J. J. Hardy puzzles this writer. And perhaps this writer isn't alone. The shortstop has been jettisoned by the Brewers and the Twins in the past couple of seasons and the feeling seems to be that he wore out his welcome in both places. But this writer wasn't alone in questioning the Twins' decision to get rid of Hardy after the 2010 season. His injury history is puzzling. Is he soft? His batting history is puzzling. Two very good seasons in 2007 and 2008 were followed by a stinker in 2009 and a sub-par season at the plate for the Twins last season. Heck, even his stats in the field are puzzling. But the bottom line in all this is that when he plays, his team has a better chance to win.
Take this season for example. When Hardy has played (44 of the Orioles" 71 games), the team is 23-21. When he hasn't played, the Orioles are 10-17. Last year, when he played for the Twins, the Twins were 63-38 in games Hardy played and 31-30 in games he didn't. Is that a fluke? Could be. But what if it isn't? Fangraphs currently rates Hardy as the eleventh most valuable shortstop in baseball. But consider that he has only played two-thirds of the games that all those in front of him have played. In other words, if he had played as much as all the other shortstops, he'd be in the top five. But then again, he hasn't played as often and that's the rub.
And then there are his defensive numbers. Hardy lacks speed. His range is just barely adequate for a shortstop. Despite his lack of speed, he has always rated in the positive numbers in his fielding until this year, where his numbers are showing a negative number of runs saved. This is despite only making one error all season. One. This Fan certainly knows that fielding metrics are about more than fielding percentages, so there's no need to start preaching. Hardy just seems to be better than the metrics show.
James Jerry Hardy certainly seems to be back with the bat. He has already hit more homers than last year. His OPS+ is sitting at 142. That's a great number. He leads the Orioles with six go-ahead hits this season. His walk percentage--while not great--is much better than last year. The Orioles have been batting him second of late and he's doing really well in that spot.
The puzzle of J. J. Hardy is that he seems to make his team better when he plays. But he never seems to play enough. His former teams were not impressed and there has to be something to those conclusions. We don't always know the full story. Perhaps Hardy is responding to Buck Showalter. And just as easily, in the end, he could find himself in the same doghouse for Showalter that he found himself in for Ron Gardenhire. Hardy is an enigma. But as of right now, the Orioles are lucky to have him.