Juan Soto thinks the Home Run Derby fixed his swing

·3-min read

For years, decades even, the conventional wisdom has been the Home Run Derby can and will ruin your favorite slugger's swing.

Any announcement that a player is participating in the Derby is inevitably met with concerns that one extended batting practice will mark the downfall of his season. Some players even cite such concerns when turning down the Derby, despite legitimate research that has found the Derby to have a negligible effect on second-half performance.

Anecdotal evidence has proven powerful in reinforcing this concept. A post-Derby slump by one or two players is all it takes to make participating look like a bad idea. Let us then present some anecdotal evidence to the contrary, in the form of Juan Soto.

The Washington Nationals star has done his best to make the Home Run Derby look like a swing clinic rather than a swing ruiner, and even argued his case after another strong performance on Sunday.

From MASN's Mark Zuckerman:

“You can tell. I just feel so much better now,” he said in a Zoom session with reporters following Sunday’s 8-7 walk-off win at Nationals Park. “I was thinking about it, and it really helped me a little bit get that feeling of how to put the ball in the air and everything. I tried everything I could in the first half, and the ball still was going to the ground. ... I think the derby helped me out big time.”

In the small sample of four games since the All-Star break, Soto is hitting 10-for-17 with five homers, eight runs and 11 RBI. According to ESPN Stats & Info, he's the first MLB player ever to post five homers and 10 hits in his first four games after the All-Star break.

Those numbers were exactly what Soto was hoping for when he entered the Derby, telling reporters he hoped it would fix his swing by pushing him to put the ball in the air more. At the time, Soto had been hitting 55 percent ground balls according to Fangraphs, sixth most among qualified hitters. He was still posting a decent season with a slash line of .283/.407/.445, but even that's disappointing when you just hit .351/.490/.695 in 2020.

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 19:  Juan Soto #22 of the Washington Nationals hits a solo home run in the first inning during a baseball game against the Miami Marlins at Nationals Park on July 19, 2021 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
Juan Soto is hitting the ball in the air again. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

Soto entered the Derby with unusually little fanfare for one of the best hitters in baseball, mostly because, well, hitting home runs hadn't been a huge part of his season. Because of that ground-ball tendency, he had the fewest homers of any participant with 11, which meant he had to face Shohei Ohtani in the first round.

You may know what happened then. Soto upset Ohtani in a round with multiple tie-breaking swing-offs, beating the two-way phenom with three homers in three swings in the final round. He also hit the longest homer Statcast has ever tracked at the event at 520 feet.

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And now, Soto is crushing the ball again, most recently hitting two homers in an 18-1 shellacking of the Marlins on Monday.

Does that mean the Home Run Derby is good for swings? Well, maybe if you enter it with a specific swing goal like Soto. Soto certainly seems to think so. Or we may just be looking at a piece of positive anecdotal evidence in a debate where real answers are impossible to find.

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