Just like every other Orioles season over the last six years, the 2017 season began with J.J. Hardy penciled into the starting lineup on a nightly basis. Since acquiring the then 28-year-old from Milwaukee via highway robbery in 2010, Hardy has been a familiar presence at shortstop for the O’s.
Between 2011 and 2014, Hardy averaged over 145 games each year, putting his glove and bat to good use on a daily basis. In 2015 and 2016, J.J. continued appearing in over 110 games per year, but began dealing with a litany of injuries.
After two years of dealing with back spasms, a broken foot, and a torn labrum, Hardy looked forward to a healthy 2017. Unfortunately, Hardy fell victim to a freak incident when he fractured his right wrist on a hit-by-pitch in mid-June. The Orioles’ shortstop wound up missing nearly two full months and appeared in only 73 games, a new low in an Orioles uniform.
When he was on the field, Hardy unfortunately looked like yet another victim of father time. After bouncing back in 2016 to post a 2.4 fWAR season, Hardy struggled to get much of anything going in 2017. For a shortstop whose excellence was never grounded in freak athleticism, it wasn’t easy being the oldest shortstop with regular playing time in all of baseball.
James Jerry posted a slash line of .217/.255/.323, good for a wRC+ of just 50, a career low. After a slow start to the season, he hovered right around the same stat line the entire season. Check out Hardy’s steady 30-game rolling averages since early May.
Hardy started swinging a comparatively hotter bat towards the end of the year, but after entering the year as a career .258 hitter, Hardy was unable to post an average that high over any 30-game stretch this past season.
Defensively, Hardy still graded out as an above average shortstop despite having lost a noticeable step. Advanced stats tabbed him with a UZR/150 of 2.7 runs above average, but it was still a career low for the three-time gold glover.
According to Fangraphs, Hardy continued to make over 97% of routine plays, but he struggled to successfully field balls in play categorized as “likely” by Inside Edge scouts. On plays determined to have a success rate between 60% and 90%, Hardy only converted 64% of his opportunities. It represented a major drop off in comparison to the previous five years in which Hardy converted at least 80% of “likely” plays.
Despite the drop off in converting non-routine plays, rest assured, Hardy can still flash the leather at short. J.J.’s 0.4 dWAR in less than 75 games was damn impressive at his age, and quite honestly a testament to how far positioning, fundamentals, and footwork can take you. We can only hope Tim Beckham was taking notice.
With Beckham poised to take over in 2018 and the Orioles’ front office looking at a $14 million option for Hardy, it’s more than likely we just saw J.J. in an Orioles uniform for the last time. His below replacement level performance in 2017 was certainly not worth that kind of price tag. If Hardy attempts a transition into a bench role, there may be a fit; but, he doesn’t match the profile of a versatile utility man after playing exclusively shortstop over his 13-year career.
While no one will really miss Hardy’s 2017 production next year, the O’s and their fans will certainly miss J.J. as a Baltimore Oriole. He was a steady presence for the Orioles as they returned to the playoffs three times in five years following 14 consecutive losing seasons.
Back in 2014, I attended a Friday night game in which they celebrated the Orioles’ 60th anniversary in the Charm City. As part of the post game festivities, they brought out members of the Orioles’ Hall of Fame paired with clips of the great eras of Orioles baseball.
One day down the road, the O’s will probably have another, similar celebration at Camden Yards. And when that time comes, you can bet that J.J. Hardy will be a featured member of the Orioles Hall of Fame representing a huge part of the 2012, 2014, and 2016 playoff teams. And in the grand scheme of things, no one on that night will be harping about his disappointing 2017.
For those who haven’t seen it, I highly recommend reading this Dan Connolly Q&A with J.J. Hardy following an interview that took place last week. The two talk about everything and anything.