Writer’s Note: J.J. Hardy ranks ninth among shortstops in Zach Sanders’ rankings.
J.J. Hardy experienced a rebound of sorts in 2013, hitting .263/.306/.433 with 25 home runs, 76 RBI, and a .322 wOBA. That’s pretty much right in line with his career line of .260/.312/.428; in fact, that’s also a .322 wOBA. His 162-game averages (via Baseball Reference) are 23 home runs and 76 RBI.
In terms of batted ball rates, Hardy’s marks across the board were all within a tick of his career marks in 2013, with a BABIP 10 points off (on the low side) his lifetime pace.
One doesn’t need a visibly distressed Dennis Green to tell us that Hardy is basically who we should have thought he was this season.
And we could end the story right there, but let’s take a look at what Hardy does well, and what his future might hold:
1. Hardy is a phenomenal defender
And while this might seem to hold limited implications in fantasy land, it does lead into a couple points. One, Hardy is likely to stay at shortstop for an extended period of time. There, he’s most valuable as a hitter because year in and year out, shortstop is among the weakest spots in the game. In 2013, AL shortstops collectively hit .256/.309/.373 (essentially Hardy, sans power). That .682 OPS was the lowest among all positions on the junior circuit.
Secondly, Hardy could be trade bait if the Orioles want to move Manny Machado back to short. It’s unclear at this time if that’s the case — especially due to Machado’s recovery from reconstructive knee surgery — as the Orioles could simply just say they’re fine with stellar defense on the left side and leave the situation be.
But if Hardy’s on the move, it’ll be worth watching what team he winds up with because….
2. Hardy is a dead pull hitter
This isn’t exactly revolutionary information, but Hardy hit .346/.346/.697 on balls to left field. It’s somewhat remarkable that Hardy hit as well as he did up the middle (.608 OPS) and the other way, though (.560). This is much closer to his career marks in each respect (1.001/.692/.589), and considerably better than his turbulent 2012 (.958/.532/.592). In short, it seems to me that this reinforces Hardy getting back to what worked for him in the past in a rebound season. And if he somehow ended up somewhere more accommodating to RH pull power, look out.
3. Hardy is one of the most powerful shortstops
Hardy’s appeal as a fantasy shortstop is obviously limited. He isn’t really an asset in batting average (eighth among qualified shortstops), and certainly isn’t an OBP warrior (10th), and is a downright slug on the basepaths (eight stolen bases. ever). But Hardy was third in isolated power in 2013, trailing only all-world candidate Troy Tulowitzki and the suddenly solid Ian Desmond at .170. That ties him with Brian Dozier as a top-60 qualifier league-wide.
The nice thing is that it’s pretty much homer-heavy, too. One one occasion Hardy even hit more home runs than doubles, and quite frequently sees home runs at 80%-plus his rate of doubles. That’s a clunky way of saying “Hey! This guy is sort of a home run stud at position that doesn’t have many.” I suppose. And that’d be accurate, as Hardy tied with Tulowitzki for first with 25 longballs. I have yet to see a league which uses doubles outside of slugging leagues, so Hardy’s extra-base hit distribution is awfully nice here.
In short, Hardy looks like one of the safer bets at shortstop. Just make sure you address speed and maybe batting average elsewhere.