Player Profile: J.J. Hardy

29 02 2008

J.J. Hardy is a bit of a mystery to Brewers fans. Is he the player that had more home runs than Prince Fielder early in the season, or is he the player that slumped in the middle of the year? No matter your answer to that question, J.J. was an All-Star caliber player for the Brewers in ’07. He says that he’s grown mentally in the past year, and he expects to play much more consistently than he did last season.

Strengths:

J.J. Hardy is an above-average hitter for a shortstop. He is a very streaky hitter, but when he is seeing the ball well, he can hit in bunches. Early in last season, J.J. battled with Prince for the league lead in home runs, but his power abruptly fell off in mid-summer. Still, a .277/.323/.463 line is solid for a shortstop, not to mention his 26 home runs and 80 RBI. Not to beat a dead horse, but the main question remains whether J.J. can keep it up for an entire season. He has shown that he can hit, but can he prolong that hot streak to become a more consistent player?

The Brewers shortstop is solid all around defensively. Despite a lack of ideal foot speed, J.J. is able to glide around the infield and get runners out. His fielding percentage did drop rather dramatically last season, from .986 to .978, but I expect that fielding percentage to come back up a bit. He has a very accurate arm, and he makes up for his lack of athleticism by playing very smart in the field.

I suppose I should add that J.J. is personally adding female fans to the Brewers fanbase, as all the girls think he’s by far the most attractive Brewers player. That can really only be classified as a strength.

Weaknesses:

Every year since he has been in the majors, Hardy has gone through a prolonged slump at some point in the season. As I said above, he is a streaky hitter. When he’s seeing the ball well, I cannot call his hitting anything but a strength. When he’s struggling, however, it is awful. J.J. is strictly a pull-hitter, and he struggled mightily last season when pitchers began to pitch him away consistently. He needs to be able to show that he’s willing to drive the ball to the opposite field. J.J. showed flashes of that in the last month or so of the season, but his plate discipline and pull-happiness is still a major weakness.

I may be overstating this a bit, but Hardy showed real mental fragility last season after slumping in June and July. A great player never doubts his own ability. To make a comparison to basketball, a shooter keeps shooting when going through a slump because he knows they’ll eventually drop. J.J. needs to keep getting on base, even if the swing is not there. He needs to still believe in his own abilities even when things are not going his way. That said, J.J. showed great maturity pulling out of his slump in September. Perhaps he’s turned a corner in the mental part of the game.

Projections:

ZiPS – .262/.318/.421
The Hardball Times – .273/.324/.446

These projections are fairly conservative, but they seem quite accurate given J.J.’s history of inconsistency. I believe that he will turn a corner this year in that department and become much more of a consistent hitter at the plate for Milwaukee. Expect J.J. not to fall into one of his famous two month long slumps this year, and his plate discipline should continue to improve a little bit as well. I expect J.J.’s OBP to jump a little this year, but I think his slugging percentage will not be as high. As pitchers study tape, they will continue to pitch him away until he proves he can handle it. Even if J.J. begins to hit the ball to the opposite field, I don’t think he’ll do it with much power.

Unfortunately, I don’t think J.J. will be able to keep up his All-Star status next season, especially with Jose Reyes and Jimmy Rollins in the same league. Hardy is only 25, so it would be foolish to believe his development as a player will stagnate. He should become much more consistent this year not only at the plate, but also in the field. J.J.’s reputation as a fine fielding shortstop should resurface again this season, as his fielding percentage climbs compared to last season. J.J. Hardy should not be as streaky and not to provide the same home run power, but expect his consistency as a player to increase and allow him to be a main cog in Milwaukee’s lineup this season.

Projected Offensive Line: .274/.338/.414
Projected Season Rating (out of 10): 7.6

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