Up the Middle: J.J. Hardy
It’s easy to get caught up in the shiny new toys as the calendar turns to September. I’m guilty of it myself. I jump on guys like Jonathan Villar and Brad Miller. I drool over what my team will look like with Carlos Correa in my lineup. It’s like that whiff you get when you open a new can of tennis balls. Pfffsssstt.*sniff* Aaaaaaahh. Then there’s J.J. Hardy. At 31 years old, that delightful smell wore off of his balls a long time ago. Yet he’s been a better than average contributor to fantasy lineups since joining the Orioles three years ago, especially in the power department. Dynasty league success is about balancing the old and the new. If you’re like me, you take a lot of pride in paying as much attention to the minor leagues as the majors, but veterans like Hardy can be valuable assets as well.
It seems as though we hear Hardy’s name mentioned only in the following context: “I can’t wait until Hardy is gone so Machado can go back to playing shortstop.” If I had a penny for every time I’ve heard that sentiment since Machado was called up late last year I would use that extremely large bag of pennies to pay my league dues. Hardy’s defense at shortstop is just fine. In fact it is so fine that his fielding percentage is the best in the league over the last five years. Couple that with Machado’s excellent defense at third base and there is no reason for the Orioles to give Hardy the bum’s rush. So in 2014 (Hardy’s contract year) I’d expect to see him playing shortstop in homer-friendly Baltimore once again.
Speaking of homers, that’s why I’m buying Hardy. Over the past five seasons, only Troy Tulowitzki and Hanley Ramirez have hit more long balls than Hardy (92). It’s kind of a large drop from him to the next man on the list as well. Jimmy Rollins has almost 20 less in that same time frame with 73. This season he’s sitting atop this year’s crop of shortstops with 23 dingers, and last year’s .240 batting average has bounced back up to a much more respectable .260 mark. His GB% and FB% are both in line with his career numbers and his strikeout percentage has decreased for the second year in a row. I’ll be the first to admit he’s a bit of a one-trick pony in that he won’t steal you any bases or really contribute anything outstanding in the other categories. However, given the scarcity of power numbers at shortstop (you can count on one hand the number of players who hit 20+ in each of the last three years) I really think Hardy is one of the more underappreciated hitters at the position. He’s the perfect complement for a high average, run happy base stealer type in one of your other middle infield slots.
I totally get it. Hardy is getting older. He’s probably not the name on the tip of dynasty players’ tongues right now. He’s kind of boring. But like a very wise man once told me: don’t confuse boredom with serenity. There is a certain peace found in being able to pencil 20+ homers next to that ‘SS’ on your lineup card, even with the injury history. Us dynasty leaguers tend to be a patient bunch, but streaky hitters like Hardy can test the grit of even the most composed owners. If a hot new rookie bumps him from one of your leaguemates’ rosters this offseason, I’d pounce. While he might not be a long term solution, he has some genuine value left in him.