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Inside the numbers of J.J. Hardy's curious power drought

By Jon Meoli

The Baltimore Sun

1:56 PM EDT, June 17, 2014

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J.J. Hardy has, in some senses, had the luckiest season he’s had at the plate since he joined the Orioles, and his batted ball percentages are almost identical to his career averages.

So, how are the Orioles nearing the All-Star break without seeing their All-Star caliber shortstop hit a home run?

The folks at Fangraphs went deep on the topic last week, and came up with a few explanations. But first, let’s look into some of the positives of Hardy’s season so far.

All along, as the wait for his first home run has continued, Hardy’s batting average has been cited as something of a saving grace for his season. It’s down from .306 on June 1 to .289 entering Tuesday’s game, and that could further normalize due in part to his higher-than-normal batting average on balls in play (BABIP). 

In Hardy’s three seasons with the Orioles, his BABIP was never higher than .273. Even with this year’s rate of .337 bringing his career average up, he’s much more likely to end the year around the career mark of .277 than 60 percentage points higher, where he sits now. Additionally, his 16 doubles through 61 games put Hardy on pace for a career high in that category.

But the Orioles could get a solid batting average and strong defense from any number of players. What has set Hardy apart from his shortstop counterparts has been his power, and nothing on the most basic levels of advanced statistics seems to explain it.

Hardy has always hit slightly more fly balls than the league average — 38.7 percent, versus a league wide 36 percent — and he hasn’t deviated from that rate this year. His other rate stats — 17.7 percent line drives, 43.9 percent ground balls — are also in line with the numbers that produced 77 home runs in the previous three seasons.

Fangraphs posits that Hardy’s 18.4 percent infield fly rate could be indicative of a larger loss of power. The site also points out Hardy hasn’t been pulling inside pitches for power, and his fly balls have been more of the pop-up variety than anything else. That could mean a loss of bat speed as Hardy gets up there in age.

It’s all an interesting study, and 60 games into the season, it’s worth taking a deeper look at. So take a look at some of the numbers behind the Fangraphs piece and let us know. What do you think is behind J.J. Hardy's power drought?

jmeoli@baltsun.com

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