Baseball BeatJanuary 17, 2006
Hardy Guardy Man
By Rich Lederer

Widely considered a defense-first shortstop in the minor leagues, J.J. Hardy broke out offensively in the second half of his rookie year and now ranks as one of the most intriguing players going into the 2006 season.

Among shortstops, Hardy ranked fifth in AVG (.308), seventh in OBP (.363), second in SLG (.503), and fourth in OPS (.865) after the All-Star break last year. He was the best-kept secret in baseball during the summer months because his overall numbers were held back by a horrendous first half.

          AB   R   H  2B 3B HR RBI  BB  SO SB  AVG  OBP  SLG  OPS 
Pre-AS   187  22  35  12  0  1  19  28  25  0 .187 .293 .267 .560 
Post-AS  185  24  57  10  1  8  31  16  23  0 .308 .363 .503 .866
Totals   372  46  92  22  1  9  50  44  48  0 .247 .327 .384 .711

Were both halves aberrations and Hardy is nothing more than just another middle-of-the-road shortstop as his season statistics suggest? Or is there something in the numbers that paint a different story? Well, let's take a closer look at J.J.'s first half stats above.

There are four points of interest.

1. Hardy walked more often than he struck out.

2. He was putting the ball in play at a pretty good clip.

3. His Batting Average on Balls In Play was a meager .211 (vs. a MLB norm of about .300). Give him a more normal BABIP and he would have hit .262 before the All-Star game rather than .187.

4. The number of doubles-to-home runs was unusually high.

Based on the above, Hardy was a virtual lock to boost his numbers rather dramatically in the second half. Lo and behold, his extreme bad luck turned to a bit of good fortune as the season progressed. Hardy's BABIP jumped more than 100 points to .318 and many of his two-baggers turned into four-baggers.

For the year as a whole, Hardy had a BABIP of .263. Recognizing that the type of batted ball can influence BABIP, it is important to note that Hardy's outcomes (33% groundball, 22% outfield fly, 5% infield fly, 15% line drive, and 3% bunt, according to The Hardball Times Annual) were almost identical to the major league averages. Accordingly, I feel comfortable suggesting that Hardy should have come closer to hitting .277 than .247 for the year.

The 6-foot-2, 205-pound shortstop's monthly rate stats capture the marked improvement in July and the surge in power in September.

             AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS 
April       .143  .284  .179  .462 
May         .218  .283  .309  .592 
June        .188  .304  .313  .616 
July        .274  .376  .425  .801 
August      .273  .298  .382  .680 
September   .305  .352  .561  .913 
October    1.000 1.000 1.000 2.000 

Hardy ended the season with an eight-game hitting streak (11-for-32), and he hit safely in 17 of the last 18 (25-for-75), 21 of 23 (31-for-89), and 26 of 29 (39-for-110). He slugged five HR in September after not hitting any until the middle of June.

The three-time Arizona All-State High School selection (1999-2001) hit much better batting second than eighth for the Brewers last year. In a chicken or the egg question, did Hardy benefit by seeing better pitches in the second slot or was he promoted because his hitting picked up? The answers appear to be "yes" and "yes."

Manager Ned Yost rewarded Hardy by moving him into the number two hole in late August, and Milwaukee's second-round pick in 2001 responded by putting up Miguel Tejada-type numbers the rest of the year. Hardy's walks plummeted and his other stats soared when he wasn't hitting directly in front of the pitcher.

          AB   R   H  2B 3B HR RBI  BB  SO SB  AVG  OBP  SLG  OPS
Bat #8   211  23  49  13  0  1  23  30  22  0 .232 .331 .308 .639 
Bat #2    96  16  29   4  1  5  18   6  15  0 .302 .337 .521 .858 

Hardy also performed much better with runners on base and with runners in scoring position than with nobody on.

             AB   R   H  2B 3B HR RBI  BB  SO SB  AVG  OBP  SLG  OPS
None On     211   5  48  14  1  5   5  12  30  0 .227 .269 .374 .643 
Runners On  161  41  44   8  0  4  45  32  18  0 .273 .393 .398 .791 
RISP         91  34  26   6  0  1  38  23  10  0 .286 .427 .385 .812 

A season-ending shoulder injury suffered the previous year helps to further understand why Hardy experienced such a Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde rookie campaign. He underwent arthroscopic surgery for a torn labrum on May 28, 2004. Hardy recovered in time for spring training and became just the fifth Brewers player to make his ML debut in the Opening Day starting lineup, joining Pedro Garcia, Paul Molitor, Gorman Thomas, and Robin Yount. (Speaking of Yount, the Hall of Famer is returning to the Milwaukee Brewers this year as bench coach and should be in a position to help Hardy as much as any other Brewer.)

