- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 9, 2013


One thing we’ve learned for absolute sure in the 15 or so months we’ve had Bryce Harper to fawn over is this: There’s never a dull moment with this young man.

The Phillies’ Cole Hamels plunks him, for reasons we’re still trying to figure out. So Harper ended up stealing home. He runs into walls. He sends joking texts to his manager that say play me or trade me, never mind that he’s 20 and his manager is 70.

He loves to play baseball. He has fun playing baseball. He’s fun to watch.

That’s why there should be a fair amount of excitement over the fact that Harper will be one of eight players participating in the Home Run Derby on Monday, the night before he’s scheduled to become the National League’s youngest starter ever in the All-Star game.

The Derby is likely to be a better show than the actual game.

Harper is a showman, with a flair for the dramatic. He will put on a show in the Derby. He may even win the thing.

But, like way too many things these days, there are questions about whether his participation is a good thing. The Home Run Derby requires players to use a swing they don’t use in their everyday at-bats. It can mess with a player’s swing. The risk is not worth the reward.

To that, we have a simple response: Puh-leeese.

Let’s not dissect every possible movement the kid can make and try to find a smidge of possible negative. Let’s enjoy the Home Run Derby for what it is and have some fun watching Harper try to blast a few balls out of Citi Field in New York.

If he does have a bad second half of the season, it won’t be because of anything that happens Monday night.

Mike Scioscia, the longtime manager of the Los Angeles Angels, is among those who is not a fan of the Derby.

“It’s grueling for a participant,” Scioscia told MLB.com. “The number of full gorilla swings you take, it’s like being on a driving range and hitting 10 buckets of balls. It’s tough. I haven’t seen someone come away from that Derby and be a better player for it.”

The article that quotes Scioscia uses Mark Trumbo as an example. Trumbo had a .306 average with 22 home runs in the first half of 2012. He hit .227 with 10 home runs in the second half.

The same article also notes Scioscia has had three others take part in the Derby. Their splits in those seasons were similar. Garret Anderson in 2003 saw his home runs fall from 22 to seven from the first to the second half, but his average only fell from .326 to .313. He was hitting, just not hitting it out.

The MLB.com article said Scioscia didn’t blame the Derby for Anderson’s power drop, but it also noted he “didn’t see any positive effects either.”

Vladimir Guerrero won the Derby in 2007. He had 14 home runs in the first half of the season, 13 in the second. His batting averages were .325 and .323.

That’s a type of symmetry not often found in baseball statistics. First-half stats in no way predict the way a second half of a season will go, and taking part in a Home Run Derby won’t have any bearing on anything Harper does the rest of the way.

He had 13 home runs going into Tuesday’s game at Philadelphia, despite missing a chunk of the season with a knee injury. He could finish the year with 26, or 36, or 16. There’s no way to know. Just as there’s no way to know if the Nationals will be the around-.500 team they’ve been thus far this season or better than that. Or worse than that.

Pitcher Jordan Zimmermann earned his All-Star spot by winning 12 games so far. Will he have 24 wins or 14 at season’s end? No way to know.

So let’s quit kvetching about what could go wrong with Harper being in the Home Run Derby. Let’s instead sit back and watch what promises to be a fun show. When Bryce Harper is a part of things, you can never be sure what is going to happen but you can always bet on it being entertaining. And fun.

And it won’t mess up his swing.

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