As noted in today's Bird Droppings, today is the 32nd birthday of J.J. Hardy. There has been a lot of speculation about Hardy's future with the Orioles given that he is a free agent at the end of this year. There will be plenty of time to talk about those options, but today, on his birthday, I say it's time to celebrate what we have in JJ.
After a 2-for-5 performance last night that included his 7th home run of the year, Hardy is now hitting .286/.319/.397, which is good for an OPS+ of exactly 100. In June of 2013 I wrote a post about Hardy titled, "J.J. Hardy: League-average hitter and that's OK." Just as today, Hardy had gotten his OPS+ up to about 100, only his hitting line was .253/.292/.472. Remember that J.J. Hardy? The one who hit home runs and that was it? Yeah, we haven't seen that guy in awhile. But in a world where offense is down and the Orioles already have a few guys who like to hit home runs, this improved OBP Hardy is preferable (even if .319 on its own isn't all that impressive).
Last year I said that Hardy's league-average bat was good because when you add in his fantastic defense, what you get is a player that pretty much any team would like to have. That's still the case, of course, but this year he has actually been better than league average. At least, he has been for the last three months.
After a horrible month-and-a-half to start the season that saw Hardy miss time with back spasms and look completely lost at the plate, his bat started to come around in mid-May. Before the game against the Royals on May 18th, Hardy was hitting a miserable .256/.273/.312. He went 3-for-4 with a double that night, kicking off an eight-game hit streak that featured six multi-hit games. Though he was still over a month from finally getting his first home run of the year, that hit streak put him on a roll that he has been on ever since. In the 79 games since his low point in mid-May, Hardy has hit .299/.338/.432, which is pretty great. In that stretch he had one rough patch where he went four games without a hit (June 7-10) and three other instances where he went back-to-back games without a hit.
Hardy ended July with a rough couple of weeks, going just 7-for-41 with one walk over the final 10 games of the month, but it was just your run-of-the-mill slump, nothing to worry about. Since then he has hit a cool .396/.431/.667 with three of his seven homers. No biggie.
J.J. Hardy finished 2013 with a wRC+ of 100, so exactly average. That level of offense, combined with his outstanding defense gave him a WAR of 3.4, which was good for fourth among position players on the Orioles, and 4th in the league among shortstops. So far this season he has a wRC+ of 98 and a WAR of 3.1, which is tops in the AL for shortstops and second on the Orioles to only Adam Jones.
There are six weeks left in the regular season and if Hardy can avoid hitting the way he did over the first six weeks of the season, he will finish the year with a great stat line. That's even if his home runs don't come back, since in the absence of power he has increased his line drive % and on-base %. He might even finish the season close to as valuable as he was in his very first year with the O's (4.3 WAR). If he does, that will be bad news for the Orioles if they want to re-sign him in the off season, but good news for the Orioles as they continue their march to the postseason.