The Brewers are facing a decision about their SS situation, with phenom Alcides Escobar seemingly ready to contribute at the MLB level, and J.J. Hardy coming off a season-long slump that even saw him get demoted to AAA Nashville. The situation presents many options; trading Hardy, keeping Escobar in Nashville another year, having a player shift positions, etc. But it is clear that the largest variable in any of the above equations is what we should expect to get from Hardy next year in terms of production.
A few quick notes on how I constructed my basic projection:
–I use a version of Linear Weights values for offense, set to the scale of batting average, much like EQA. .263 is league average. For defense, I use UZR regressed by 66%, and add in TangoTiger’s positional adjustments (I use +7 as the baseline for SS).
–I use 5-3-2 weighting, a standard aging curve, park factors… all the trimmings. Now, Hardy had ~75 PA’s in AAA this season. As a quasi-shortcut, I simply used his MLE from Minor League Splits and added that to his MLB statline. Even if you don’t like their MLEs (and to me, they seem much more reasonable than most), this does not make a very large difference any way you slice it.
Here’s how that projection looks:
Now, the first thing that jumps out at you is Hardy’s ’09 BABIP. “So, this is one of those BABIP articles, where the author tells us nothing has changed.” Not true. Hardy’s BABIP can explain away some chunk of his ’09 decline, but nowhere near all of it. If I set Hardy’s ’09 singles rate to his ’07-’08 level (a pretty generous thing to do; it basically assumes the low-BABIP of ’09 was 100% luck, 0% skill decline), here’s how his projection changes:
While regressing the singles rate certainly paints a much rosier picture, Hardy experienced some changes in ’09 that generally aren’t explained by random fluctuation. His contact rate took a significant dip, and his power wasn’t up to his norm. Hardy did go through a period of back spasms earlier in the season, and also had one or two minor flare-ups involving his shoulder, which has been a problem for him in the past. Perhaps nagging injuries are a culprit; nonetheless, they deserve to be a data point.
While there is certainly reason for concern, this is no Bobby Crosby. Hardy still figures to be at least a worthwhile everyday player going forward. One major reason is his defense. UZR plain old loves Hardy, and if you cross-reference their rankings against Tango’s Fans Scouting Report and BPro’s Fielding Runs, nothing seems too far out of line (and I regress the hell out of defense anyway). And if his offense can rebound to ’07-’08 levels (which is no major reach), you’ve got one of the 6-7 best SS in the game.
Thus, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which the Brewers come out ahead by trading Hardy this offseason. Due simply to his performance, his value won’t get much lower. Also, if they knew an offseason trade was a strong possibility (and they must have), they really shot themselves in the foot by demoting him. Odds are, Hardy is at least a league-average SS next year for somewhere around $5m. If the Brewers are of the mindset that they must deal him—and they seem to be treating him like dead weight—some team is going to be making a great buy.