Hit with Authority J.J. Hardy!

It’s a great shame that I don’t follow the Orioles closer than I do.  They have exciting, young foundational players like Manny Machado, Adam Jones, and Chris Davis.  They have a strong farm system filled with pitching quality and depth, the most precious commodity you can have in baseball these days.  Baltimore has/had Buck Showalter, Camden, Boog, The Wire, Edgar Allen Poe, the Inner Harbor, and Cal Ripken, Jr.

This is a team I should follow and love.

I don’t, though, and that’s too bad, but I have friends that do, and one of those friends, Kevin, could probably tell you every single thing that’s happened to the O’s in the past three decades.  So when I ask Kevin, “What’s up with J.J. Hardy?  No home runs?  He’s hitting like he’s Garry Templeton for God’s sake,” Kevin claims there’s nothing physically wrong with Hardy, of which he’s heard, and that Hardy is just concentrating on going to the opposite field.  Is Kevin right?  Is Hardy worrying so much about going to the opposite field that he basically turned himself into a powerless 80s middle infielder?

Hardy hasn’t always been a slugging shortstop.  In his first two years in the Majors, he hit 14 home runs total, though he played in only 35 games in 2006 due to injuries, so those 14 homers are over the equivalent of one full season (159 games).  From 2007-13 Hardy averaged 20.6 home runs a season with a high of 30 in ’11 and six in an injury plagued ’10 when he spent 57 total days out of action with wrist and knee injuries.  Wrist injuries can be tricky, so if he only hit six home runs, well, let’s forgive him.  With such an extreme range, the median value of 24 is nice fat number to base career norms.  In fact, PECOTA (membership required) projections had Hardy at 16 home runs while ZiPS projected he would hit 22, so the zero he’s hit so far is surprising.  For his career, the latest Hardy had hit his first home run was way back in 2005 when he didn’t hit his first until June 11, so we’re approaching new territory here.  Maybe the O’s expected a little more production from their shortstop in the last year of his 3yr/22 million dollar deal signed back in ’12, but Hardy’s been worth 7.1 bWAR for the first two years, so they’ve gotten their money’s worth.

The real question, though, is Kevin right?  Is Hardy using more of the field when he bats?  The short of it is yes.  Based upon a sampling of the last three seasons and over his career, Hardy is going to right field more often.

Season Pull % Middle % Opp Field %
2012 32.68 54.58 12.75
2013 33.14 52.27 14.20
2014 30.29 54.29 15.43
Career 30.73 55.30 13.89

Hit Locations

Based upon recent history and career averages, it definitely appears that Hardy is making a more concerted effort to hit from the right field line to the middle of the field.  The 15.43% is by far and away the highest percentage of his career going to the opposite field except for, you guessed it, in ’05 when he went to right 16.36% of the time.

Let’s examine some spray charts for giggles:

First, 2012:

Source: FanGraphs


Source: FanGraphs

Lastly, 2014:

Source: FanGraphs
In fact, just to be thorough, let’s take the Hit Locations chart above and present it for every year of his career along with Hardy’s OPS+ and ISO for the season.

Season Pull % Middle % Opp Field % ISO OPS+
2005 26.54 57.10 16.36 .137 86
2006 48.57 43.81 7.62 .156 75
2007 28.52 57.42 14.07 .186 101
2008 33.33 52.65 14.01 .195 115
2009 23.71 62.31 13.98 .128 75
2010 24.83 61.19 13.64 .126 96
2011 33.33 52.87 12.79 .222 114
2012 32.68 54.58 12.75 .151 81
2013 33.14 52.27 14.20 .170 99
2014 30.29 54.29 15.43 .069 88
Career 30.73 55.30 13.89 .163 96

Hit Locations Revisited

If I discount 2010 as Hardy dealing with wrist issues since late May and 2006 as only 35 games, his worst seasons in terms of ISO come when he either abandoned pulling the ball altogether (2009) and when he went to the opposite field the most.  What’s also interesting about 2005 and the current season is that these are also the two lowest batting average seasons for going opposite field (.151 and .148 respectively).  2006 he technically hit .000 to the opposite field, but, once again, there were only 35 games.

Surprisingly, though, is that Hardy’s .069 ISO is only the 5th worst for shortstops in the Major Leagues while his BABIP of .335 is 5th best.  So, when he doesn’t go opposite field he’s murdering the ball.  Go figure.

Maybe that’s all just statistical noise.  He could simply be unlucky, and when those balls start dropping look out.  We’ll look back at this article and laugh.  On the other hand, perhaps he’s making an effort to go to right field when he should be driving the ball up the middle or trying to pull.  He’s also nearly 32 years old.  Perhaps the bat is starting to slow down a bit and he can’t turn on pitches like he once could.  His K% sits at 13.7, which is below his career average of 14.2, so that doesn’t indicate he’s guessing more.

I don’t watch Hardy enough to know if he looks like a player trying to go to the opposite field more than he should, but the numbers certainly bear it out.  Hardy’s still been worth nearly a full win this year, so it’s not as though that 7 million dollars he’s making is going to waste.  With a little more offense, however, you can well imagine that he’d be playing for a whole lot more after resigning in 2015.

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