To say that Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy got off to a slow start this season would be kind. On April 30th he was batting .202/.243/.327, which is an Izturian-level of hitting. Yes, we all know that a lot of his value comes from his defense, but let's face it: the Orioles didn't give him 3-year, $22.25M contract based solely on that. They paid for that defense plus a bat that, while far from perfect, provides above-average offense for a shortstop.
Just as it started to get brutal to even watch Hardy at the plate, he began to turn it around. His lowest point of the season was on May 2nd, when he was hitting .188/.227/.304. But since that day he has turned it around significantly. In the 31 games since then, Hardy has raised his OBP 65 points and his 168 points. As of today his hitting line is .253/.292/.472
It's hard to look at a guy with a sub-.300 OBP and be satisfied with the result, no matter who he is. But Hardy is the kind of hitter whose power makes up for it. Sure, we'd love for him to climb over that .300 mark (and if he keeps it up, he'll be there soon) but even if and when he does, he'll never be a guy you can count on to get on base a ton. That's why batting him second last season didn't make a ton of sense. But down in the six or seven hole he is a pretty fine hitter.
After his 2-for-5 performance with a home run last night, Hardy has an OPS+ of 102, which means he is slightly better than league average. If you're not familiar with OPS+, it takes OPS (on-base plus slugging) adjusts it for park factors, then puts it on a scale with the rest of the league. So no matter who the player is, where he's playing, or what year it is, an OPS+ of 100 is the league average.
Thanks to his defensive prowess and his penchant for hitting home runs, Hardy is third on the Orioles in Wins Above Replacement behind Chris Davis and Manny Machado. And if you compare him to shortstops around the American League, Hardy is second to only Jhonny Peralta.
Because Hardy's hitting style is so one-dimensional, if he falls off in that area (like he did in 2012), it can get ugly. But if he can even just continue the way he has so far this season and he doesn't top .300 in on-base percentage, he's still one of most valuable shortstops in baseball.
I'll try to remember that the next time he grounds into a double play to end an inning.