Why the J.J. Hardy Contract Extension Is a Great Move for O's

Zachary Ball@MLBDraftCntdwnAnalyst IOctober 14, 2014

Baltimore Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy (2) takes the throw as Kansas City Royals' Lorenzo Cain (6) steals second during the fifth inning of Game 2 of the American League baseball championship series Saturday, Oct. 11, 2014, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Matt Slocum/Associated Press

On October 8, Shortstop J.J. Hardy agreed to a contract extension that will keep him in black and orange until 2017, per John Perrotto of USA Today. The deal contains a vesting option for 2018, assuming Hardy reaches a predetermined number of at-bats. Considering Hardy has only missed 61 games since joining the O’s, it seems like a good bet the club won’t have to worry about shortstop for the next four years.

As for the financials, the deal is worth $40 million.

While some might find it interesting that Hardy was granted such a sweet deal in the midst of one of his worst offensive seasons since joining Baltimore, those critics aren’t taking into account all of the little things that Hardy does well, better than nearly every other big league shortstop.

It’s well known that Hardy is one of the better fielding shortstops in the game today, as evidenced by back-to-back Gold Gloves in 2012 and 2013, but the impact he’s had on the O’s since coming over in a truly one-sided deal in 2011 has been striking.

YearFielding %MLB rankRuns SavedMLB rank
J.J. Hardy Traded to Baltimore

In addition to being an integral part of the best defensive unit (by fielding percentage) in baseball history in 2013, Hardy has also done well for himself on a personal level. Despite playing just four seasons in Baltimore, he already has the 10th-highest defensive WAR (8.3) in team history.

To truly gauge the impact of Hardy, one has to take into account the impact he has at the plate as well. In fact, one can make the argument that he was the top-hitting shortstop in the American League in 2014.

J.J. Hardy0.2680.3090.37228952563.4
Jose Reyes0.2870.3280.39833951943.1
Alcides Escobar0.2850.3170.37734350742.4
Erick Aybar0.2780.3210.37930768773.9

The thing that gives the other three the edge is their runs scored, higher OBP and steals. This all makes sense, of course, because they’re all top-of-the-order hitters in their respective lineups. Looking beyond the standard measurements for hitting is where Hardy really edges ahead.

 Two-StrikesRISP2-out, RISPHigh Leverage

While Hardy’s home run total was down from his usual pace, he was a master at driving in runners in scoring position.

Taking into account that 2014 was a down year offensively for Hardy, it makes more sense to factor in the damage he did during his first three years as an Oriole when comparing him to some of the best shortstops in baseball.

J.J. Hardy  0.2590.3010.42011286276283214.78.3
Troy Tulowitzki0.3110.3890.54889842662571317.34.0
Jose Reyes0.3010.3520.4371213718933912413.0-2.2
Hanley Ramirez0.2770.3510.464105672652606510.4-2.3

More home runs than Tulowitzki, more doubles than Ramirez and a higher defensive WAR than all three combined. Toss in two Gold Gloves, a Silver Slugger and ZERO on- or off-the-field distractions in four years, and it’s no wonder the O’s were so keen to lock Hardy up.

Even more impressive is that the O’s only paid Hardy $26,850,000 for those four years of production while Tulowitzki was paid $39,750,000, Reyes $47,000,000 and Ramirez a whopping $57,500,000.

Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

Still, this new contract isn’t about the past. It’s about what the O’s expect from Hardy going forward. Considering he’ll be 37 years old during the final year of his deal, it could be a gamble for the front office. This is where Dan Duquette and Co. earn high praise.

Hardy has never been known for his speed. He’s never been known for his high-walk or low-strikeout totals. He’s never been considered a flashy defender. What he is is a solid defender who puts himself in great position before the ball ever gets hit to him, eliminating the need for diving plays or throws from the outfield. What he is is a power-hitting shortstop who drives in runs even when he’s not hitting home runs.

Aging four years shouldn’t hinder Hardy’s ability to do any of these things.

All advanced statistics via Baseball-Reference.com