Seidman of NBC Sports Philadelphia. “I haven’t done that very well this year. For whatever reason, I’ve been a little more passive on the inner-half of the plate. In the Derby, I was able to pull balls more true and keep the ball a lot straighter instead of hooking the ball. It seems to be carrying over.”

While this was certainly anecdotal evidence on the part of Hoskins, it may ring true for the three hitters above. Harper, for instance, has seen his wOBA jump by 110 points from the first to the second half this year, a 31.3 percent increase on his .351 mark to .461. Baez, too, has seen a large increase in wOBA, jumping 18.6 percent from his .370 first half to .439.

The problem is that this theory does not carry over to the other five hitters in the Derby.

Most Derby hitters have seen a drop in performance

Player First Half wOBA Second Half wOBA Change
Player First Half wOBA Second Half wOBA Change
Rhys Hoskins .355 .476 .121
Bryce Harper .351 .461 .110
Javier Baez .370 .439 .069
Freddie Freeman .396 .347 -.049
Alex Bregman .397 .321 -.076
Kyle Schwarber .365 .280 -.085
Jesus Aguilar .413 .277 -.136
Max Muncy .422 .284 -.138

Not only are Hoskins, Harper and Baez having great second halves so far, they are the only batters that participated in the Home Run Derby to see any sort of wOBA improvement from the first to the second half.

Does this mean that we should bring up the concern of the “curse” once again? No, absolutely not. It’s true that five hitters have seen a performance drop in the first 15 to 20 games past the All-Star Break. But, five hitters have also seen above average offensive outputs since the break. Let me explain. While Hoskins, Harper and Baez have improved their hitting from the first to second half, Freddie Freeman and Alex Bregman, despite not doing so, still have hit at an above average output. That’s why we cannot say that the Derby “ruins” swings; 62.5 percent of the hitters who participated are still above average hitters in the second half.

That does leave us with three players who underperformed, though: Kyle Schwarber, Jesus Aguilar and Max Muncy. But, as Eno Sarris covered in The Athletic, Muncy, for one, has not seen any mechanical changes as the result of the Home Run Derby. In fact, he’s hitting the ball just as hard post-Derby as he was pre-Derby.

But, I’m not here to go through Aguilar’s and Schwarber’s cases just to tell you the same. I’m more interested in Hoskins’, Harper’s and Baez’s.

As Hoskins said himself, he said that the Derby has made him more aggressive to the pull-side, where he can tap into more power.

One look at his spray chart. . .and yes, that checks out.

Here is Hoskins’ first half:

And now his second:

If you prefer this in number format, Hoskins’ pull percentage before the Derby was 49.1 percent. Since the Derby, it is 55.4 percent. There has been a clear change of approach here, and it has allowed him to tap into more power, as his isolated power has jumped from .204 to .456 from the first half to the second. While this certainly won’t sustain, perhaps it’s true that Hoskins’ Derby performance reminded him of his deadly power to the pull side, which has been a welcome sight for the slugger.

Harper, too, has seen a change in approach since the Derby, but there is less clarity in whether the Derby played a direct result in said change. Harper has driven the ball more to all fields since the Derby, as his pull percentage has fallen from 44.6 to 33.3 percent, with his opposite field percentage rising from 26.0 to 38.5 percent. He’s also hit fewer ground balls; his line drive percentage has risen nearly 5 percentage points. Again, it’s hard (if not nearly impossible) to tie this change back to the Derby.

Baez, though, has not seen any significant approach changes, at least not in the positive direction. His ground ball rate has risen nearly 10 percentage points.

So, all in all, can the Home Run Derby help your swing?

I don’t know if it can help your swing specifically, but I’m more inclined to say that it can help your approach. Hoskins, for one, has made real changes to his approach that have resulted in what he does best: hitting dingers. And, as I’ve mentioned, he has cited the Derby as the reason for these approach changes, making it a larger possibility that there are actually some potential positive effects of participating.

But, really, who knows? At the end of the day, it’s a fun event for fans, and that’s how it should stay.

At least it doesn’t put a curse on the players, am I right?


Devan Fink is a Featured Writer for Beyond The Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.