By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez are two of the best home run hitters in baseball. But neither will be partaking in this year’s Home Run Derby.
This may be considered “old news,” but considering that All-Star voting ends this week and the build-up to the Midsummer Classic is beginning in earnest, it’s nevertheless relevant here in early July.
It’s news that first developed in May, when Betts told The Boston Globe “hell no” when asked if he’d participate. Martinez also explained to the Globe that he’s harboring some ill will toward MLB for excluding him from the Home Run Derby field three years ago.
“MLB didn’t want me [in 2015]. I figured I’d have the option of doing it and they said no,” Martinez said. “They had other guys they wanted, all these young guys. I was like, ‘Forget it. I’ll never do it.’ … I’m out. I’m OK.”
NESN play-by-play broadcaster Dave O’Brien mentioned during Tuesday night’s game that Martinez has no interest in the derby, which should serve as welcome news for Red Sox fans. That’s because participating in the Home Run Derby — and succeeding in the Home Run Derby — has historically hurt players in the second half of the year.
Last year’s winner Aaron Judge saw a slight setback in his home run rate, going from one HR for every 10.03 at-bats in the first half to one home run in every 10.95 at-bats in the second half. Giancarlo Stanton — the winner in 2016 — actually hit more homers in the second half than the first half. But other winners have seen their numbers drop precipitously. Todd Frazier, 2015’s winner, hit 25 home runs in the first half of the season and just 10 in the second half. 2012 winner Prince Fielder hit 18 homers in the first half and 12 homers in the second half of that season. When he won in 2011, Robinson Cano launched 16 homers in the first half and just 12 homers in the second half, despite taking 23 more at-bats. David Ortiz went from 18 first-half homers to 14 second-half homers after winning in 2010. And in the biggest drop-off, Bobby Abreu went from 18 first-half homers in 2005 to just six second-half homers after he won the derby. And that’s only the winners; just participating can often be enough to hurt players’ swings.
There have been exceptions, of course, but the negative effects of one intense, glorified batting practice session can be very real. The Red Sox, with their MLB-best 58 wins and 454 runs, won’t have to worry about such effects this summer.
Martinez homered on Tuesday night for the 26th time this season, increasing his lead over everyone else in the majors to two. (Mike Trout and Jose Ramirez each have 24 homers on the year.) Betts, despite missing two weeks due to a back injury, is tied for eighth in the majors and seventh in the AL with 21 home runs. In terms of at-bats per home run, Martinez ranks second in the majors at 12.1 and Betts ranks third at 12.2. (Nelson Cruz owns the slight edge at 12.0.)
Betts is the AL’s leading All-Star vote-getter in the outfield, while Martinez has received more than twice as many votes than any other DH. Both are certain to be a part of the All-Star festivities, but both appear to be just as certain to want nothing to do with the Home Run Derby.