Going into the 2014 season, Orioles fans knew exactly what to expect from J.J. Hardy: gold-glove defense and home runs (the good), combined with a poor on-base percentage, lots of strikeouts and no speed on the basepaths (the bad). And generally, it seemed OK to take the latter with the former, accepting that the team had a 3-4 WAR player, at a generally weak or inconsistent position, on a team-friendly contract.
J.J. Hardy homered on September 5th, 2013. It was a go-ahead homer that led to a 3-1 Orioles victory, but as for the home run itself, it was pretty unnoteworthy -- Hardy's 25th shot of the season, and even though he'd go the last 23 games of 2013 without one, nobody thought too much of it. And certainly no one thought that, as of the following June 10th, Hardy would be entering play looking at 319 consecutive plate appearances without a homer to his name.
Hardy certainly goes through hot and cold spells as a hitter, but the odd thing about this stretch is that he's gone through hot and cold spells alike without a single ball clearing the fence. Isolating just his 2014 stats, Hardy's BA and OBP are a bit above his career line (though his BABIP is concerningly high, indicating a bit of luck in those numbers), while the lack of taters is keeping his slugging percentage a bit lower. Delving a bit deeper into the current season, the peripherals don't immediately suggest that anything is obviously amiss. Most of his fly ball and ground ball rates are in line with his career norms, and his line drive rate is actually up slightly. But that HR/FB ratio sits stubbornly at zero in early June.
Hardy's previous longest home run drought came in the dog days of the 2007 season, a stretch that encompassed all of July and lasted 163 PAs, just about half as long as the current streak. Prior to this current homerless stretch, Hardy was averaging a homer every 28.5 PAs -- now, his career number has moved to every 30.5 PAs.
So, where are the dongs? Will Hardy ever homer again? 319 PAs certainly seems like more than a run of bad luck, and it's not like Hardy has been banging doubles into the outfield walls on a regular basis, either. This is especially concerning for a guy in his walk year, whose current contract was signed at below-market rates due to concerns about his health -- concerns that have yet to materialize during that contract. The coming offseason could be Hardy's last chance for big money, with this already being his age 32 season. A poor offensive showing this year could depress the market for his services, which could be great for the Orioles, sad for Hardy, or both, if he re-signs in Baltimore on another cheap-ish contract.
The home runs will come, probably. When, and how many, is an open question for Orioles fans to ponder as the team tries to keep its playoff hopes alive. Hardy's bat heating up while the summer air does the same will be an important part of that equation.