No way, Jose: Bautista entering the Home Run Derby is a bad idea.

Photo from bluejays.com

What does Jose Bautista stand to gain from entering the 2012 Major League Baseball Home Run Derby?

Bautista, the leader of a floundering Blue Jays squad that is fighting to keep its head above water after a rash of injuries to its pitching rotation, has nothing to prove. And if last year is any indication, he could be in for a significant drop-off in his power numbers post All-Star Break.

Heading into the 2011 Home Run Derby, Bautista had 31 homers in 299 at-bats – a home run every 9.6 at-bats. After a disappointing showing in the derby, his post all-star break production dropped to 12 homers (once every 17.8 at-bats) and in 214 at bats. More worringly, his slugging percentage dropped from .702 to a paltry (by his standards) .419.

Blame it on second-half fatigue, but in 2010, Bautista’s breakout season, his power numbers shot up dramatically in the second-half of the season. Barring a nagging injury or something of the sort in 2011, that lends credence to the notion that the derby messed something up in his swing.

It’s difficult to prove conclusively, but there’s evidence to suggest that the derby is taxing on a hitter’s body, and may cause some players to inadvertently change their swing mechanics. As noted here, the last ten players to win the contest have, on average, seen their second half numbers decline.

Bautista has proven his power credentials by leading the majors in home runs over the two-and-a-half seasons by an incredible margin. Tell me again, what does it prove to win a contest in such an artificial situation?

The Derby, like the Slam Dunk Contest in the NBA, is one of those events that always seems more exciting going in than it ends up being. But while it’s easy to rip on NBA stars for not participating in the dunk contest – no one’s ever injured themselves in it – it’s hard to fault anyone who gives the derby a pass. Trying to rip pitch after pitch out of the park in a competitive setting is probably not beneficial for baseball’s best power hitters.

Bautista should have taken a cue from fellow slugger Josh Hamilton, who won the contest with 28 dingers in 2008, and politely decline the invitation this year.

“It’s just not the right time,” Hamilton said on June 7,  the Associated Press reported. “I haven’t done it in the last couple years. I want to be healthy and be the best I can be for the team. I don’t want to take a chance of going out and hurting anything trying to entertain folks in the (Derby). That’s why I declined again.”

Hamilton’s manager, Ron Washington, was reportedly thrilled with the news.

It’s hard to fault Bautista for wanting to give the fans a show. And in a season that’s likely a lost cause for the Jays, maybe a Home Run Derby victory is the only thing the team can win. But win or lose, if he struggles during the second half of this season, Bautista has to say these words if invited back next year: “Thanks, but no thanks.”

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