J.J. Hardy and the Quick Turn

My Sunday afternoon was spent covering the Cleveland Indians and the Baltimore Orioles game at Progressive Field. In the fifth inning, something caught my eye from the press box:

Double plays happen all the time. This one was a bit unique in that it was started by the pitcher, but it still appeared to be a pretty standard double play. Most exciting double plays are the result of a glove flip, a diving stop or a barehanded catch-and-throw. Here’s what this one looked like:

hardy1

I don’t know if you see what I saw. But from where I was sitting, which was just a couple booths over from where that camera is, I thought there was no chance they were turning the double play when Gausman caught the ball. He made a nice stab, but was a little off balance and actually took a step backward before throwing to second. Jose Ramirez is a pretty quick runner out of the box and it was one of those things where I just assumed he would be safe until I saw he was called out. This is the J.J. Hardy effect.

I wanted to dig a little deeper.

Defensive Runs Saved, created by John Dewan over at The Fielding Bible, is one of the two advanced metrics we use to evaluate defense. One of the components of DRS for middle infielders is a Double Plays Runs Saved (rGDP) calculation. It considers both the angle and speed of the batted ball to determine the difficulty of every double play and credits each infielder accordingly for their role in every successful or failed turn. You can read the entire methodology here.

I dug a little deeper and this is what I found.

I had no idea this was true about J.J. Hardy until I looked it up. I love when things like this back up the eye test.

As stated above, J.J. Hardy leads the MLB in rGDP this year at four runs above average. That’s not a huge number, because over the course of a season this isn’t going to be the difference between a team making the playoffs or missing the playoffs. But it’s there and it certainly matters. Hardy is at four and the next-best rated shortstop is Starlin Castro with three. Then you’ve got Alexei Ramirez, Andrelton Simmons and Brandon Crawford at two. Everth Cabrera is last at negative four.

Last year, Hardy led the MLB at three. Simmons and Ramirez were right behind him at two. This is a repeatable skill and Hardy appears to be the best at it.

I’ve played baseball my entire life as a middle infielder. When I was younger I couldn’t hit at all so I had to be good with my glove. I took fielding lessons from a man by the name of Brett Lilley, who is the all-time NCAA Division I leader in hit by pitches, but that’s not important here. What is important is that he was an amazing middle infielder and my mind was blown when he taught me how complex turning a double play is. You need good footwork. You need to position your hands well. You need a strong arm. Then all of these things need to work together. Part of it is talent, part is technique. Hardy has both. Let’s take a closer look at that double play he turned against the Indians at a slower speed, thanks to modern marvels of technology:

dp22

This is just about perfection. I have Hardy’s “pop time” – the time from the ball hitting his glove to when it left his hand – at 0.67 seconds. I don’t have a league average or anything to compare this to, but that seems crazy fast.

His footwork is impeccable. He’s straddling the bag with his front foot towards first base and brushes his back foot over the bag for a “phantom tag” that is way less phantom than many you see. His shuffle is timed perfectly and sets his momentum up well for a strong throw to first. His hands are right where they should be. His throwing arm stays totally quiet the entire time, waiting patiently for it’s only job: receive the ball and throw. His glove hand stays low and tight to his body and he receives the ball with his glove hand moving towards his throwing hand for a quick transfer and throw. We make such a big deal over catcher receiving, but a middle infielder’s receiving ability on double plays is crucial, too.

But Hardy is only half of the double play team. In this case, his partner was Kevin Gausman, and Gausman did help him out with a spot-on throw. Usually Hardy’s partner is Jonathan Schoop. Schoop leads all second baseman in rGDP.

From the master himself, in June:

“From the first time I saw him turn a double play from second base, I thought he was extremely quick. He has good hands,” Hardy said. “After I feed him or Manny (Machado) feeds him, he turns the ball well with a strong arm. He’s been great.”

Here’s Hardy and Schoop in action from earlier this year:

schoop1

Again, every good double play starts with a nice set-up throw from the original fielder. Hardy makes a great play and flip to Schoop, but Schoop does his part, too. He isn’t as quick as Hardy around the bag, but what he lacks in technique he makes up for in arm strength. Hardy said it above. The Orioles announcers say it all the time. As someone who just got done watching a ton of Orioles double plays up the middle, you’ll have to trust me when I say Schoop has an unusually strong arm for a second baseman. And you can see it in this throw. He plants off his back leg and still fires a laser to get a pretty quick runner in Nick Punto.

Now, I don’t know how much these things play off each other. I assume DRS does its best to attempt to isolate each part of the double play, but it’s easy to imagine that each player’s skills could potentially inflate the others rGDP rating. Either way, I don’t think the Orioles care. They’ve turned 128 double plays this year, three off the league leading White Sox and 58 more than the league trailing Rays. Given their high rGDP score, it’s safe to say the Orioles are better at turning the more difficult double plays, too.

J.J. Hardy is one of the slickest fielding shortstops in the major leagues and his work around the bag on double plays is a leading reason why. Jonathan Schoop isn’t bad around the bag either and has a cannon for an arm to go with it. Put the two together and you have the best double play tandem in the MLB residing in Baltimore.



Print This Post



August used to cover the Indians for MLB and ohio.com, but now he's here and thinks writing these in the third person is weird. So you can reach me on Twitter @AugustFG_ or e-mail at august.fagerstrom@fangraphs.com.


