The tenure of J.J. Hardy in an Orioles uniform has been an unmitigated success since he came over in a trade with the Minnesota Twins prior to the 2011 season. He has taken home three Gold Gloves, a Silver Slugger award and been selected to the All-Star Game in that time. The fanbase loves, echoing his name each time he steps to the plate. But an injury-plagued campaign in 2015 was the shortstop's worst as a professional, and it doesn't bode well for the future. Let's review his season...
The 33-year-old missed the first month of games with what was characterized by the team as a "left shoulder strain" after he collided with second baseman Jonathan Schoop and fell to the ground during Spring Training in late March. The truth of the matter was revealed last week. Hardy, in fact, played the entire summer with a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder.
There are no plans, as of yet, for surgery. Instead, Hardy wants to attempt to strengthen the shoulder. He went through labrum surgery back in 2004 as a minor leaguer. As a guy in the twilight of his career, that pain doesn't seem to be something he wanted to put himself through again.
In addition, Hardy also spent a few weeks on the disabled list in mid-August with a groin problem. Over his career, the guy has hurt just about every part of his body.
Whether it was caused by the injuries or not, Hardy was downright terrible in 2015 at the plate. Ignoring the 2006 season, in which he played only 35 major league games, he set career lows in pretty much every category imaginable. His slash line: .219/.253/.311. Over 411 at-bats, he managed only eight home runs, 14 doubles and 37 RBI with an OPS+ of 53.
Baseball Reference attributed the shortstop with an offensive WAR of -0.4, meaning he was actually a detriment to the team with a bat in his hands.
On top of that, he struck out more often this year than ever before while also walking less. A little more than one out of every five at-bats (20.1 percent) ended with strike three and he saw ball four less than five percent of the time. For a guy that has provided little pop as of late, those numbers are out of whack.
The saving grace of Hardy's season was his work with the leather. He made just three errors over 114 games and nearly 1000 innings of baseball. Fangraphs gave him an Ultimate Zone Rating of 7.1. That falls somewhere between the "above average" and "great" ranking.
However, there are signs that the shortstop's range is starting to deteriorate a bit. Last year, Fangraphs gave him a "Range runs" value of 9.9 (which is really good). This season it was 0.1, basically average. Digging deeper, we find that, according to Inside Edge Fielding, Hardy didn't make any plays with less than a 40 percent chance of resulting in an out. In layman's terms, he wasn't a regular on Baseball Tonight's "Web Gems". He fits better into the "Steady Eddy" realm, but that doesn't make for good television.
Because of his problems staying healthy and his lack of dramatic plays, Hardy doesn't seem likely to make it a four-peat as the Gold Glove winning shortstop of the American League. But without his defense, this season could have ended up even worse.
This drop in performance comes in the season after he put pen to paper on a brand new three-year pact that will keep him in Baltimore through 2017 with an option for 2018. He is set to make $12.5 million, $14 million and $14 million over the next three seasons, respectively, but the final year does include a $2 million buyout. That is a whole lot of cash that the Orioles are pretty much stuck with paying.
As far as shortstop goes, Manny Machado is ready to immediately step in and become, arguably, the best all-around player at the position in baseball. But I'm sure there was some kind of verbal commitment made to Hardy when he signed that deal as he made it clear in the weeks and months leading up to it that he wanted to be a starting shortstop, nothing less.
Yes, this is a business and the Orioles are here to win (I hope), but to push a veteran, who can still more than hold his own in the field, to the side for a guy who is extremely gifted at the position he is already playing may be a tough one to present to the clubhouse.
And forget about trading Hardy. First, he makes too much money for any team to just take on all of that contract. Second, he is a leader on that team, being the oldest guy on the roster and having stuck around the league for a decade earns you quite a bit of respect, especially with his cabinet full of awards. Thinking losing Markakis and Cruz upset some Orioles? Get rid of Hardy and see what happens.
We know that Hardy was terrible this summer. The shoulder injury likely had much more to do with that than we thought in all of these months. For whatever reason, Hardy, the Orioles and their doctors have decided that surgery is not the route they want to go with this. Allowing the injury some time to "heal" and get stronger could let Hardy come back and have a great 2016.
This, of course, is said from the point of view of a guy who has never torn his labrum and has absolutely no idea about the severity of Hardy's tear. Not to mention, I didn't even really pay attention to anatomy in high school. So, I'm going with whatever the pros tell us.
It is likely that Hardy's best days are far behind him. Machado is the team's next shortstop, but for 2016 it will likely be J.J.'s job no matter what (apart from another injury!) But 2017 could be the year that we see the Arizona native take a backseat.