Friday, November 06, 2009
Twins strike for J.J. HardyPosted by Evan Brunell
In this just-started offseason, Akinori Iwamura, Mark Teahen and Jeremy Hermida have headlined trades. Now, J.J. Hardy makes four.
Hardy, acquired by the Minnesota Twins in exchange for Carlos Gomez, leaves Milwaukee after five seasons. Debuting as a 22-year old, Hardy had quickly established himself as a top-tier shortstop in quick order until 2009 brought in a caving of his offensive numbers.
As soon as a year ago, the Hardy/Gomez swap would have been unthinkable: Hardy was coming off a .283/.343/.478 line with 24 home runs. Defensively, he was one of the strongest shortstops in the bigs, and the sky seemed the limit.
You can call it karma or the regression to the mean, however, given the fact that Hardy was unlucky in 2009 and similarly lucky in 2008.
Take BABIP as compared to xBABIP (read more on the birthing and reasoning behind xBABIP here) over the years for Hardy. In Hardy's rookie season of 2005, both BABIP and xBABIP remained the same. From 2006-'07, Hardy's BABIP -- the actual result -- trended lower than his xBABIP -- the expected result. As far as BABIP was concerned, Hardy's 2006-7 was unlucky (but not terribly so).
In 2008, things changed. Hardy's xBABIP actually dropped to .279 from .286 after consistently rising -- a mark of a hitter improving. This .279 xBABIP from 2007 ended up being Hardy's BABIP in 2008 -- what Hardy was expected to perform at in 2008 mirrored his actual production in 2007. Put it yet another way. Hardy's .277/.323/.463 line from 2007, strictly from a BABIP/xBABIP perspective, should have been his 2008 line as opposed to the high-water mark he achieved. His 2007 should have been duplicated in 2008.
It wasn't. Why? Because while the 2008 xBABIP mirrored the 2007 BABIP, the 2008 BABIP rose to .305, or roughly a 20-point spike in BABIP. Not coincidentally, his batting average rose 20 points over this time span.
In 2009, Hardy got a rude awakening in BABIP, as it sank all the way down to .264, the lowest since 2006 when he had a .242 batting average. Any wonder, then, that his batting average was .229? When you're looking at a .283 average (what he maintained in 2008) and compare it to 2009's .229, it's an obvious dropoff. But when you look at how precipitously BABIP dropped off and compare it with like BABIPs from previous years, it's not that far a dropoff.
Ah, but would you believe Hardy was actually just as good in 2009 as in 2008? The final numbers may not bear it out, but his 2009 xBABIP ended up at .306... meaning that his 2008 final numbers from a BABIP perspective should have been repeated in 2009!
Instead of his statistics following a consistent 2007-9 progression, his last three years were dicated by luck. Here's the visual evidence below, using actual numbers to simplify matters and placing them where the BABIP/xBABIP correlations command:
|2007||.277/.323/.463||Slightly better than ‘07||0.279||0.286|
It looks from this table that Hardy's actually been rather consistent over the last three years: luck has simply gotten in his way (in both directions). Given these numbers, it comes across as if Hardy's true offensive talent lies around his 2007 totals -- at least, looking at the last three years. Entering his age 27 year, he could be primed for another leap forward as he did so from 2005-6. At the very least, however, his poor 2009 shouldn't give anyone any pause at all in evaluating what he can bring to the table. Expecting a line similar to 2007 is the way to go.
For Minnesota, that's a tremendous value coupled with his defense: the Twins will boast one of the top shortstops in the league and have him under control through his age 28 year.
All they had to give up was centerfielder Carlos Gomez, the centerpiece of the Johan Santana swap. Gomez has been a poor hitter, but is still just 23 with plenty of possible fruitful years ahead of him. The cachet here that the Brewers liked was his defense, which should help the Brewers and their flyball pitching staff. A leap forward offensively may be a long shot to ask for, but perhaps Doug Melvin is hopeful Gomez can experience a Michael Bourn-type breakout.
At first, I was incredulous over this deal, believing Hardy should have been shopped for a pitcher. While I still feel the Twins come ahead in the deal, I've come to realize that shipping Hardy out for a bat is actually rather logical. It's far easier to get a position player in a deal than a pitcher, especially ones of like talent. Even if Gomez is the equivalent of a 5.00 ERA pitcher, the latter comes with a higher price tag. Heck, look at the salaries the Brew Crew paid/is paying Jeff Suppan and Braden Looper. By doing this deal, the Brewers have signaled that they will not bring Mike Cameron back. Milwaukee can use that saved money and go after a free agent pitcher, a situation that gives Milwaukee better control over what pitchers come to town and at what cost.
Evan Brunell is currently editor of Fire Brand of the American League, a Red Sox blog he began in 2003. He also scores games at Fenway Park for MLB. He was the co-founder and president of MVN, an independent sports media web site.