27 January 2015

What to Expect From J.J. Hardy in 2015


Fans complain about lots of things, but the consensus of the Orioles signing J.J. Hardy to a three-year, $40 million last year was mostly positive. The timing of the deal was odd -- it was announced the day before the O's faced off against the Royals in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series -- but it was also good news. The O's seem to favor Hardy over Manny Machado at shortstop, or maybe the O's understandably like having Machado at third base. Machado has also dealt with season-ending knee surgeries the last two years. Maybe he'll move to shortstop eventually, but the O's don't have to worry about that right now.

Hardy provides the O's with a very good shortstop option for a reasonable contract. Hardy's last contract extension, for three years and about $22 million, ended up being fantastic. This time the O's are paying more, but it still seems more than fair. For the last few seasons, the O's paid Hardy about $7 million per season; now they'll be paying him about $13 million. And for what it's worth, Hardy's deal comes with a $14 million club option in 2018; the deal would also vest if Hardy has 600 plate appearances in 2017 or 1,150 plate appearances total in 2016-2017 and passes a physical after the 2017 season. So that seems possible, but you can never completely count on anything involving the Orioles and physical exams.

Hardy, 32, has not finished with an fWAR below 2.7 since 2010 (2.2 fWAR in 101 games), when he played for the Twins. He shouldn't have a problem finishing with an fWAR between 2 and 3, and Steamer projects him to be worth 2.9 fWAR in 2015.

Most likely, Hardy will play very good defense at shortstop, hit around .260 with an on-base percentage near .300, and provide below average baserunning. But what seems to fluctuate from season to season is Hardy's power. Here are his isolated power numbers since 2011:

2011: .222
2012: .151
2013: .170
2014: .104

Clearly his power numbers last season were very low; he hit just nine home runs after hitting 30, 22, and 25 from 2011 to 2013, respectively. His HR/FB rate of 5.6% was also the lowest of his career. His career average is nearly 11%, so that suggests a bit of bad luck. But Hardy's average fly ball distances have been declining the last few years (per Baseball Heat Maps):

2011: 289
2012: 280
2013: 283
2014: 277

In a post last July, former Camden Depot writer Stuart Wallace wrote about Hardy's issues with fastballs and "a possible slowing of the bat." I also wrote in September about Hardy being more of a singles hitter, at least in 2014.

Fortunately, the bar is pretty low offensively for shortstops. Hardy hasn't posted a wRC+ above 100 since 2011 (113 wRC+), but that's fine considering the average wRC+ for shortstops in 2014 was 87. Declining offense has been a league-wide issue for a while, so it's important that Hardy is both outstanding defensively and can also provide some pop. Even if he's about average offensively, he'll be worth his contract as long as his defensive abilities stay about the same.

Photo via Keith Allison

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

The good thing about Hardy's power decline last year is that he hit all 9 of his home runs after hitting none the first few months. If it was the reverse, that would be concerning, but he just got off to a slow power year.

Michael Wallace said...

Good article. I remember reading a month ago maybe that Buck might try Manny at SS during Spring Training for a game here or there. Locking Hardy up before he hit free agency was a massive win for the O's. Losing him would of hurt much more than losing Markakis or Cruz.