With human vacuum Alcides Escobar ready for everyday play and incumbent shortstop J.J. Hardy turning in a disappointing 2009 season, the Milwaukee Brewers were determined to shop Hardy this offseason.
It didn’t take long for the Brew Crew to find a trade partner, as the Minnesota Twins acquired Hardy today in exchange for center fielder Carlos Gomez.
Because of a demotion to the minor leagues in August, Hardy will be under team control for the 2010 and 2011 seasons (he would have been eligible for free agency following 2010 without the unwelcomed Nashville vacation).
The 27 year-old is a slick fielder in his own right, but his lumber was MIA in 2009. Hardy posted a solid .338 wOBA in 2007, then followed that up with a .355 mark in 2008.
This past year, though? J.J. turned in a .292 wOBA. After compiling +3.5 Park-Adjusted Batting Runs in ’07 and +13.7 in ’08, Hardy sunk to -13.2 in 2009.
What happened to Hardy’s bat, and can we expect a rebound in 2010?
The first thing that jumps out about Hardy’s line is his .264 BABIP, well below his .306 mark in 2008 and his career .280 BABIP.
Hardy’s career BABIP is fairly low, likely because he had lofty infield/fly ball rates from 2005-2008 (pop ups are near automatic outs). And, Hardy did post a very low line drive rate in 2009 (13.9 percent).
But even so, J.J. was unlucky on balls put in play in 2009. He actually didn’t pop the ball up excessively (9.1 IF/FB%), taking away one possible cause of the low BABIP. Using this expected BABIP tool from The Hardball Times, we get a .306 XBABIP for Hardy, based on his HR, K, SB, line drive rate, fly balls, pop ups and ground balls.
Even assuming all hits were singles, that would raise Hardy’s triple-slash from .229/.302/.357 to a less-wretched .271/.344/.399. His power was down in ’09 (.128 ISO, .166 career average), but his adjusted line equates to a wOBA of roughly .330. That’s a little better than Hardy’s career .325 wOBA. Essentially, his 2009 performance wasn’t all that different from his overall level of play at the major league level.
Heading into 2010, owners should expect Hardy to be neither the offensive stud of 2008 nor the offensive dud of 2009. Hardy looks like a slightly above-average big league hitter. Considering that J.J. is a plus defender at a premium position, it looks as though the Twins got exceptional value here.
Going to Milwaukee is Gomez, who is under team control until 2013. In February of 2008, the Dominican Republic native was the principal prospect acquired in the Johan Santana blockbuster. Now, Gomez heads back to the N.L., presumably replacing pending free agent Mike Cameron.
Turning 24 in December, Gomez derives almost all of his value from his legs. The 6-4, 215 pound righty has yet to show much ability at the dish. His career wOBA in 1,100+ PA is .286. Gomez has walked just 5.1 percent of the time, while hacking at 35.1% of pitches thrown out of the strike zone (his O-Swing% was 29.9 in 2009).
Gomez has a peculiar profile at the plate. He’s as speedy as they come (7.6 career Speed Score, compared to an MLB average around five). Yet, his career groundball rate is just 44.4%, near the MLB average. The former Mets prospect does just about nothing with the fly balls that he hits.
His major league HR/FB rate is 4.6%. Gomez has a career .373 slugging percentage on fly balls. For reference, the AL average was .603 in 2009. When he isn’t hitting harmless flies, Gomez is popping the ball up at an alarming rate. His career IF/FB% is 16.1%.
Given Gomez’s lack of pop and his issues with fastballs (career -1.33 runs per 100 pitches), Milwaukee’s new fly catcher has seen a surprisingly low proportion of heaters (52.6 percent). Of course, he hasn’t really lit it up against sliders (-0.26), curves (-0.37) or changeups (-2.17), either.
Gomez’s wheels are what keep him on the fantasy radar. He swiped 12 out of 15 bags in 2007, 33 in 44 attempts in 2008 and a less-impressive 14-for-21 in 2009. Gomez has a 73.8% SB success rate in the majors.
At the present moment, Gomez is one of those “more valuable in regular baseball than fantasy” guys. He covers a ton of ground in the field (career +14.2 UZR/150 in CF), but he is totally lost at the plate. Owners jonesing for steals will be interested, and it’s possible that Gomez will show something more offensively, given his relative youth. But as the old saying goes, you can’t steal first base.