Many of us are pretty excited to see our new shortstop in action, but what can we expect from him? Here's a look at where J.J. Hardy has been and what we might expect from him in the future. After a brief Hardy history, check out what special guest Jesse Lund from Twinkie Town has to say about the newest Oriole.
James Jerry Hardy was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 2nd round (56th overall) of the 2001 draft (As I tend to do with players who have had major league success, I looked up the 2001 draft to see what losers the Orioles drafted ahead of Hardy that year. In the first round they drafted Chris Smith, who never made it past A ball. In the second round they drafted nobody as they lost their pick to the Indians as compensation for signing David Segui).
Hardy made his major league debut in 2005 at the age of 22, hitting .247/.327/.384 for the Brewers in 124 games. He really broke out in 2008 and 2009, hitting 61 2B and 50 HR in the two year span while posting a slash line of .280/.333/.470. He looked like a star in the making for the Brew Crew, but couldn't repeat his success the following year.
Going into 2009, Hardy sat two years away from free agency and was coming off of two fantastic seasons both at the plate and in the field (he's rated quite highly no matter which defensive statistic you prefer) and was still just twenty-five years old. Unfortunately he didn't have a great year, hitting just .229/.302/.357. At the time, Beyond the Boxscore made the case for his sub-par year not being nearly as bad as it looked on paper, but the Brewers saw his underachievement as a chance to manipulate his service time and sent him back to AAA in August. This pushed his service time back enough that he wouldn't be a FA until after 2011, giving him more trade value. With the Brewers having up-and-comer Alcides Escobar waiting in the wings, they traded Hardy to the Minnesota Twins before the 2010 season for another struggling youngster, Carlos Gomez.
Hardy started 2010 poorly at the plate for the Twins, hitting just .250/.299/.400 in 108 PA through May 4th, when he went onto the disabled list with a strained wrist. He returned on May 25th for nine games but wasn't fully healed and had to make a second trip to the DL from June 6th - July 3rd. When he finally returned to the lineup, he brought his bat with him. Over the final 64 games of the season, Hardy hit .302/.356/.436 with 14 2B, 2 3B, and 3 HR in 227 PA.
So what do the Twins and their fans think of J.J. Hardy? And why would the Twins want to trade someone who plays well at a difficult position? Here are Jesse's insights and my commentary:
Congratulations, Baltimore fans. You're the newest owner of one of baseball's most frustrating and enigmatic talents. For me there are three things worth talking about for Hardy: his defense, his power potential and his health.
Thanks! We're happy to have him. I love that we get to talk about power potential for an Orioles shortstop. It's refreshing after two years of Cesar Izturis.
Defensively, he's one of the best shortstops in all of baseball. Because he doesn't have good speed he plays deep, allowing him time to cover more ground laterally, and his strong arm means he can make throws from deep in the hole. He's sure handed, and he does an excellent job of understanding the hitters and game situation to put himself in the right spot. Ron Gardenhire recenty made mention of wanting a shortstop who's willing to come up and play a ball instead of waiting for it, which most of us took as a slight to Hardy's style, but I chalk Hardy's style up to two things in this regard. First, not all defenders play their position the same. I just mentioned why he plays deep, and for the most part Hardy can get away with it. But it does come with the trade-off of not being able to get to all of the slow grounders that trickle past the pitcher. Second, Hardy's a fundamentally sound player, so he doesn't force a play if he can help it. I think Gardy may have mis-interpreted Hardy's style as lackadaisical.
Check out the sentence I italicized. O's fans, does that remind you of anyone?
Offensively Hardy's probably not going to return to the player he was in '07-'08, but that doesn't mean he can't be a valuable bat. If he's healthy, which I'll talk about in a minute, he has the ability to hit 20+ home runs. He was hurt quite a bit this year and hit just .268/.320/.394, but that's still better than the average shortstop. In Minnesota's lineup this season he hit ninth, and that's probably the right position for him. If he's healthy, maybe he can hit seventh as a bottom-of-the-order power threat, but as long as you're not relying on him to be one of your primary run producers then you're probably fine.
Sadly, a .320 OBP would have been fourth best among regulars this season. I'm excited to see what kind of power Hardy can give if he can get in a full season where he's not battling a wrist injury. His HR number will probably not top twenty in 2011, but with a full season he should be able to get into the double digits with maybe thirty doubles. He and Brian Roberts could be a duo of middle infielding doubling machines.
Now...injuries. I don't believe players can be "injury prone" or more likely to get hurt, but his overall production still depends on how many games he plays. He can be a three to four win player if he plays full time, which is pretty damn good for a shortstop. But if his wrist continues to ail him, or if his back or toe flair up, he'll miss stretches of time--and that's frustrating for a guy who will probably make $6 to $6.5 million through arbitration.
Other than his two DL trips in 2010, Hardy missed several two to four game stretches during the season with various injuries. He played only 115 ML games in 2009 but also played 18 minor league games when he was demoted. He played 146 games in 2008 and 151games in 2007, so it sounds like he has does need time off but hasn't spent a great deal of time on the DL until last year. Hopefully that will be an aberration in his career.
Gardenhire wasn't happy with how Hardy rehabbed when he was hurt--what that means is anyone's guess, because I haven't seen any further details on it. But we know Gardy likes grit and hustle and dirty uniforms, and I think sometimes he felt he didn't see enough of that from J.J.
Honestly, I know that Gardenhire is thought of highly as a manager, but forgive me for not taking too much stock in a guy who loves grit and hustle and dirty uniforms. You know who got his uniform dirty a lot? Brandon Fahey.
Overall it's pretty easy to see what you can expect from Hardy. If he's healthy he can be an All-Star and Gold Glove winner, I believe that. Realistically he'll probably play 100 to 120 games, be solid doing it, and be worth two to two and a half wins above replacement. Don't let Gardy's unhapiness with him, or the Twins organization's willingness to move him, affect how you see him. He's a good teammate, if generally a quiet one publicly, and when he plays he gets the job done. I liked him and wish him the best.
Sounds like the kind of guy that I'll be happy with on my team. Thanks to the Twins for giving him away for next to nothing, and thanks to Jesse for offering us his perspective on our new shortstop.