Ok fine, I'll say it. J.J. Hardy is the most dreamy player on the Orioles. I'm not ashamed to admit it, and even SB Nation's Marc Normandin agrees. In this scenario, us O's fans are the lucky girlfriend and every other general manager in baseball plays the role of "jealous girl." Scoffing at things that don't really matter like his strange throwing motion and soul patch. It's charming, OK!? OK, has this metaphor gone far enough? Let's learn about J.J.
Name: James Jerry Hardy Number: 2
Born: August 19, 1982 (31 years old) in Tucson, AZ
Height: 6'1" Weight: 190 lbs
Bats: Right Throws: Right
Drafted: 2nd Round, 2001 by the Milwaukee Brewers
School: Sabino High School (Tucson, AZ)
Became an Oriole: Traded by the Minnesota Twins along with INF Brendan Harris in exchange for minor league pitchers Brett Jacobson and Jim Hoey on December 9, 2010
Walk-up music: "Flower" by Moby
Contract: $7 million for 2014 (becomes free agent after this season)
We all know what a stud Hardy is on the field. This winter he had a notable achievement elsewhere. On December 7, 2013 he got married to Adrienne Acton, a former collegiate softball player at the University of Arizona, at a ceremony in Mexico.
According to a story done by the Arizona Daily Star late last year, Hardy and Acton are from the same hometown. The newly-minted Mrs. Hardy is three years younger than J.J. However, the two did not discover one another in the Copper State.
When Hardy was a member of the Brewers, his teammates were watching the Women's College World Series. Other players on the team noticed where Acton was from and insisted that Hardy get in touch with her. After some convincing he talked to the Brewer's public relations department. They contacted the University of Arizona and the rest is history.
Oh, and Hardy has made a well-documented appearance on The Young and the Restless along with, Jeff Suppan, Chris Capuano and former Oriole Bill Hall. Capuano is referred to as "the best left-handed pitcher in the entire league." You want to watch this.
After being drafted in 2001, Hardy climbed the organizational ranks with Milwaukee, breaking into the bigs in 2005. While down on the farm the player who some called "Hoover" in high school showed every ounce of defensive prowess we see today. He was rated the best defensive infielder and the best infield arm in the Brewer's system following the 2004 season. Baseball America ranked Hardy as high as the number 19 prospect in all of baseball.
In his six season with the Brewers, Hardy showed some brilliance. He made his first All-Star game in 2007 at the age of 24. The follow up season of 2008 was even better and, arguably, his best year to date. He managed career highs in batting average (.283) and on base percentage (.343) that year.
Hardy struggled after that great 2008. All of his stats took a dive and at one point he was optioned to Triple A. Following the season Hardy was dealt to the Minnesota Twins for outfielder Carlos Gomez.
In Minnesota, Hardy couldn't find his power in spacious Target Field. On top of that, he injured his wrist and missed 45 games in 2010, which is the reason he still wears a wrist guard running the bases to this day. He played for the Twins at the same time as new Oriole Delmon Young. It was really a forgettable year for the Arizona native.
It was that magical offseason of 2010 when the Orioles solved their longtime hole at shortstop by swapping Jim Hoey and Brett Jacobson for Hardy and fellow infielder Harris. Since this trade, J.J. has had a career rebirth; winning two Gold Gloves, earning another All-Star selection and winning a Silver Slugger award.
Those two Gold Gloves aren't the only proof that Hardy is a superb defender. FanGraphs gives him a career zone rating per 150 games played at 9.9; that's great. But, as anyone who follows the Orioles can tell you, Hardy's foot speed is well below average. He will make the occasional spectacular play, but what makes him great is that he is almost assuredly going to make the routine play. The best way to describe it is that when a ball is hit to Hardy with two outs, it's safe for Adam Jones and Nick Markakis to begin their trek back to the dugout; the out will be recorded.
The fact that Hardy plays shortstop makes his bat much more valuable. FanGraphs says that in 2013 AL shortstops had a line of .256/.309/.373. Those numbers are very similar to Hardy's career in terms of batting average (.259) and on-base percentage (.312). However, the one tool the Baltimore shortstop has that many of his peers don't, aside from Troy Tulowitzski in the NL, is power. Hardy slugged .433 in 2013 with 25 home runs. That was tied for the tops in baseball among shortstops and he wad third in runs batted in.
Sure, Hardy has deficiencies at the plate. He doesn't walk nearly enough. Perhaps he hits a few too many fly balls. But if his approach changes he would lose what makes him valuable. Many of those fly balls fly right out of the park. The bottom line is that the Orioles are lucky to have a player like Hardy. Award winning shortstops don't grow on trees. Remember we were all excited about Luis Hernandez?
Hardy has had back issues to begin the 2014 campaign. If those are behind him (apologies for the pun) then he should have another stellar season. His value as a stabilizing force on the infield can't be overstated. The question is what uniform will Hardy be wearing come April of 2015.
Reports abound about the Orioles desire to resign the shortstop, but little has been brought up since the beginning of the season. Hardy would be a highly sought after talent if he were to hit free agency. That will only drive his price farther skyward. A certain New York franchise has their own number two retiring this fall.
It will come down to the Orioles decision. Hardy has quickly become a fan favorite and has been saying all of the right things about wanting to stay in Baltimore. However, Manny Machado's skill set would still seem to fit best at shortstop. Would Hardy be willing to switch to third? As I alluded to above, his value would be greatly diminished if he moved away from short. Much of this will depend on both the health of Machado's knee and Hardy's back.
As I remind you each week, please comment on who you would like to see feature in this post next Tuesday morning!