20 June 2013

Welcoming Back J.J. Hardy's Power

Last season, J.J. Hardy was not a very good offensive player. He batted .238/.282/.389 (.290 wOBA), and he hit eight fewer home runs (22) than in 2011 (30) despite playing in 29 more games and receiving 146 more plate appearances. This season, though, Hardy already has 14 homers, and his numbers are much closer to the ones he put up in 2011. Take a look:


Yes, Hardy still has more than half a season to go, but he's doing a pretty good job of getting close to those 2011 stats. And considering Hardy brings his solid defensive shortstop skills to the table, pretty good offensive numbers make him much more valuable.

So what's changed? Hardy's walk rate has been about the same in all three seasons (5.5%, 5.3%, and 5.7%), and until this season, his strikeout rate wasn't drastically different either (16.2%, 14.9%, and 11.5%). Striking out less is helpful, but the main difference simply seems to be the return of Hardy's power. Last year, his slugging percentage was just .389 -- a more than 100-point drop from 2011. Here are his isolated power numbers in his three seasons in Baltimore:

2011: .222
2012: .151
2013: .202

Let's also note his home run/fly ball numbers as well:

2011: 15.7%
2012: 10.0%
2013: 14.6%

Because his power numbers are up, obviously you'd expect more of his fly balls to leave the ballpark. And that's a good thing, especially since he hits fly balls about 40% of the time. That 15.7% HR/FB mark in 2011 was the highest of his career, but the Orioles do encourage Hardy to turn on pitches and drive them out of the ballpark, so it's reasonable to expect him to finish the season somewhere between 10% and 15%. Maybe he doesn't end up at 14.6%, but it might not be that far off.

A couple of other factors for Hardy are plate discipline and right-lefty splits. Hardy's currently posting the best plate discipline numbers of his three seasons in Baltimore. They're not significantly better, but he is swinging at fewer pitches outside the zone (27.5%) and posting a slightly better contact percentage on all pitches (87.9%). Then again, his plate discipline numbers were better in 2012 than 2011, so who knows how much that matters. But one important change seems to be Hardy's ability to hit right-handed pitching. Here are his splits against right-handers from 2011-2013: 

2011: .343 wOBA
2012: .278 wOBA
2013: .334 wOBA

And against lefties:

2011: .346 wOBA
2012: .326 wOBA
2013: .348 wOBA

Hardy has always been much better against left-handed pitching (career vs. RHP: .313 wOBA; vs. LHP: .351 wOBA), so it's a bit odd to see that in 2011 and 2013 he was successful despite his numbers not being that much different between the two. That .278 wOBA in 2012 against right-handers was abysmal, though, so it's a positive sign to see that he's righted the ship (pun intended).

As O's fans have realized by now, Hardy is not a high on-base guy, so the return of his power is what matters the most. And as long as he continues to hit plenty of fly balls -- and that HR/FB rate is anywhere close to 15% -- he'll keep depositing balls into the left field seats. That's just what he does (besides, you know, the reliable defense thing).


Anonymous said...

Hardy avg. HR/FB distance:

2011: 289.27
2012: 280.22
2013: 283.10

source: Baseball Heat Maps

Anonymous said...

Exactly! If you look at ESPN's home run tracker Hardy is always among the leaders for Lucky/Just Barely Home Runs. The difference between 2012 and this year is mostly luck: he hit the ball the same distance, he just pulled a few a little more, hit them in more favorable parks or got more benifit from the conditions.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Fair points. So he's a little luckier, but he's still hitting the ball at least a bit farther.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps his shoulder issues last year were impacting Hardy's power. Although the effect on distance was not huge the results in terms of HRs and SLG were magnified because his HR power was already "just enough." Regardless, just enough is still good enough when it comes to HRs!