The Twins have plenty of quality players who will get their due attention as the American League Divison Series unfolds. I suspect that J.J. Hardy might not be one of those players, and he most certainly hasn’t received the credit he is due for his performance on the field this season.
A large part of this is probably due to a slow start. Hardy posted OBPs below .290 in both April and May and missed large chunks of both May and June, playing only a combined 15 games in those two months. Hardy hit his stride in the second half of the season, however, posting a .304/.363/.429 line over the last three months. Overall, Hardy hit .268/.320/.393, eerily similar to his career line of .263/.323/.423 – the 30 point difference in slugging percentage can be easily explained by the cavernous Target Field. Hardy’s wRC+ this season ended at 96 against a career average of 98.
Hardy’s 96 wRC+ actually comes within 3 points of all the other American League leaders at SS (Cliff Pennington, Derek Jeter, Marco Scutaro, and Alexei Ramirez all fall between 95 and 99) besides Alex Gonzalez, whose numbers trailed off quite a bit after a trade to the Atlanta Braves. Although Hardy can hit a little, the majority of his value comes from his stellar defense at this premium position.
The scouting report from Brewerfan.net nails it on Hardy’s defense.
J.J. has excellent range at shortstop, more due to pure instinct than quick feet. He puts away virtually everything he gets to, and has a strong and accurate arm. His defense would have played in the majors the day he was drafted.
The fantastic range is why Hardy is rated highly by every defensive metric available today. Over about 4.5 full seasons, UZR rates Hardy as a +41 SS, DRS rates him as +38, and TotalZone rates him at +23. Regardless of which one you choose, Hardy has provided fantastic value as a solid glove shortstop, and both the scouting reports and the eye test back that up.
Hardy might not have been as good as his +8 UZR suggests in such a small sample, but the fact that he put up 1.6 WAR in 375 plate appearances before factoring in defense is enough to merit a look. Throw in the fact that a +8 UZR in that sample is legitimately attainable for somebody with Hardy’s defensive prowess, and you have a shortstop that could arguably be the best remaining in the playoffs.