"You take swings that hard," says Konerko, "and the adrenaline of the situation takes over. Even in a big game situation, I'd never had that kind of adrenaline going."
The strange experience of taking batting practice without a cage under the lights in front of tens of thousands of people left him sore in places he usually isn't sore, like his obliques and lower back, the core from which a hitter draws his power. Over the second half of the year, he hit just seven home runs, and his slugging average dropped from .571 to .402.
Here, then, is a classic example of the famed curse of the Home Run Derby. Think of
What makes Konerko's case such a fine example, though, is that his second half slump had nothing to do with the Derby. It was due, he says, to a foot injury. And while it's easy to come up with examples of players whose power has suffered after participating in the event, it's just as easy to explain why this happens without positing that the act of hitting the ball somehow destroys the ability to hit the ball.
It is true that participants tend to hit for less power after taking part in the Derby.
Increased by more than .100: 3
Increased from .50 to .99: 12
Increased from .25 to .49: 10
Decreased by .24 to increased by .24: 16
Decreased by .25 to .49: 6
Decreased from .50 to .99: 11
Decreased by more than .100: 22
More striking than the number of declines is how bad they are. Nearly as many hitters saw a second-half decline in slugging of at least 100 points as had an improvement of at least .25. On its own, this data might be taken as proof that there is a curse after all; but there are more convincing explanations.
Most obviously, if you take a lot of hitters who are playing exceptionally well, of course they're going to go down in quality as a group. This is especially so given the nature of the Home Run Derby, which sometimes features players whose swings aren't built for power anyway. If someone like
A ballplayer would say that hitters find their level; a statistician would say they regress toward the mean. Both would be saying the same thing, and both would be right.
Somewhat less obviously, many of these large declines are simply from the otherworldly to the merely outstanding. In 2000, for example,
Backing the idea that post-Derby decline is entirely organic is that even as some players go to lengths to avoid taking part, others who have done so dismiss the idea that it wreaks havoc on a swing.
"I did it," says
All this being so, anyone looking for potential victims of the phantom curse would probably be best served just to look at which 2010 hitters are doing more than they usually do. Detroit Triple Crown threat
"You're so far into the season," says Konerko, "that you're like a robot doing your job."