Does J.J. Hardy Even Like Hitting?

Last April 4, Adam Jones swung at the first pitch two times. He swung at the first pitch five times on April 6, and then he swung at three more first pitches on April 14. By bedtime April 20, he was up to 16 first-pitch swings. The next day, he added four more.

Teammate J.J. Hardy also swung at the first pitch 16 times. All season. Out of 438 first pitches.

Hardy has never been aggressive early on. His highest-ever first-pitch swing rate is 11.9%, set as a rookie. His career rate is 8%, against a league average north of 27%. Last year, though, he was particularly patient. Not that Hardy is aggressive in any count, but I’ve highlighted him in this plot of first-pitch swing rates and all-other-count swing rates.

The next-lowest first-pitch swing rate was more than twice as high. Hardy’s other-pitch swing rate isn’t so weird, around 47%. But he swung at the first pitch just 3.7% of the time. The other players in his peer group, by other-pitch swing rate, went after the first pitch 25.7% of the time. It’s not that Hardy would never go after the first pitch, but every single time, it came as a surprise.

You’d figure Hardy might be really selective then, right? Welp! Of the 16 first-pitch swings, seven came at pitches out of the zone. Seven swings put the ball in play, but Hardy wound up with one hit, on a grounder. Perhaps it’s additionally worth noting that Hardy took all of three first-pitch swings when there was no one on base. When he was aggressive, mostly, he was just trying to move runners around.

It should go without saying that I don’t know exactly what Hardy’s plan is, because I’m not J.J. Hardy. He might just feel a lot more comfortable after he sees one pitch out of the hand. But just looking at this from the outside, Hardy could probably stand to just pay closer attention from the on-deck circle, because he’s been taken advantage of. Unsurprisingly, Hardy last year had one of the league’s very highest first-pitch zone rates. And no other hitter in the game had a higher percentage of his plate appearances advance to an 0-and-1 count. Hardy went through that count in about 61% of his trips. The average was 49%. If anything, it might be strange these rates weren’t even higher.

Again, hey, Hardy’s his own man. He’s coming off a much better season than the one he had the year before, so more power to him for his 2.3 WAR. He’s not doing everything wrong. But that’s an Orioles lineup full of guys unafraid to take an early hack. Maybe Hardy’s just trying to be different on purpose, but it seems to me he’s doing himself a disservice by watching as much as he does. There has to be a better way to get yourself prepared.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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Jetsy Extrano
7 years ago

I love scatterplots, that is all.