While waiting for my car to be serviced over the weekend, I was lucky enough to find last year's Home Run Derby's final round playing on the waiting room TV. I settled in and watched Bobby Abreu on fire. He hit home run after home run; even several of his "outs" were near miss home runs. He had his power stroke, and he was on fire. It was a gorgeous thing to watch.
But what's happened to that power stroke since then? Since last All-Star break, a full year's worth of baseball games, Abreu has hit only 14 home runs and slugged only .440. That's Johnny Damon's slugging percentage from last year, or Ryan Freel's this year. This is not what we expect from our $13.6M 30/30 guy.
This got me wondering: has Abreu's post-Home Run derby power drought been historically significant? Is he unusual in what's happened to him since the event?
To answer this question, I looked at the past five years worth of Home Run Derby events. I took the four participants with the most home runs in the Derby each year and, using Dave Pinto's amazing Day-By-Day Database, compared the participant's previous year's worth of power stats (All-Star break from year before Derby to the All-Star break in the year of the participant's competition) to the participant's following year's worth of stats (until the next All-Star break). It turns out that what we're seeing from Abreu is not at all unusual.
Here's a chart showing each participant in this study, his "before" power stats, and his "after" power stats.
Besides the fact that I had forgotten that Garrett Andersen ever participated in a Home Run Derby before, let alone won it, the thing that jumped out the most for me from this analysis is that many participants had big drops following the Derby. In particular, there was a huge drop in slugging for all of the 2002 participants. (Could MLB's start of anonymous testing for steroids in 2003 have something to do with this drop? That's pure speculation, of course, although one player of the bunch (Giambi) is an admitted past steroid user.) Other than 2002's uniform drop-off, the numbers bounce around, but it's quite obvious that Abreu's huge drop from before the Derby to after the Derby is not unusual.
Looking at the comparison a different way, here's the same list of players but showing the percentage increase or decrease in slugging percentage and the net increase or decrease in home runs.
Abreu's 15.5% drop in SLG and 16 fewer home runs is nowhere near the worst of the bunch. Paul Konerko and Sammy Sosa in 2002, and Jason Giambi and Garrett Andersen in 2003 all lost a greater proportion of their slugging percentages. The same bunch also dropped more home runs than Abreu has. (Bonds dropped the same amount as Abreu following the 2004 Derby, but that's because he didn't play for the three months of 2005 before the All-Star Break.)
So, what we see from this endeavor is that Abreu's power loss after the Derby is not aberrational. And, if Abreu is lucky, he can follow in the footsteps of Konerko or Giambi, who have recovered mightily from their post-Derby power drops.
For the Phils' sake, let's hope Abreu recovers soon. And, after last night, let's also hope that Ryan Howard ignores Abreu's post-Derby performance and looks to Miguel Tejada from 2004 or David Ortiz from 2005 instead.