Baltimore Orioles: Could JJ Hardy Be the Key to Success?

Drew ReynoldsContributor IIIFebruary 28, 2013

SARASOTA, FL - FEBRUARY 23:  Shortstop J.J. Hardy #2 of the Baltimore Orioles singles against the Minnesota Twins during a Grapefruit League Spring Training Game at Ed Smith Stadium on February 23, 2013 in Sarasota, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
J. Meric/Getty Images

Baltimore Orioles' shortstop JJ Hardy was sort of an enigma last season. Despite becoming one of the best defensive shortstops in the league, offensively he struggled.

In 158 games in 2012, Hardy hit .238 with 22 homers and 68 RBI. While those numbers may not be horrific, they dwindle in comparison to his first season with the Orioles in 2011 where he hit .269 with 30 homers and 80 RBI in only 129 games. That 2011 performance earned him a three-year contract extension and cemented him as the starting shortstop for the O's for at least a few years.

However, despite winning a Gold Glove for his defensive contributions, his offensive struggles in 2012 intensified rumors this off-season about the Orioles trading the 30-year-old veteran. The main rumor being a trade to the Tigers for starting pitcher Rick Porcello. And with the arrival of Manny Machado, trading Hardy didn't seem like a terrible idea.

The Orioles weren't interested in this trade, however, and nothing became of it. Hardy reported to the O's spring training camp in Sarasota and is slated to be the starting shortstop once again.

And that's not a bad thing at all.

Hardy, by no means, hurt the Orioles last season. Yes, he struggled at the plate a bit, but he was fantastic defensively and did come up with a few timely hits, including his hit in game four of the ALDS.

The lack of RBI from Hardy was slightly shocking, but it could be partially attributed to the fact that, with injuries to Nolan Reimold and Nick Markakis, the Orioles were without an effective leadoff hitter for a good chunk of the season.

But even though Hardy didn't drive in many runs, he did help set the table, as he was second on the team in runs with 85.

The shortstop also may have been hitting in to some bad luck in 2012. His strikeout percentage did drop from 2011, as did his walk percentage. So, despite getting more balls in play, his average and overall stats went down.

When Hardy hit the ball hard in 2012, it seemed to be right at someone or a nice play was made by the fielder

To be fair, Hardy should of had 23 homers last year. One was absurdly robbed by Angels outfielder Mike Trout in what was perhaps the catch of the season.

So far in spring training when Hardy has played, he hasn't been in his accustomed two-spot in the batting order. According to the Washington Post, Buck Showalter wants to move Hardy out of that spot. This move could help both the Orioles and the veteran shortstop alike, as Hardy isn't fast and he could get more opportunities to drive in runs batting in the sixth or seventh spot.

Even if Hardy has a repeat performance in 2013, he'll likely keep his job as the Orioles' shortstop. Not only does his glove save countless hits and runs, he is still a solid power hitter capable of driving in runs.

However, if Hardy improves at the plate and has a season like he did in 2011, he could be the key to pushing to the Orioles from a good team, to a great team. He is capable of hitting 35 homers and driving in 100 runs given a full season. If that happens, the Orioles lineup could become one of the most dangerous lineups in baseball.