Thursday, December 02, 2010

The Puzzle of J. J. Hardy

When the Twins acquired J. J. Hardy from the Brewers before the start of the 2010 season, this Fan was excited for the Twins. After years of Mr. Gardenhire's man-crush on Nick Punto, the Twins actually seemed to make the right deal for a shortstop who was as good in the field as Punto (well, nearly so) and could actually be a big league hitter. But Hardy was pretty much a non-factor for the Twins' successful season and for the second straight year, played 115 games or less and offered little on offense. In 2007 and 2008, this guy appeared to be on the cusp of being a star. Was that who he still is? Or were we fooled?

One clue is to look at his minor league statistics. He was never an offensive powerhouse in the minors. He finished his minor league career with a slugging percentage of just over .400 and an OPS of .735. Those are adequate numbers for a slick-fielding shortstop, but that's why it was such a surprise when he posted slugging percentages of .463 and .478 respectively in 2007 and 2008. And in 2008, he developed more patience at the plate and garnered a career high On Base Percentage of .343.

But he has sunk since then. 2009 was dismal and got so bad that at one point, the Brewers shipped him down to the minors. he finished that season with a slash line of .229/.302/.357. Last year wasn't much better and he was injured several times during the year. But he still brought it with the glove and his 93 OPS+ was better than anything Punto could muster. But he seemed like he was going to be a much better player than this.

Perhaps Hardy was discouraged from his home park, which is definitely a pitchers' park. His OPS on the road was a good 108 points higher than at home. He seems to have trouble with finesse pitchers and his numbers against power pitchers and pitchers with medium speed are just fine. So maybe his troubles relate to his approach with breaking balls. His other approaches seemed okay as most of his batted balls went up the middle. But there really aren't any solid answers there either.

Perhaps the bottom line is that he wasn't feeling well. Hardy was much better in the second half last season. He had an .863 OPS in July and almost .800 in September/October. He seemed to fare well in high leverage situations. Maybe he'll still come around and be a fine shortstop in the league.

But there is something else here. He seems to be the kind of player managers give up on. He quickly grew out of favor in Milwaukee and they couldn't wait to trade him. Gardenhire didn't seem to trust him last year and he batted most of the year at the bottom of the line up and was often a pinch hit target. What is it about his game and or his make up that doesn't inspire his managers? Any guess would be speculation by this writer.

The bottom line is that in 2007 and 2008, Hardy appeared headed for stardom. Now his future is cloudy after two sub-par years. This Fan still believes he has the talent to be a very good player. But this Fan has often been wrong too. We'll just have to see how it goes.

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