The Baltimore Orioles acquired J. J. Hardy last week from the Minnesota Twins. The Orioles seem to be betting on Hardy rebounding somewhat to the form he showed in 2007 and 2008, when he posted wOBAs of .338 and .355, making him one of the best shortstops in Major League Baseball (MLB). Recall, wOBA is an advanced on-base percentage-esque statistic. In 2009 and 2010, Hardy’s power disappeared (~.375 SLG vs. .423 Career SLG) and his wOBA dropped to ~.304 from his career average of.324 wOBA. His offensive value fell apart. Hardy’s ability to hit home runs in 2007 and 2008 turned into an ability to hit doubles in 2009 and 2010. (Cough, cough – remind you of anyone?) Given the recent trend towards stronger pitching in the MLB it would be foolish to expect Hardy’s power to return its 2007 and 2008 levels.
However, the Orioles don’t need Hardy to go all the way back to what he was in 2007 and 2008 to make this a good deal. The 2009 and 2010 version of J. J. Hardy was a decent player – when playing – thanks to his excellent defensive value. His career UZR/150 rating would have ranked second best among qualified Major League Baseball (MLB) players last year. UZR/150 is an advanced fielding rate statistic that considers a fielder’s errors, range, arm, and double play ability. Simply put, Hardy is an elite defensive shortstop.
Assuming some regression towards the mean in 2011 Hardy will be a significant value, in terms of Wins Above Replacement (WAR), at his likely arbitration salary of ~$6 million. If by some miracle his bat returns to its 2007 and 2008 levels, he would be worth ~$15 million to the Orioles next year, making him an incredible value. This is significant. Much like Mark Reynolds, the Orioles are paying for Hardy’s floor while getting the possibility of his ceiling production for little extra cost. It should be noted that the Orioles are also paying $1.25 million of Brendan Harris’ very bad contract which makes Hardy slightly less of a great deal, but still a very good one. Furthermore, Hardy is a upgrade over Iztruris both offensively and defensively. Izturis’ UZR/150 fell from 12.1 to 5.8 in 2010, while Hardy posted a UZR/150 of 12.8. At the same time, Hardy posted a wOBA of .313 and Izzy finished the year with a .248 wOBA. Unfortunately, Hardy’s durability is a concern. He played only 115 MLB games in 2009 and only 101 MLB games in 2010. His wrist was the issue in 2010 which caused him to miss most of May and June. However, after returning in July he finished the year with a ~.340 wOBA; a significant improvement over his .228 wOBA prior to his DL stint.
Unlike Reynolds, the Orioles only have Hardy under contract through 2011. Hardy’s performance next season will determine if he becomes Manny Machado’s official place holder. Regardless, he should qualify as a Type B free agent (he just missed qualifying as one in 2010) which would net the Orioles a draft pick if they can not sign him to a new contract at the end of the season.
It is encouraging to see the Orioles front office using advanced baseball metrics such as WAR, UZR/150, and BABIP to identify under valued players in the 2011 free agent pool. These statisitcs can’t make Mark Reynolds or J. J. Hardy into Jayson Werth, Adam Dunn or Carl Crawford. However, they are useful tools to highlight players who are likely to rebound to previous levels of success after seasons that appear poor when measured by traditional baseball metrics.