Shortstop Shenanigans: Analyzing J.J Hardy’s Offensive Struggles

When J.J. Hardy came back from shoulder injury on May 7th, the Orioles were excited to get a key part of their playoff nucleus back.

Not only were they looking forward to his Gold Glove defense, but also the offensive punch he provides.

With a .991 fielding percentage and one error in 32 games, his defense has been just what the team expected.

However, his offense has failed to live up to the expectations that came with the 3-year, $40 million contract extension he signed last season.

He’s posting career-lows in many key areas like batting average (.212), on-base percentage (.237), and slugging percentage (.292). He also has just 10 RBIs on the season and has struck-out six and a half times more than he’s walked (4-26), the worst ratio of his career.

Those strikeouts would be understandable if he was hitting for power, but he only has two home runs and five extra-base hits on the season.

This power decline has caught some people off-guard, but the writing was on the wall last season.

After posting three 20+ home run, 50+ extra-base hit seasons in a row from 2011-2013, he hit nine homers and 37 extra-base hits last season.

Hardy has played better of late, batting .280 with four RBIs in his last seven games, but he still had four times more strikeouts than walks (2-8), no home runs, and just two extra-base hits in that time period.

His track record, defense, and the Oriole’s 19-12 record with him in the line-up have earned him the time to rebound offensively.

But what if he doesn’t?

If he continues to struggle or declines even further to the point where he is a liability, there are some creative ways that the team can improve offensively at the position with the current roster.

Jimmy Paredes has been the Oriole’s biggest surprise this season, batting .302 with six home runs and 28 RBIs.

He’s primarily a designated hitter, but he does have experience at third base and is listed as the back-up there on the Oriole’s depth chart.

Buck Showalter could play him at third, while moving Manny Machado over to his more natural position of shortstop.

Or Buck could even play Jonathan Schoop at shortstop, while allowing Paredes to hold down second and Machado to stay at third.

These moves would be sure to improve the team offensively. All three players are younger, with better averages and power numbers than Hardy on the season.

Considering the fact the team has the sixth most home runs (70) and the ninth best average (.259) in the league, it’s not like the team is starved for power and average.

Having Hardy in the lineup isn’t hurting the team’s offense very much, but taking him out of the lineup would be costly defensively,

In 64 career games at third base, Paredes has a fielding percentage of .938 and just as many errors as double-plays at nine. He hasn’t fared much better at second, with a .945 fielding percentage and three errors in 17 games.

Even though Jonathan Schoop actually had more experience as a shortstop in the minors than he did at second base, he wasn’t as proficient.

His .977 fielding percentage and 22 errors in 209 games at second were better than his .940 fielding percentage and 67 errors in 224 games at shortstop.

Manny Machado would be the best option defensively to replace Hardy, with his .956 fielding percentage in 203 games at shortstop in the minors, but that’s still significantly worse than Hardy’s career .982 fielding percentage.

Moving Machado over would be a downgrade defensively at both shortstop by losing Hardy, and at third base by replacing Machado with the less skilled Paredes.

Although the Orioles can afford to sacrifice a little defense, ranking sixth in fielding percentage (.987) and second in errors (28), why change a formula that’s working?

Buck loves J.J. Hardy’s veteran leadership and defensive prowess.

With the team on a six game winning streak despite his offensive struggles, don’t expect a change anytime soon.