Sunday, June 22, 2014

Hardy Homers

Hardy hit his first home run of the year yesterday as Baltimore defeated New York
The Baltimore Orioles were already ahead 5-1 when J.J. Hardy dug in for his fourth and final plate appearance of yesterday's game at Yankee Stadium, Baltimore's 73rd of the season. Hardy had appeared in 65 of those, come to bat 263 times, and was still homerless. None of his 83 fly balls had left the park. His uncharacteristic power outage had long since passed the point of reaching epic proportions.

I say uncharacteristic because Hardy has always shown good power, particularly for a shortstop. With 158 home runs in his first nine seasons, he'd exceeded 20 in five of those years and hit as many as 30 in 2011. Going back to the start of the 2007 season, only Hanley Ramirez and Troy Tulowitzki have more home runs among shortstops. After narrowing that window down to the past three years, Hardy's gone yard more often than any shortstop in baseball, the only person at the position to slug 20 homers or more in all three of those seasons.

Hardy had showed no signs of slipping last year, when he banged 25 homers and was an All-Star, Gold Glover and Silver Slugger recipient. 31 this year, he was too young to have his power disappear overnight like that. It's not normal for players to hit 25 homers one year and none the next year, especially when said player is healthy and still relatively young (which Hardy is) and when there's virtually no change in his batted ball data (Hardy's has remained the same, minus his HR/FB ratio, of course).

Even weirder than Hardy's sudden inability to leave the building was his good fortune on balls in play. Thanks to his .335 BABiP--nearly 60 points above his career average--he was hitting .300 as recently as two weeks ago and is on pace to not only post the highest batting average of his career, but the most doubles a well. With the batting average boost he's getting on base more frequently than at any point in the past three years, and his 92 OPS+ is not far off last year's mark of 100.

Still, Hardy had not been been hitting for power or driving in runs. With no speed to speak of and an aversion to drawing walks, he's been very limited offensively. Not bad, just less effective than in years past, when he could be counted on to put 25 or so balls into the seats.

This year, it took him nearly three months to belt his first. There was one out and nobody on base when he stepped in to face Jose Ramirez, a rookie reliever from the Dominican Republic who'd just whiffed Chris Davis. Hardy got himself into a hitter's count by taking the first two pitches for balls, then turned on a 95 mile per hour heater from Ramirez and launched it into the left field bleachers. The tater was Baltimore's fourth of the afternoon, as Adam Jones, Nelson Cruz and Steve Pearce had already gone deep, and gave them an insurance run over the Bombers. More importantly, the blast was Hardy's first since September 5th of last year, ending a span of 87 games and 360 plate appearances without a big fly.

With the weather warming and regression to the mean a near certainty, it won't take Hardy nearly as long to hit another.

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