Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Batting Hardy second.

After attempting to keep Denard Span from having any children on Sunday night, Orlando Hudson has been MIA from the Twins lineup as his non-throwing wrist heals. On Tuesday, Hudson told the Star Tribune’s Joe Christensen that his wrist was feeling better, but said it would be “alright in a few days”, which means we could conceivably be graced with Hudson’s presence once again before this shortened work week ends.

Meanwhile, without his two-hitting mainstay, manager Ron Gardenhire has opted to go with shortstop JJ Hardy as the interim hitter in that spot. Unlike Hudson who has been adept at avoiding outs at this point, reaching safely in 37.7 percent of his plate appearances, Hardy has been one of the larger out-producers in the Twins’ stable. In fact, among those with at least 130 plate appearances thus far in the season, Hardy’s .283 on-base percentage is the 10th worst.

Needless to say, this is not the ideal conduit from Denard Span to Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, even if it is just a temporary solution. Outs, regardless of their productivity, are precious. Instead of simply shifting his order up one spot, thereby relocating Mauer and his lofty .392 on-base percentage into the two-slot while pushing Morneau up to the third spot where he can be guaranteed an at-bat in the first inning, which would be plausibly more efficient, the manager has injected his lineup with a heaping ton of vitamin Out.

Of course it is the manager’s preference to avoid the lefty-lefty-lefty combination in his batting order, which is where the right-handed stick in Hardy comes in. While Hardy’s bat plays second fiddle to his glove work, he has been an above-average hitting shortstop in his career and also comes with plenty of experience batting behind the leadoff hitter in Milwaukee. (Of course, Milwaukee is the same organization that continues to employ Carlos Gomez as their two-hitter in spite of a sub-.300 on-base, yeah.) What likely makes him an appealing candidate to Gardenhire is that Hardy’s contact rate has been greatly improved since his mechanics have been altered:

Hardy’s contact:













Bat control has long been one of the manager's key traits of a two-hitter.What may have also played a role in Gardenhire’s decision to use Hardy as the two-hitter is how similar the two middle infielders have handled the bat this year. Taking a look at their plate discipline, you can see that both have below average chase rates and above average contact rates:


Hardy v Hudson in 2010:



















Naturally, Hudson’s overall totals have been much better thanks to batted ball numbers. His 24 percent line drive rate has led to a .339 BABIP while Hardy’s propensity for hitting grounders has driven down his totals thanks to a .143 BABIP on those wormburners. Likewise, Hudson has drawn walks in 9 percent of his plate appearances while Hardy has done so in just 6 percent, resulting in a greater deviation in their on-base percentages.


To be sure, Hudson should return to lineup in a matter of a few days and all offensive order should be restored and the discussion over the two-hitter strategy will be moot. The takeaway from this is that Hardy hasn’t been all that different from Hudson when you break it down to the brass tax. Both are marginal when it comes to drawing walks and Hudson has accelerated thanks to a very good line drive rate. If Hardy continues to exercise the same plate discipline has he has in the first two months of the season, we could witness solid production as the season continues along, regardless of where he hits in the order.

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