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.
How quickly a year changes matters. Hardy struggled to a .659 OPS, earning himself a late-season demotion to Triple-A that robbed him of his ability to become a free agent after the 2010 season. What Hardy struggled with particularly was his contact rate, not all that surprising given his career batting average pre-2009 was .270.
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: