Since it became clear that the 2014 Yankees weren’t very good, a lot of people in our chats started asking about the 2015 Yankees. Specifically, a lot of people started asking about the shortstop for the 2015 Yankees, since they’re not going to have Derek Jeter, in a different way from how the 2014 Yankees didn’t really have Derek Jeter. A name I kept arriving at was J.J. Hardy — he was due to be a free agent, and he’s pretty good, and he’d cost plenty without costing plenty. He seemed like a good option for a Yankees team that might not want to break the bank. Also, he’s not an option anymore.
In the break between playoff series, the Orioles have signed Hardy to a multi-year extension:
Source: Hardy deal 3 years, $40 mil with $6.5 mil deferred. Vesting option 4th year based on ABs #orioles
— Roch Kubatko (@masnRoch) October 9, 2014
In re-signing Hardy, the Orioles are getting for about market value a player who is no longer young but who is not yet a problem. That sentence is all the analysis you need, but now let’s get into some details you might want.
You might somewhat recognize the structure of the contract. It’s not the exact same, but it’s similar to the contract to which the Cardinals signed Jhonny Peralta last offseason. Peralta was given a guaranteed four years and $53 million, which surprised some people who didn’t believe in his defense. Hardy’s getting basically the same money for three years, and he has a shot at a fourth. Sensible enough; Peralta and Hardy occupy the same mental tier.
I should note, though, that Peralta was being signed for ages 32 through 35. Hardy’s going to be a little bit older than Peralta was when he debuted with St. Louis. And over the three years leading up to the free-agent contract, Peralta was worth 11 WAR by our estimates, with a 109 wRC+. Hardy, over the last three years, in more playing time, has been worth 9.5 WAR, with an 89 wRC+. People believe a lot more in Hardy’s defense than they do in Peralta’s defense, but Peralta’s defensive performance has still been at least fine, and Hardy’s the inferior bat. So, Peralta had arguments in his favor, is the point.
But I suppose if you believed in all of Peralta’s numbers, the Cardinals were getting him for something of a bargain. Hardy’s a good player, and he’s long been a good player, and no matter what you think of WAR as a statistic, this at least implies a very solid asset:
- 2010: 2.2 WAR (375 PA)
- 2011: 4.3
- 2012: 2.7
- 2013: 3.4
- 2014: 3.4
Hardy’s offense has been a little difficult to figure out. His wRC+ has recently bounced from 93 to 113 to 78 to 100, and this past season he hit just nine home runs. Overall, Hardy’s been a below-average bat, and because of his tendency to pop the ball up he’s run some fairly low BABIPs. But the Orioles aren’t fond of Hardy because of his All-Star offensive productivity. At the plate, he’s good enough. In the field is where Hardy seems to shine through.
He’s one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball, according to Defensive Runs Saved. He’s one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball, according to UZR. He’s one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball, according to Inside Edge, and he’s one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball, according to the Fan Scouting Report. Everybody loves Hardy’s defensive work, and while he’ll never be confused for Andrelton Simmons, Hardy’s a defender without any flaws. He doesn’t make a lot of errors, he converts the routine plays, he converts a lot of the non-routine plays, and he’s one of the better shortstops around when it comes to starting or turning the double play. Here is a gratuitous J.J. Hardy defensive .gif, to break up the text:
Hardy isn’t going to get better as he ages, but he’ll start the contract from a high level. And it’s worth considering the organizational context in which he’s being signed — Manny Machado just suffered another injury, and he’s proven to be an outstanding defensive third baseman, so the Orioles were presumably less willing than ever to move Machado back over a few steps. And while the Orioles’ system doesn’t literally have zero shortstops in it, it’s not a position of strength or depth, so Hardy keeps a position from becoming a hole. Without him, there were no realistic internal replacements.
I want to say something about Hardy’s offense, and it does trouble me a little. Hardy, for a while, was known for his outstanding contact skills. Used to be he maintained a contact rate in the upper 80s. This past season he dropped to 81%, and his strikeouts went up as a consequence. Between 2013 and 2014, 237 players batted at least 250 times in each season. Hardy just had the fifth-highest strikeout-rate increase, and the third-greatest contact-rate decrease. Curiously, Hardy made the same amount of contact within the zone. But his contact rate on pitches out of the zone plummeted, and unlike Devin Mesoraco, Hardy didn’t pair that with a huge power breakout. Hardy just put the bat on the ball less, especially on pitches down or away.
It’s possible that bodes poorly for Hardy’s offensive future. But then, it’s also possible he’s just adjusting to getting older, and it’s alternatively possible that this is the result of Hardy playing a lot of games with a somewhat uncomfortable back. It didn’t seem to have an effect on his defense, but maybe Hardy was less able to reach when he was at the plate. The likelihood is that Hardy will remain a slightly below-average hitter in the coming years, but he might be changing as he approaches his mid-30s.
Ultimately, the Orioles have chosen to spend good money on a player they know well. He’s a player they like, obviously, and he’s a player for whom they don’t have an alternative, and even if you don’t love the idea of $40 million for a player like this, the fact that Hardy is so capable up the middle makes him tough to replace for cheap. Replacement-level shortstops don’t pair decent bats with above-average fielding. Hardy’s is a difficult skillset to acquire, and now the free-agent market is without one of its potential impact players. As shortstops go, Hanley Ramirez will be expensive and not a shortstop for long. Jed Lowrie isn’t really a shortstop, Asdrubal Cabrera isn’t really a shortstop, and Stephen Drew was just worth negative WAR. Hardy was the promising one, so now the Yankees in particular will have to scour the trade market. While the Orioles didn’t re-sign Hardy just to make the Yankees a little more frustrated, it makes for a delightful little side effect.
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.