Baseball fans may have already given up on the Baltimore Orioles as they are now five games under .500 and seem to not be able to play consistent baseball, but newly acquired shortstop J.J. Hardy is putting together a resurgent season and a possible All-Star bid, but has anyone noticed?
Hardy has produced much more than the Orioles expected already; he’s smashed eight homeruns (2nd among all AL shortstops), driven in 24 runners and is batting at a .293 clip after he missed almost an entire month of the season due to a left oblique strain in early April. Hardy’s numbers would all be up there among major-league shortstops, but he missed those 27 games.
He has bounced back very strongly as he has played in 42 games, collected 46 hits already, 11 doubles, 23 runs and 16 walks in only 157 at-bats on the year. If Hardy was not injured early in the season, all of his numbers would be career-highs at the end of the year, barring no more injuries for the Oriole shortstop.
Last season with the Twins, due to various injuries to his shoulder and wrist, Hardy managed to play in 101 games, missing almost 40% of the team’s contests in 2010. He hit .268 with only six homeruns and 38 RBI in 340 at-bats in his only season with the Minnesota Twins.
So, you might be thinking, why would the Birds spend their time on a player who was injured throughout the season with many different small set-backs, but he was never able to be consistent. Well, Orioles’ President of Baseball Operations Andy McPhail was probably hoping that Hardy would revert back to his younger years in Milwaukee.
I am by no means labeling Hardy as a player who is over the hill and his better days are behind him, but in 2007, he was selected as a reserve in the All-Star team for the first time in his second-full season with the Brewers and it looked like he was going to be their shortstop for years to come.
That year, Hardy impressed not only the Milwaukee fans, but also his teammates and coaching staff. He smashed 26 homeruns, drove in 80 Brewers, in 151 games over 592 at-bats. Not only did Hardy put up power numbers, but he also used the gaps as he collected 30 doubles and 164 hits.
His next season with the Brew Crew was not as prominent, but he put up almost as impressive numbers in his third-full season with the club. In 2008, Hardy knocked 24 homeruns out of the park, drove in 74 runners, accumulated 161 hits, but hit at a higher clip this season. He raised his average from .277 in 2007 to .283 in 2008.
Hardy played in five fewer games in 2008 (146) and accumulated 23 fewer at-bats (569), but he was able to collect one more double (31) than his previous season. If he would have played in those five extra games, he might have been able to set a new career-high in homeruns, RBIs and hits.
In his last season with the Brewers, injuries again proved costly for the shortstop as he played in only 115 games in 2009, and really struggled at the plate in his fifth season with the Brew Crew. Hardy hit only .229 in 414 at-bats.
What was really surprising for the former All-Star were his power numbers as they saw a sharp decline in 2009. Hardy only hit 11 homeruns over the course of the summer and only drove in 47 runs. Not only were his power numbers a concern, Hardy only collected 95 hits throughout the season and 16 doubles.
Compared to the year before, Hardy hit 13 fewer homeruns, 27 fewer RBIs, 66 fewer hits and he only hit half the number of doubles from his previous season (16). The 2009 season was definitely a struggle for Hardy, and it proved to be his last season with the Brewers as he was then shipped to the American League for the first time and his new home was Minnesota.
As previously stated, Hardy only stayed with the Twins for one season, and really never had the chance to prove that he can still hit the ball and have an impact on the team. Hardy only made 375 plate appearances, the fewest since he was injured for most of the 2006 season (when he only appeared in 35 games for Milwaukee).
Oriole fans probably were not expecting Hardy to come in to Baltimore and have an outstanding year by putting up around 20 homeruns, almost 80 RBI and about a .300 average. I know I was not expecting him to have such great numbers and really put a jolt in the team and make them look more alive on the field.
When Hardy is on the field, and especially at the top of the order, the Orioles seem to have more focused and at the same time, be more consistent and win. Hardy has done a great job at shortstop, both at the plate and in the field.
With Hardy in the lineup, the Birds are actually five games over the .500 mark at 25-50, and while he was on the disabled list, the O’s played 10 games under .500. Interestingly, the Orioles won both his last game before he headed to the DL and they won the game he returned in from the DL. Obviously, Hardy has impacted the team for the good and they play better when he is in the lineup.
I mentioned briefly earlier that Hardy has been spectacular at the top of the lineup. Here are some of his numbers while batting lead-off for the Birds while second baseman Brian Roberts is out with concussion-like symptoms.
Manager Buck Showalter has penciled him in the lead off position 10 times in Roberts’ absence and he has 15 hits in just 45 at-bats, which is a .333 batting average, with five doubles, four homeruns, seven RBIs and eight runs. Not only is Hardy hitting for power, but he is also finding his way on base with a .380 on-base percentage.
If Hardy continues at his current pace for the remainder of the season, he could end up with 24 homeruns, about 75 RBI, 142 base hits and 34 doubles, while hitting close to .300 in 129 games. Imagine if Hardy was able to stay healthy and play an entire season with the Birds.
Hardy certainly loves Oriole Park as he is hitting a cool .310 with four bombs and 11 RBI on the year. Not to mention, McPhail has already made re-signing the resurgent shortstop to a long-term deal as he is only 28 years-old and still in his prime.
As for his defense this season, Hardy has improved significantly as he’s only committed one miscue in the field in 78 putouts and 203 total chances (.995 fielding percentage). Historically, Hardy has a .979 career fielding percentage, but this season he’s shown he can defend shortstop with the best of them.
Nobody thought that at this point in the year, Hardy would be one of the best, if not the best, off-season signings for the Birds in 2011. I know I’ve talked about Adam Jones and Matt Wieters both being great choices for the All-Star nominee for the Birds this season, but I think Hardy should get just as much consideration due to the numbers he has yielded thus far into the season. Without Hardy, who knows where the Birds would be right now.
O’s in Pittsburgh Tonight
The Birds will send Jake Arrieta (8-4, 4.45) to the hill in search of his 9th win of the season, which would tie him for the most in all of baseball. When was the last time an Oriole pitcher was leading the league in wins? Too long ago to remember.
The resurgent Pirates will counter with one of their aces Charlie Morton (7-3, 3.21) who is not far behind in wins with seven and who has really helped the Pirates fight their way into the middle of the NL Central division.
Both the Orioles (.439) and the Pirates (.371) struggle in interleague series historically. This year, the Birds are 3-3 and the Pirates are 2-4 against the other league.
Since 2005, the Birds and Pirates have split six games, and the last time the Birds played in the Steel City was 2005.
Who is Hot?
Nick Markakis is 11 for his last 26 (.423) with two runs over the last week.
Mark Reynolds is seven for his last 19 (.368) with five runs, one homerun and one RBI in his last seven days.
Derrek Lee is nine for his last 25 (.360) with two runs and two RBI over the last seven days.
J.J. Hardy is nine for his last 28 (.321) with two homeruns and five RBI in the past week.
Who is Not?
Robert Andino is two for his last 18 (.111) with two runs and two RBI in his last six games.
Adam Jones is six for his last 25 (.240) with a homerun and three RBI over his last six games.
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About the Author
Written by Alex Van Rees
I am 22 years old and I recently graduated from James Madison University this May with a BA degree and a major in journalism. I live in Reston, VA, about 20 minutes outside of Washington. I am looking for an entry-level position with a sports media company where I can demonstrate my writing, interviewing and technical skills to better the organization.