Hardy Guardy Man
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.
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.