Entering this season, fans wondered whether J.J. Hardy could bounce back from his lousy 2015 season. Hardy has always relied mostly on his glove for value, but last year his offense cratered badly:
His passable 90 wRC+ in 2014 turned into a 49 wRC+ in 2015 with a batting line of .219/.253/.311. Only his excellent defense (12.2 runs saved above average) pulled his fWAR up to 0.0.
After the regular season, Hardy revealed he'd been playing through a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder all season, one he’d injured all the way back in Spring Training. He elected to rest and play through the injury instead of having surgery. The decision forced him to alter his swing:
Hardy said he’s restricted his swing all season, overcompensating with his top hand because of concern of re-aggravating the shoulder on his backswing. He took several measures to overcome the injury, tinkering with his swing and his stance and reducing his swings in batting practice throughout the season, but admits it has led to some bad habits at the plate.
Other injury issues to his oblique, lower back, and groin limited him to 114 games.
In December he told fans the shoulder felt stronger. With a month and a half left in the season, I’d say he’s right. Through Thursday’s game he's hitting a respectable .278/.313/.430, good for a wRC+ of 94:
He's hitting the ball with authority again, as measured both by hard-hit percentage:
And by exit velocity:
- 2015: 87.9 MPH
- 2016: 92.6 MPH
His strikeout numbers are also back to normal. In 2014, Hardy's strikeout rate rose from 11.3% to 18.3%. It rose even further 2015. He's corrected that spike this year.
You can see the 2014-15 aberration and the 2016 correction more clearly if I prepend more years:
His walk rate remains stable.
Hardy's batted ball distribution also looks much better. In 2015 he hit more ground balls than ever before, really sapping his offensive value. So far this year he's much closer to his career norms:
Based on the data, 2015 looks like a blip on Hardy's radar. He should clear 2 fWAR this year despite playing in a little over a hundred games.
He’s not getting any younger, but if he can play 140+ games in 2017, he can wind up with another 3+ win season, get his 2018 team option picked up, and give the Orioles another shot at a championship that year. Orioles fans had better hope that’s the case; Hardy’s up-the-middle compatriots Manny Machado and Adam Jones, along with Brad Brach and Zach Britton, are all free agents prior to 2019.