21 September 2017

An Appreciation Of J.J. Hardy

Before the Orioles acquired J.J. Hardy at the end of 2010, they had struggled mightily for a few years to find even a decent replacement at shortstop for the departed Miguel Tejada. After being traded before the 2008 season, Tejada returned to the Orioles in 2010 to play third base (pretty poorly) before he was dealt once again, this time to the Padres at the trade deadline. Tejada even signed with the Orioles one more time, in 2012, but he was never promoted to the majors and was released a few months later.

But this post isn't about Miguel Tejada. It's about Hardy. In the three seasons before Hardy arrived (2008-2010), the Orioles assembled the worst group of shortstops in all of baseball. By FanGraphs' version of WAR, the Mariners had the second-worst production from their shortstops in that span (-1.3). The Orioles, at -4.5, were more than three wins worse. (Baseball-Reference had the O's not quite as terrible, at -2.4 WAR over that span.) The list of nine shortstops during that run was, let's say, uninspiring: Robert Andino, Cesar Izturis (the best of the group), Luis Hernandez, Eider Torres, Julio Lugo, Alex Cintron, Brandon Fahey, Freddie Bynum, and Juan Castro. Some of those men could field well; none of them were very good hitters.

For whatever reason, the Twins wanted to move on from Hardy and the one year of arbitration left on his contract after the 2010 season. Andy MacPhail, then-president of baseball operations, took advantage, shipping Brett Jacobson and Jim Hoey to the Twins in exchange for Hardy and Brendan Harris.

That season, Hardy posted one of his best offensive campaigns (113 wRC+) en route to a 4+ WAR season (by both FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference). But before that season had even ended, the O's signed Hardy to a relatively rare in-season extension in July. The deal was for three years and $22.25 million, and Hardy easily surpassed that value over the next few seasons (9 fWAR combined from 2012-2014).

The Orioles and Hardy weren't about to part ways yet. Right before the team's 2014 ALCS matchup against the Royals, Hardy signed another three-year extension, for $40 million (and a vesting option for 2018). This time, though, things didn't go nearly as well. After carrying such a huge workload the past few seasons - and in 2012 and 2013 in particular, when he played in 158 and 159 games, respectively - Hardy both struggled to stay healthy and produce at the plate.

He spent the first month of the 2015 season on the disabled list with a strained left shoulder, and he went on to post a career low (until this season) 51 wRC+. He maintained a solid glove, though, and bounced back at the plate next season (89 wRC+). He missed another month-plus during 2016 with a fractured left foot. In the meantime, back issues continued to plague him. Before the 2017 season started, he talked openly about his back pain and inability at times to find relief. Then, after getting off to an extremely slow start at the plate, he broke his right wrist in mid-June.

Obviously it was a shame to see Hardy get injured again. But in a sad way it was also a relief, because while there weren't many good options to replace him, there was also a reasonable case for Hardy shifting to the bench more often. The injury allowed the Orioles to avoid a major decision, and they may have even acquired their starting shortstop for the next few seasons.

The door is almost closed on Hardy's time in Baltimore, but he should always be recognized as one of the players who helped the Orioles in their return quest to relevancy. Besides his quality play for a number of years, the notoriously slow-footed Hardy also scored the winning run in the most exciting, feel-good postseason moment of the Buck Showalter/Dan Duquette era:

Listen to that crowd. Hardy didn't go out on top with the Orioles, as few rarely do. Hopefully his playing career isn't over, but even if it is, he helped to give many fans some wonderful memories. Whether that's a moral victory or not, it still matters.


Anonymous said...

Good article. With Hardy, the O's became known as one of the best defensive teams in the majors. Without him, even the infield defense hasn't been as good overall. All of us fans appreciate what Hardy has done for the O's.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Thanks, Roger.

Lincoln Steele said...

Definitely got goosebumps from that video. Thanks for brightening my day!

Matt Kremnitzer said...

No problem. Such a great moment.

Unknown said...

Baseball is a beautiful sport. Look how perfectly executed the relay system was to make it a nail biter at the plate, despite the earthquake inducing crowd noise. And then the brilliant slide by Hardy. What a game.

Boss61 said...

Delmon's Double. The singiular finest moment in Camden Yards history, bar none, IMO. I can (and have) watch that video again and again.

Dustin said...

Great post. Thanks for this. I think that J.J. Hardy gets forgotten in the shuffle for a lot of O's fans, as his contribution to this team in the last seven years has mostly (until the last couple of years) involved going to work and doing a solid but unspectacular job. For a team who has mostly succeeded in the last half decade by not having black hole positions and getting positive value at each position without star production, Hardy is the posterchild of that. The Orioles wouldn't have made this run from 2012-2017/18 without J.J. Hardy.

Unknown said...

I was there for the Delmon Young double. The video doesn't do the volume level justice. About the only thing I've personally witnessed that was louder is a nitromethane burning NHRA fuel car.

Thanks for everything, JJ. I hope you stick around the organization in some capacity, because if not, you will be missed.

Boss61 said...

I was there too and I agree. Never saw an NHRA fuel car, but I did see the spectacular night launch of Apollo 17 in December 1972 at the Cape. THAT compares, but little else.