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2015 Shortstop Rankings Rumble: J.J. Hardy

Ray Guilfoyle and Brian Creagh weigh the pros and cons of drafting Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy in 2015. Will Hardy's power return in 2015? Read on.

Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

About a month ago, after completing his position rankings, Brian Creagh saw that his rankings for certain players at each position were quite different from my rankings. With that in mind, he reached out to him to see if I had interest in collaborating on a series, the Rankings Rumble, where we would each explain why we a ranked a certain player higher/lower than the other. The Rankings Rumble series serves as a way to see both sides of the argument for or against drafting a certain player on draft day.

Today, the series continues, where Brian and I  state our case on why you should/should not draft Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy this season.

PlayerJ.J. Hardy

2014 Stats

Games

141

HR

9

R

56

RBI

52

SB

0

AVG

0.268

OBP

0.309

SLG

0.376

Rankings

Player

Ray's Ranking

Brian's Ranking

J.J. Hardy

9

17

Case for J.J. Hardy (Ray Guilfoyle)

Hardy came in as our 13th ranked fantasy shortstop in our 2015 Consensus Shortstop rankings released on Monday morning. I ranked him as my 9th ranked shortstop, just behind Cardinals shortstop Jhonny Peralta. Only Jason was higher than I was on Hardy.

Hardy is coming off a down year for him, as his power numbers were down across the board, and just recently we learned why. He revealed at the Orioles offseason Fan Fest that he dealt with a back injury for most of last season. Here is more from Steve Melewski from MASN:

When you look at the Orioles and their attempt to replace the 40 homers Nelson Cruz hit last year, one source of added pop for 2015 could be at shortstop.

At FanFest, J.J. Hardy revealed that he played part of last year with a back injury that may have hampered him in 2014 more than he let on at the time.

It could have been a factor that saw Hardy's homer total drop to nine last year after he averaged 25.6 per season for the club from 2011-13.

Hardy missed five games early last year and got a cortisone injection. In September, he left the team during a road trip to return to Baltimore for a precautionary MRI. He also dealt briefly with thumb and hamstring injuries that limited him to 141 games after he had played 158 in 2012 and 159 in 2013.

"It happened so early last year that it was a constant battle to get my core strong enough to where I didn't feel it," Hardy said. "Maybe two months of the year I actually felt normal. The rest of the time was a grind. But I've been able to strengthen my core pretty good this offseason with my workouts."

If he is indeed healthy to begin the 2015 season, I see a nice bounce back from him, especially in the power categories. In the recent LABR experts mixed league draft, Hardy was selected in the 17th round, after other shortstops Chris Owing and Jean Segura, who I see him easily outperforming in 2015.

I think he can put up a 20+ home run, 70+ RBI season, if healthy, in 2015. Only two other shortstops, Ian Desmond and Jhonny Peralta, accomplished that feat last season.

Case Against J.J. Hardy (Brian Creagh)

J.J. Hardy has long been an undervalued SS player in fantasy leagues. 25+ HR potential and an AVG that won't kill you at a price where other managers are reaching for their late sleeper picks. 2014 was a different story as Hardy failed to deliver on his usual power numbers and looked the part of an aging, veteran player whose best years are behind him. Hardy finished with .268/.309/.372 triple slash and only 9 HRs in 141 games. This following three years of at least 22+ HRs, and I'll admit his 5.6% HR/FB rate is well below is 10.8% career average and had a lot to do with the depressed power numbers. My pessimistic rating of Hardy stems from the poor showing in his age 32 season and the negative trends in his peripheral numbers.

Some alarming numbers from last season include Hardy's 18.3% strikeout rate, .317 BABIP rate, and 63.6% O-Contact%. Hardy has a career 14.6% strikeout rate, but last season this number jumped to 18.3%. The reason for his increase in strikeouts is his decreased ability to make contact with pitches outside of the zone. From 2011-2013 Hardy's O-Contact% was 77.6, 78.4, and 79.0, respectively. In 2014 this number plummeted to 63.6%. He even swung at fewer pitches outside of the zone in 2014, but despite the increased discipline his contact numbers took a beating. To me, this represents a decline in skill for J.J. Hardy and is a trend that I would not be wanting to bet on reversing course in a big way. Hardy was dealing with a back injury last year, and I think this affected him more than the he let on, but I don't expect him to return to his previous value when fully healthy. I think Hardy settles somewhere in the 17-19 HR range with a .260 AVG and below-average counting stats. I don't view him as a starter in standard league formats.