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Bryz
Guest
1 year 9 months ago

Hey, remember that time the Twins traded away J.J. Hardy because they thought Tsuyoshi Nishioka was better, only to discover in Nishioka’s first spring training that he didn’t have the arm to play shortstop? *sobs incessantly*

Steven
Guest
Steven
1 year 9 months ago

Don’t forget trading Gomez for the right to later trade Hardy for the right to start Nishioka.

Bryz
Guest
1 year 9 months ago

Gomez for Hardy was a good trade when it was made. There’s no way they would have predicted that Gomez would figure things out a couple years later.

Hardy for Jim Hoey and Brett Jacobsen was awful the moment it was made, and to justify it the Twins focused on Hardy’s shortcomings (too slow for a middle infielder and didn’t perform offensively, despite having a sore wrist most of the season) instead of his advantages (excellent defensive shortstop and still provided above-average offense for a shortstop).

terencemann
Guest
terencemann
1 year 9 months ago

It doesn’t hurt that Hardy has great arm.

Brock Sampson
Guest
Brock Sampson
1 year 9 months ago

Really hoping Baltimore hangs onto Hardy.

dkdc
Guest
dkdc
1 year 9 months ago

Is rGDP context-neutral?

rGDP runs will generally be “earned” in higher than average LI situations because there is always a runner on base.

Personally, I think Schoop/Hardy (along with good outfield arms and strong arms behind the plate) are one of reasons the O’s outperform relative to the league in higher leverage defensive situations and allow fewer runs than their component baseRuns.

JT
Guest
JT
1 year 9 months ago

So what you’re saying….is that it isn’t “random variation.”

Seriously though, great article!

Chris
Guest
Chris
1 year 9 months ago

Any idea what kind of deal Hardy will command this offseason? Power down and is a history of injuries but still fantastic defensively. A year short of Peralta? 3 years for $35 million?

Bill
Guest
Bill
1 year 9 months ago

It might be more as the Yankees are need a shortstop and he’s tge best available.

hookstrapped
Guest
hookstrapped
1 year 9 months ago

I’ve always thought Hardy has an unusual awkward-looking throwing motion, where he uses his upper body. It looks like he’s heaving the ball. You can kind of see it it the first gif but it’s more apparent on his more overhand routine throws to first. Anyway, the results are beautiful.

Paul
Guest
Paul
1 year 9 months ago

He has said it’s the result of being an tennis player in his younger years. Apparently, he was an amazing tennis player too.

Chris
Guest
Chris
1 year 9 months ago

He’s also an incredible table tennis player: http://www.tabletenniscoaching.com/node/1502

Casey B
Guest
Casey B
1 year 9 months ago

great read. thanks for sharing.

The Foils
Member
The Foils
1 year 9 months ago

The weirdest part of this is that Punto was not sliding head first in that last GIF.

N8*K
Guest
N8*K
1 year 9 months ago

You beat me to it.

I was going to say that it couldn’t have been Punto because that batter ran through the base.

Uninterested Cat
Guest
Uninterested Cat
1 year 9 months ago

I’ve also heard people comment favorably on Hardy’s speed in relaying outfield throws to home. Something about how he’s already beginning to turn his body as he catches the ball.

Luis Matos
Member
Luis Matos
1 year 9 months ago

No hyperbole, he’s the best infielder at handling relay throws I’ve ever seen. Flawless technique in shifting his weight and turning his body towards the plate when going from catch to throw.

Is there a statistic that measures this? I’d love to see if something objective matches up with my subjective analysis.

Costanza
Guest
Costanza
1 year 9 months ago

Apologies in advance for the harshness, but your last sentence basically says, “I would like to read something objective that confirms my opinion.”

hookstrapped
Guest
hookstrapped
1 year 9 months ago

I just want to see a bunch of gods of it.

Maybe an objective measure would be time from catch to release, as with the DPs.

Derp
Guest
Derp
1 year 9 months ago

How else was that last sentence supposed to read? He made it fairly clear it was his opinion….

Fred
Guest
Fred
1 year 9 months ago

I think it can also be read (maybe more accurately) as “this is what i’ve seen… i wonder if it is true.”

Luis Matos
Member
Luis Matos
1 year 9 months ago

Did you miss the word “if”?

I come to this site sometimes to see if my subjective opinion is backed up or not by anything objective. I didn’t realize that was weird.

hookstrapped
Guest
hookstrapped
1 year 9 months ago

err… GIFs

Vil
Member
Vil
1 year 9 months ago

I was going to say the same thing.

I’ve seen a lot of Orioles shortstops, from Mark Belanger to J.J. Hardy.

I’m not going to say that Hardy handles relay throws as well as Belanger or Ripken did–they’re gods in the eyes of Orioles fans–but he was very close. He does it very well.

Angels Fan
Guest
Angels Fan
1 year 9 months ago

Where do I find these rGDP stats?

Angels Fan
Guest
Angels Fan
1 year 9 months ago

Never mind, they’re on this site too. For some reason I assumed DRS stats weren’t on Fangraphs

pft
Guest
pft
1 year 9 months ago

When are we going to get play by play, or at least game logs for defensive stats. Heck I would settle for H-A splits. Right now we take all this stuff on faith, there is no validation.

snack man
Guest
1 year 9 months ago

Yes, this is one of the least satisfying things about the defensive stats. As far as we know, they are all just black magic.

Gannondorf
Guest
Gannondorf
1 year 9 months ago

Black magic isn’t satisfying? You have much to learn.

Bonzi
Guest
Bonzi
1 year 9 months ago

I really love the state of sports writing in 2014. Great time to be a fan.

wpDiscuz