Analysis: Slumping shortstop J.J. Hardy still best option at No. 2 hole

When things are going bad – as they no doubt are with the Orioles – everyone thinks he has the solution.

And recently, slumping shortstopJ.J. Hardy – and whether he should be bumped from the No. 2 spot in the order -- is a popular topic among the critics.

Over the past few days, I’ve received several tweets and emails from readers asking why the reporters who cover the Orioles don’t ask manager Buck Showalter why he won’t move Hardy from the No. 2 spot in the lineup.

Well, we have.

And Showalter’s answer: “As opposed to who?”

There’s no doubt that Hardy is struggling. Because of that, he has become the poster boy of the Orioles' offensive woes.

And yes, his season on-base percentage of .257 and OBP the past 30 days of .155 leave a lot to be desired in terms of on-base capability.

“It’s a matter of time,” Hardy said after Tuesday’s game. “I’ve got to come out of this at some point. Obviously it’s been a while and it’s not a lot of fun, but it’s going to turn around at some point.”

But again, if not Hardy at the No. 2 spot, then who?

Nick Markakis would be ideal for the role, but he has seemed to flourish in the leadoff spot since landing there. In his five games since coming off the disabled list and being placed in the leadoff spot, Markakis is hitting.435 (10-for-23), so let’s not mess with what’s working.

And let’s agree that the likes of Jim Thome, Adam Jones and Matt Wieters are best served staying in the run-producing spots in the three through five holes for now.

Mark Reynolds? His on-base percentage (.355) is tied for third best among regulars, but his .141 batting average over the past month and his feast-or-famine results (21 strikeouts in 64 at bats the past month) don’t play well in a spot that needs contact.

Chris Davis? His on-base percentage the past month is .195, and he went through his own 0-for-28 stretch not long ago.

The best everyday option might be Wilson Betemit, who is hitting .316 with a .358 on-base percentage over the past month, but he’s a switch-hitter who thrives from the left side of the plate, so you don’t want him hitting behind the left-handed-hitting Markakis. It makes the lineup too lefty-heavy at the top.

As for Hardy, he’s obviously not hitting well. He has just two hits in his past 40 at bats after a 1-for-4 night Tuesday (he did get on base twice with a walk in five plate appearances).

And over the course of the season, Hardy has hit .287 against left-handed hitting, the team’s third-highest average among regulars. That’s important hitting between lefties Markakis and Thome.

And in terms of making contact – a key component to every No. 2 hitter – he still fits the bill. Here’s how Hardy’s contact percentage and swinging-strike percentage match up to those of other No. 2 candidates.

Player                  Contact %            Swing Strike %
J.J. Hardy             86.5%                    5.3%
Wilson Betemit      74.8%                   11.3%
Chris Davis           72.3%                    14.8%
Mark Reynolds      63.5%                    16.8%

So before we’re quick to bump Hardy down the order, let’s again ask ourselves – who would do better?

And while we’re at it, let’s acknowledge that J.J. Hardy is the least of this team’s problems. How about a starting rotation with more holes that swiss cheese, a bullpen that has thrown 62 percent of the team’s innings since the break, and an entire lineup that doesn’t come up with key hits.

How about starting there?

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