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Q&A: J.J. Hardy on Shortstop Defense

J.J. Hardy receives a lot of accolades for his bat, and rightly so. He hit 30 home runs last season, which tied him with Troy Tulowitzi for the most among big-league shortstops. He also can flash the leather. According to The Fielding Bible, “J.J. Hardy could be the most underrated shortstop in baseball. He makes all the plays that he should and can make the exceptional play on occasion.”

Hardy discussed the ins and outs of playing shortstop when he and his Baltimore Orioles teammates visited Fenway Park last week.

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On The Fielding Bible saying that he gets to more balls to his right than he did when he played for Milwaukee: “I don’t have a reason as to why that might be. It’s not that I worked on it the last couple of years. Maybe I play a little bit farther to the right than I did before, although we don’t really position any differently here. We go over the same scouting reports and I feel that I play guys who are pull [hitters] in the same spots as before.”

On reading the ball off the bat: “I’ve always felt that I read the ball well and get good jumps, because even though the speed isn’t there, I get to a lot of balls. I read swing path, the pitch — basically, I look in the zone. I see the ball out of the corner of my eye, see their swing, and read it that way. It’s kind of hard to describe. I guess it’s more of an instinct thing.”

On positioning and changing leagues: “With the BATS system and everything else that’s available, I think every shortstop — and every position player — has a pretty good idea of where players hit the ball. There’s a lot of data supporting that. You see it on paper, which is a lot easier than having to study everyone’s swing on video.

“Before every series, [third base coach] DeMarlo Hale will look at the data. He’ll print out the charts, which show where every ball is hit off of lefties and righties. We kind of go off of that. I also know players better. This is my eighth season in the big leagues and maybe that helps me cheat a little bit.

“You get to know certain guys and when you change leagues you don’t see them anymore and have to learn new guys. Another thing is your own pitchers — at first you don’t know how they throw the ball. Do they throw sinkers or cutters, and how do hitters react to their pitches? You have to learn that.”

On assessing an opposing player‘s defense: “We see so many plays on SportsCenter and on Baseball Tonight. We don’t see every game, obviously. It’s a lot easier to judge somebody when you see them for 162 games versus 18 games, or just on highlights.

“I think [defensive play] can kind of be equivalent to a guy who hits .300, but it’s a lot of infield hits and bloopers. He doesn’t really drive the ball, so he hits what you might say is a soft .300. You can’t judge based on just a couple of the numbers. You have to see him play and also look a little deeper [into his defensive statistics].”

On Adam Everett and Brendan Ryan: “I used to watch Adam Everett when he was with Houston and I was in Milwaukee. I really liked the way he played shortstop. That’s who I would say was my favorite shortstop at the time. I liked the way he fielded the ball. He didn’t play too many balls off to the side. He’d get in front of everything. I see a lot of guys now fielding balls off to the side and miss them, and they turn into hits instead of errors. And a lot of times you’ll see plays that look like really good plays, but then you kind of think, ‘Why did he make it like that?’ That was something I never saw Adam Everett do. He never tried to look flashy, he just made the play.

“Brendan Ryan has a lot of range. I played against him in the National League, too. That’s another thing. When he was in St. Louis, he would play so far over in the six hole. He’d be over toward the third baseman, more so than anybody else. Balls that righties would hit in the six hole, he’d make that play, versus guys who would be playing straight-up. It can be hard to assess range, because you can position hitters differently. Ryan obviously has a lot of range, though. He gets to a lot of balls.”

On his personal style: “I’d characterize my style as not having much style. I try to just catch the ball and throw the ball. I don’t try to be flashy. I just try to make every play that I can. If it’s hit in my direction, I expect to make the play.”