The curse of the Home Run Derby?

DETROIT — Should Detroit Tigers fans be worried about Prince Fielder as he heads into Monday night’s Home Run Derby?

Maybe. At least for a little while.

A look at the last few years shows a continuation of a trend that has been picked up by baseball analysts for the last 20 years – batters do indeed struggle after taking part in the annual slugging contest.

Since 2009, there have been 24 contestants in the Derby. We examined their stats in the last 10 games before the All-Star break, and their stats in the first 10 games after the break. The difference is surprisingly strong.

Before the break, the average Home Run Derby contestant is performing like, well, an All-Star. They start out July hitting .288 with a .385 on-base percentage and a .535 slugging percentage.

After two days of festivities and another day or two off, things tend to change.

The slugging stars of early July turn into league-average hitters in the second half of the month. The batting average is down to .261, the on-base percentage is .345 and, most worrying, the slugging percentage is all the way down to .419. The number of homers hit by the players drops 38 percent after the break.

Last season, Matt Holliday and Jose Bautista were two of the hottest hitters in baseball before the break, combining for 11 homers in their last 10 games and a slugging percentage of .842. Afterward? Zero home runs and a slugging percentage that barely broke .300.

In 2010, David Ortiz and Hanley Ramirez both came into the break with 10-game batting averages over .300, then finished 1-2 in the competition. Both then hit under .200 in the next 10 games, with only one homer between them.

In most cases, the effect does only last 10 days or two weeks, but there have been other times when it has gone on much longer. The most famous case is Bobby Abreu, who rocked Comerica Park for a record 41 homers in 2005. When the break arrived, Abreu was hitting .307 with a .955 OPS and 18 home runs.

After his record-setting day in Detroit, things fell apart. He hit .260 with a .787 OPS and just six more homers in the second half of the season. He has never questioned what went wrong, often saying that the huge number of full-power swings during the three-hour contest caused problems for his hands and generally wore him out.

In Detroit, of course, the first name brought up when it comes to the Home Run Derby ruining swings is Brandon Inge. In 2009, Inge has played himself onto the All-Star team with the best first half of his career. By the time the Home Run Derby rolled around, he was hitting .268 with a .876 OPS and 21 home runs. He then famously went 0-for-the-Derby and didn’t do much better in the second half of the season. As the Tigers blew the AL Central and lost game 163 to the Twins, Inge hit .186 with a .542 OPS and six homers.

Things never got better for Inge. After hitting just 13 homers in 2010, he ended up in the minor leagues in 2011 and getting released by the Tigers in 2012. Now in Oakland, he is struggling to keep his batting average over .200 and stay in the major leagues.

Most players, though, only take a couple weeks to break out a post-Derby slump. Last season, Fielder hit just .171 in his first 10 games after the All-Star break and drove in only one run. It didn’t last, though. In the last 60 games of the year, he hit 16 homers and batted .322 with an OPS of 1.040.

It was a similar case when he won the Home Run Derby in 2009. He came out of the break slowly, hitting just .216 with two home runs in the first 10 games. Down the stretch, though, he was everything the Brewers wanted. He had 22 homers in their final 64 games – a pace of 56 over a 162-game schedule, and an OPS of 1.005.

After all, if players thought the Home Run Derby was going to cripple their careers, they wouldn’t do it. Miguel Cabrera, who had his red-hot summer slowed down a bit when he took part in 2010, said, if he had been asked, he would have done it again this year, and that he was looking forward to seeing Fielder in action.

So it is mostly a short-term effect, and that can’t be a surprise for Fielder, who acknowledges that the Home Run Derby is different than anything else he does all season – including his daily batting-practice competition with Cabrera.

“It’s weird – it doesn’t feel like batting practice, because you don’t have a cage,” he said. “And you aren’t trying to work on anything in your swing, or practice taking balls the other way. All you are doing is trying to hit the ball as far as you can.”

So, if you are hoping that the Tigers can keep their five-game winning streak alive after the break, keep in mind that, for a week or two, they will probably have to do it without too much help from big No. 28.