J.J. Hardy has been secretly injured all season. His performance at the plate in the 2015 season has been so poor as to make that outcome a best case scenario. At least that way there's a reason for why he's been so bad. The Baltimore Sun's Eduardo Encina scored the scoop on Thursday before the Orioles played the Blue Jays: Hardy has had a torn labrum in his left (non-throwing) shoulder since spring training.
In the 2014 season, Hardy batted .268/.309/.372, which was good for an OPS+ of 90. That means he was 10% worse than the average batter in the league. That's not a good year at the plate, but it is an acceptable level of performance for a player who was deserved in winning the Gold Glove in that year and the two years previous. A team can live with that.
Unfortunately, this season, that cratered, with Hardy heading into Thursday's game with a .213/.246/.306 - an OPS+ of 50. That's 50% worse than the average batter, which is an almost unfathomably bad season at the plate. Even Mark Belanger, that patron saint of light-hitting shortstops, never had a season where he batted 400+ times and had such a bad performance relative to the rest of the league as this.
A big question for both Hardy and the Orioles is how much an offseason to work with that injury will improve his situation for next year. Hardy told Encina that he does not have any plans to get surgery for the injury and that his plan instead is "just get it stronger." We all have plans. Let's hope that one works out - for Hardy's sake as well as the Orioles.
The problem for the Orioles is that, with Hardy locked in for $26.5 million over the next two seasons, they're pretty much stuck with him. The contract extension they inked him to during last year's playoffs seemed like a good idea at the time. If not for the labrum tear it still would have been. That's not the kind of nagging, recurring injury that might cause a player to be labeled injury prone - as Hardy has been at times in his career. That's mostly bad luck. It speaks to the inherent risk in signing any player for ages 33-35 more than anything.
Why did the Orioles play him all year when his performance was obviously impacted? That is a mystery for another time.