Although Hardy has a reputation of having a good glove, his fielding statistics last season weren't particularly inspiring. His range factor (3.76) and zone rating (.843) were at or near the bottom among all regular shortstops. Hardy, however, made just ten errors and his fielding percentage (.975) might suggest that he is more of a sure-handed infielder than one who covers a lot of ground. He makes up for his lack of quickness with a strong and accurate arm.

The son of a professional tennis player (father) and golfer (mother), Hardy was 18-for-30 (60%) on taking extra bases on hits. He was 6-16 (38%) going from first to third, 11-12 (92%) second to home, and 1-2 (50%) first to home. J.J. was never thrown out trying to take an extra base or caught stealing. According to THT, Hardy was second on the Brewers in baserunning, adding a shade over one run with a rate of 23% above the norm.

Hardy, 23; double play partner Rickie Weeks, 23; and first baseman Prince Fielder, 21, form a trio of young infield talent unmatched in the National League. The Brewers were 81-81 in 2005, their first non-losing season in 12 years. Consider that Milwaukee's Pythagorean record was 84-78 and there's every reason to think that the up-and-coming Brewers could be the favorites to win the NL's Wild Card berth in 2006.

Longer term, Hardy profiles a bit like Chris Speier. He has a similar body type with medium speed, a good knowledge of the strike zone, and above-average power for a SS. Speier had better range than Hardy showed in his rookie year but was eventually hampered by a bad back despite enjoying a 19-year career in the majors. For what it's worth, the former Giant was one of the best players in the league during his second season.

Look for Hardy to avoid the sophomore slump and put up a Bobby Crosby-like .280/.350/.460 line. If so, he could emerge as perhaps the #1 or #2 shortstop in the NL in 2006.


Hi Bryan:

just another excellent analysis on your part. Here in Milwaukee we were cognizant of his splits, but I'm not sure many others were. This analysis further emphasizes why we are so high on the young man.

I saw JJ Hardy in action during the Brewers-Giants April 23 - and one thing I noted were a pair of very loud outs. He had two doubles taken away that game. I also heard a game in which a home run was taken away.


You just made Rich really mad. Or sad. One of the two.

It was really great to see J.J. Hardy swing the bat aggressively during the second half of the season. During the first half of the year, he was afraid to strikeout and he was afraid to injure his shoulder. He was swinging more like a pitcher. Then he became more confident and aggressive during the second half. The good thing about Hardy' strong second half is that it gave Brewers fans the message that the organization's highly touted prospects are for real and are not just overhyped.

Great article. Good to see someone outside of Sconny thinks the Crew can be a wild-card contender. Wait, keep that under wraps.

Great piece: informative and to the point. Seems like a great time to be a Brewers fan. They also have a nice infield insurance policy in Bill Hall.

I can see that Hardy developed some consistency in June and July and then had a big jump in performance in September. Could this be partially due to roster expansion? Do league averages go up in September
? Actually a better question would be do players with at least X number of ABs (basically a number to show that they aren't septmember call-ups as well) going into September see an increase in BA/OBP/SLG in September? Just a fantasy owner trying to get an edge, who is still not sold if he should spend a $1 to get Hardy.

Hey, what a coincidence! At my Brewers blog I just posted a long piece about players who've had bad BABIP (relative to career BABIP) in 04 and 05 ...and right after I posted it, I spotted this.

Anyway, nice piece--always good to hear positive things about the young Brewers from people who aren't quite so invested in their success :).

I haven't been this pumped about Brewers baseball in a long time. The organization has made phenominal decisions this off-season. I am a Sounds fan and love to watch these guys mature and move to the BIG leagues. J.J., Prince, Rickie have breathed new life into Milwaukee. Keep the analysis brewing Rich...

Just because a player has a low BABIP doesn't mean he's been unlucky. His BIP types may justify the low BABIP. In Hardy's case, that's exactly what we see:

For almost the first third of the season, Hardy had a very low LD% and a very high GB%. For a player not gifted with blazing speed, that's a recipe for a low BABIP.

As anyone who watched him closely last already knows, he was hitting alot of slow grounders and lazy flies early in the year. He earned his low BABIP for the first couple of months!