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Can J.J. Hardy Bounce Back in 2010?

October 27, 2009 BY ALEX EISENBERG 2 Comments

It was a disastrous year for J.J. Hardy in 2009. He had just come off seasons that put him amongst the top-10 shortstops in the game, he was just entering his prime, and he was a year away from cashing in on free agency.

However, Hardy collapsed. His numbers dropped across the board, he was sent down to the minors, which forced him to wait another year to enter free agency, and he lost his job to an up-and-coming shortstop in the Brewers farm system. That’s quite a steep fall from grace.

Now Hardy will enter this offseason likely awaiting word of where he’ll play next. The writing is basically on the wall: Hardy will be traded. For the team that takes a chance on Hardy, it’s important to know what went wrong and can he get back on track?

For hitters that experience a sudden drop it production without a decline in skill, it’s often a mental problem. When a hitter is comfortable and in their own element, the game slows down, the ball looks bigger (scientific studies have corroborated this), and they don’t think — everything seems to come naturally.

But when a hitter struggles, the ball gets smaller, they start overthinking, and that’s the last thing you want to do when you only have about a second to decipher a pitch’s type, its break, and then its location.

So for Hardy, that is what it turned into, but how did he get to that point? Looking at Hardy’s quotes, it seems like it started out as a mechanical issue as it often does in cases like this:

“My stance in spring training was way different than it’s ever been, and I felt real comfortable,” said Hardy, one of the club’s top hitters during exhibition play. “Then, the season started and I lost that comfort zone, and I could never find anything close to that again.”

And then it turned mental:

“So, should I go back to what I was working on in spring training that felt so good? Or do I go back to ’07? Or do I go back to the middle of ’08? There were so many different things to think about, I couldn’t get comfortable. I was getting all kinds of advice, but it was just too much.”

As I gathered clips of Hardy, it was interesting to see how he’s been changing his mechanics since 2007. Here is Hardy lined in 2007, 2008, 4-09, 5-09, and 6-09 from left to right:

*Credit to MLB Advanced Media

Notice how as time progresses, Hardy’s stance becomes more open and the arms more extended and then see how he gradually becomes less open though he mostly keeps the arms extended.

Now, a hitter can open and close their stance and have their swings remain fundamentally the same. Often times, a hitter will open up their stance so they have an easier time getting around on stuff that is hard and in. Inside pitches have tended to be one of Hardy’s weaknesses in the past.

But did anything about Hardy’s swing fundamentally change? It’s really difficult to tell…nothing jumped out at me immediately. There were some aspects of his mechanics where I could see how problems might develop but again, the fundamental aspects of his mechanics were pretty much the same as they’ve been since 2007.

Hardy generates excellent bat speed and considerable torque, while possessing good hand-eye coordination and the ability to consistently put the ball on the bat head. But the swing itself isn’t particularly pretty.

For instance, Hardy will sometimes have a very pronounced arm bar, which lengthens the swing and makes it harder for him to get to pitches on the inner half of the plate (perhaps that’s why he decided to open up his stance?). To fully grasp what the arm bar is, focus on Hardy’s left arm in the clip below:

*Credit to MLB Advanced Media

See how his lead arm is essentially fully extended? That is Hardy’s arm bar. It’s possible his swing got a bit long as the 2009 season progressed. A little unrelated, but check out the torque Hardy generates. He strides forward, while simultaneously moving the torso back. He’s able to create significant separation between the torso and hips.

If you look at the line up of stances, after he toe taps and strides, his stride isn’t as linear as it was during his other stances, especially his pre-2009 stances. He looks like he strides more in the direction of the shortstop, which might cause his hips to fly open, leaving him susceptible to pitches on the outside corner of the plate. But I do want you to keep in mind that this problem might just be related to this particular pitch.

With that being said, Parker Hageman of Over the Baggy noted that Hardy definitely had issues with left handers pitching him away last season.

I think the offseason will do a lot of good for Hardy. Sometimes, things snowball on a player and they can’t get back into a comfort zone. It happened to Jason Bay (though a knee injury probably contributed in part to his struggles), but he was able to bounce back in a big way.

As I said earlier, I don’t think Hardy’s tools declined in any way. It’s my opinion that his problems were mainly mental and it turned into something physical. I think an offseason to think things over, get his mechanics back in order, and perhaps get a trade to a new team will allow Hardy to get a fresh start to his career.

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    • Andy said:

      Awesome article.

    • Alex Eisenberg (author) said:

      Thanks Andy, definitely much appreciated.