Monday, May 3, 2010

Hardy's First Month

When the Twins and Brewers agreed in late November to trade Carlos Gomez and J.J. Hardy, Twins fans were for the most part very happy. A lot of fans disliked Gomez because of his poor batting average and inability to take a walk, and his poor offensive showing over basically two seasons was enough for most fans to determine he was not a good player. J.J. Hardy on the other hand was coming off an injury riddled season, but he had hit 24 and 27 home runs in back-to-back seasons before that, which many fans assumed meant he had been a great offensive player. Both of these viewpoints were mostly wrong.

When I reviewed the trade back in November, I said I was worried because of Bill Smith's track record up to that point. Of course, on paper, the deal seemed like a solid move because Gardy was never going to give Gomez the playing time he deserved, so ultimately Smith traded a 4th outfielder for a starting shortstop. With the first month of the season over, it seemed like a good time to see how Hardy has done since arriving in Minnesota.

When I took a look in February at Hardy's statistical trends and likelihood to bounce back, I thought it seemed more likely than not his power would return and he'd be a good, starting caliber shortstop for the Twins. I predicted a .275/.330/.470 season, which is of course still possible with so much time left, but after the first month of the season Hardy is hitting just .230/.287/.368 with 3 home runs in 87 at bats. So, what's the cause of Hardy's brutal first month offensively? Is it more bad luck, or is he simply not a good hitter anymore?

Again, in my opinion, he's having a lot of bad luck. His walk rate is down from last year, but his strikeout rate and strikeouts per at bat are both better than last season. And while his power hasn't returned quite to where it was in 2007 and 2008, it's improved considerably from last season. After hitting a home run in 2.4% of his at bats last year, Hardy's currently hitting a home run in 3.2% of his at bats. In 2007, when Hardy hit 27 home runs, he hit a home run in 4.1% of at bats. If he can increase that number to 3.7% or so, Hardy should be looking at a 25 home run season even with his slow start.

He continues to have a lot of bad luck in my opinion though because, much like last year, his BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) is a putrid .246 thus far. His career average is .276, and was .279 before this season, so I feel fairly confident saying it won't remain this low all season. For comparison's sake, Nick Punto, who hit .228 last year, had a .276 BABIP. If Hardy is hitting .230 with a .246 BABIP, he should hit around .260 if he can return to his career average.

There are several encouraging signs about Hardy's offensive progression from a season ago, like the aforementioned increased home run rate and improved strike out rate, and while his walk rate is down and his BABIP continues to make me at least a little worried, the return of the power is the most important over the course of a full season. After one month my .275/.330/.470 prediction seems a bit optimistic, but I still believe a .260/.320/.450 season is more than possible.

Ultimately, Hardy is striking out less than he did last year, with more power. He's getting even more unlucky than he did last season, though, and his walk rate has declined from 9% to just over 7%. It's only been one month so we'll see if Hardy can continue to improve as the weather gets warmer, but for now Twins fans there's no real reason to think Hardy won't continue to improve his numbers over the course of the season.


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