Over the past three seasons, no shortstop has hit more home runs than J.J. Hardy. In fact, The Baltimore Orioles’ star has even slugged more dingers than Troy Tulowitzki, Asdrubal Cabrera and Hanley Ramirez.
But the very shortstop with a penchant for hitting home runs has yet to connect for one in 2014. Over his first 178 plate appearances, Hardy has posted a stellar .303 batting average, park-adjusted 94 OPS+ and 11 doubles—but zero home runs.
So how is it that despite sporting a high batting average (it’s 43 points above his career rate) and reasonable OBP+ (it’s only two points below his career rate), that Hardy is sitting at zero home runs?
On the surface, Hardy isn’t hitting fewer fly balls this year than he has over his career. The Orioles’ infielder is currently wielding a 39.2 percent fly ball percentage (FB%)—which is on par with his career 38.8 percent FB%.
But, per Baseball Heat Maps, the 31-year-old’s fly balls are only averaging 273.04 feet. That’s exactly 10 feet fewer on average than in 2013.
|Year||Avg. Fly Ball (Ft.)|
If Hardy’s fly balls are falling 10 feet shorter on average than his fly balls last season, he’s obviously putting himself in a difficult situation to hit a home run.
But the real question is: Why are his fly balls falling 10 feet shorter on average?
According to Brooks Baseball, from 2011 to 2013, 30.4 percent of Hardy’s fly balls came from pitches thrown in the middle section of the zone.
That metric has fallen 12.8 percent this season to a mere 17.6 percent.
To make matters worse, 35.5 percent of Hardy’s total home runs from 2011 to 2013 came from pitches throw in the middle section of the zone.
So if Hardy isn’t hitting many fly balls—and thus, diminishing his home run opportunities—from pitches throw in the middle section of the zone, what type of batted ball is he producing?
The answer: popups.
Similar to the shortstop’s demise in the fly ball department, Hardy has witnessed a noticeable spike in his popups from pitches thrown in the middle section of the zone. Hardy’s popups percentage (PU%) has gone from 8.7 percent in 2011 to 2013 to a massive 19.6 percent this season.
|MIDDLE SECTION OF THE ZONE|
While the trend is worrisome, J.J. Hardy still has plenty of time to turn around his season. If the slugger makes the proper adjustments to how he approaches pitches throw in the middle section of the zone, there’s no reason why his reign as the best home run hitting shortstop in baseball would be in danger.