On Sunday afternoon, the Baltimore Orioles offense embarrassed the Oakland Athletics pitching staff. The A's sent six pitchers to the mound, and the guy who had the best luck, Ike Davis, is actually a first baseman by trade. As a team, the O's went 26-for-48 at the plate, scoring 18 runs on seven doubles, four home runs and three walks. Every starter for the Birds registered at least one hit and one RBI. Every starter, that is, except for J.J. Hardy.
The Baltimore shortstop went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and left a game-leading six men on base. But that one game is a small sample size of what has been a tough year at the plate for No. 2. Over 87 games in 2015, Hardy is slashing .226/.254/.321 with 13 walks, 65 strikeouts, nine doubles, seven home runs and 30 RBI. If he continues at this pace, it will be the worst offensive year of his career.
In fact, Baseball Reference right now has him as being worth pretty much nothing at the plate. Going into Tuesday, he has an offensive WAR of 0.0 and an offensive runs above replacement of 1.0. You get the picture. He is not hitting well.
So, what is behind those numbers? What is the root cause of Hardy's awful production?
For me, the answer is simply that the 32-year-old, whose 33rd birthday is tomorrow, is getting old. As the saying goes, Father Time is undefeated.
The Arizona native plays one of the more physically demanding positions in baseball and has looked like a walking emergency room throughout his career. Back in 2006, as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers, Hardy required surgery for his severely sprained ankle, injured in a home plate collision. Then in 2010, he missed time due to an oblique problem and a wrist injury, for which he still wears a guard when running the bases. It has been more of the same since joining the Birds; missing significant time due to oblique, back and shoulder problems.
It's possible that these ailments are reflected in the numbers. Hardy's isolated power number is just .094 in 2015, which is a 10 point dip from last season's career-worst. His batting average on balls in play is just .261, down from his career average of .277. Many times, a lower BABIP means both some bad luck and some weakly hit balls.
According to Fangraphs, Hardy has hit just 23.3 percent of the balls in play hard, which would be his lowest number since 2005, his rookie season. If you care, 19 percent have been hit soft and 57.8 percent have been hit with medium speed.
But then there are other poor showings in offensive categories that don't necessarily reflect age and injury but could very well be a side effect. For example, he is only walking 3.9 percent of the time, a career low. But at the same time he is striking out 19.3 percent of the time, a career high, which of course leads to another career low of a 0.20 walks per strikeout.
It's been a year to forget for Hardy. But there is a very obvious reason why, no matter how bad he hits, he is going to stay in the lineup every day until he asks for a day off and that reason is the piece of leather he puts on every inning. He is magic with that thing.
Despite being 33 years old and riddled with injuries, he has still managed to post a UZR/150 of 16.6, which would be his best showing since 2006, when he was 23 years old and only played in 35 games. Baseball Reference gives him a defensive WAR of 1.1, bringing his overall WAR for the season to 0.6. Clearly, he can still play the game, maybe he just cant swing the bat.
There is no sugar-coating it, Hardy has been bad at the plate in 2015. We could give him the benefit of the doubt and say that the shoulder injury right when the season was about to begin didn't help, but then you would have to explain how well he performed in June, where he hit .307/.344/.398. And then he had a 15-game hitting streak during the end of July. I have to think those extended showings of offensive aptitude don't happen if there is something physically catastrophic going on.
The fact is that, despite his lack of production with the lumber, he is still better than other alternatives that the O's have trotted out there, including Everth Cabrera and Ryan Flaherty. But even if he wasn't, he still plays some of the best defensive in the league and seems to be both a fan and clubhouse favorite.
Hardy seems to be getting to that point in his career where he will have to treat him like an old school schortstop. Bury him in the lineup, seventh or eighth like manager Buck Showalter has been doing, and have the mindset that whatever we get out of him with the stick is just a bonus to the defense.
What do you think is causing the problems with J.J. Hardy, internet? I would love to know in the comments section down below or feel free to tweet me @_TyYoung. Thanks for reading!