Saturday, October 11, 2014

Hate Hardy's Extension

Hardy's still great in the field, but his bat has slipped (BaltimoreSports)
I was surprised to hear the other day that the Baltimore Orioles inked shortstop J.J. Hardy to a three-year, $40 million extension. Teams usually wait to take care of this stuff until after the postseason, but with Baltimore still basking in the afterglow of its first AL East title since 1997 perhaps Dan Duquette was feeling a little bold.

Not saying this move is bold, per se, but it could easily backfire. This move has been largely well-received, and frankly I'm not sure why. Hardy's a 32 year-old shortstop, after all, and is coming off a poor season with the bat. He managed just nine home runs last year after swatting 77 over the previous three seasons, with a career-low .104 ISO to go with it. He also posted the worst walk rate of his career at 5.1 percent, as well as the highest K rate (18.3 percent). None of that bodes well for a hitter who previously derived most of his offensive value from power due to his subpar on-base skills and non-existent speed.

So even though Hardy had just as much value this year as he did in 2013 (3.4 fWAR), when he was a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger-winning All-Star, I see a player in decline. Most of that value stems from his stellar defense, which by itself was worth at least two wins this year according to both B-R and FanGraphs. Hardy won't win another Silver Slugger, but he deserves a third straight Gold Glove award.

The problem is that sooner or later, Hardy's defense is going to start slipping. He's getting to that age where reflexes begin to slow down and range starts diminishing. Maybe not next year or maybe not the year after, but it will happen eventually because it happens to everyone, including shortstops much more gifted than Hardy.

And given his spotty track record at the dish (his wRC+ has been above 100 just once in the past six seasons), Hardy's hardly a guarantee to bounce back offensively. An average hitter at best, Hardy will be a real liability at the plate if he can't recoup some of the power that made him an annual 20-25 home run threat prior to this year. He doesn't walk enough, run enough, and strikes out way too much for a guy with single-digit home run pop.

If I'm Dan Duquette, I'm not giving three years and $40 million to a 32 year-old who's batted .255/.298/.399 over the past three years, and I'm definitely not banking on him to rebound.

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