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J.J. Hardy: the best shortstop in baseball?

Aug 13, 2013, 5:10 PM EDT

JJ Hardy Getty Getty Images

I didn’t see this, but reliable correspondents tell me that Billy Ripken was on MLB Network a few minutes ago and said that J.J. Hardy was the best shortstop in baseball. The general idea was that he was reliable and played every day and “started the 6-4-3 double play.” Which, man, if he didn’t do that he’d be fired for not carrying out his job responsibilities. Or at least would get written up by his supervisor.

But I’m not sure on what planet that makes him the best in the game. He’s reliable and sure-handed and has some pop, but I think I’d take Troy Tulowitzki, Andrelton Simmons, Hanley Ramirez, Ian Desmond and maybe a couple of others over him. Long term his teammate Manny Machado is a better bet at shortstop than Hardy is.

Which isn’t to slight Hardy. Just to say that this is the flipside of that stuff I talked about with Alfonso Soriano yesterday. Just as we seem to have a hard time talking about some players without being negative due to things like contracts and expectations, there are some players we can’t seem to praise without going crazy and talking about them in terms that are wild exaggerations. Ask Michael Young — also a very good player — who has been talked up as the best or one of the best far too much. Doesn’t take away from what he is, but certainly distorts the conversation about him.

Is it a TV thing? Are you trained as an analyst to say extreme things like “J.J. Hardy is the best shortstop in baseball” because saying “J.J. Hardy is good and solid” is considered too boring? Is this just an ex-ballplayer thing? I dunno. But I feel like we have a tremendous difficulty, overall, properly assessing most ballplayers due to a tendency to say some are the best ever and some are the worst ever while ignoring the fact that the vast, vast majority of ballplayers fit in neither category.

  1. randallmyhandle - Aug 13, 2013 at 5:14 PM

    Billy Ripkin is a big, bald, idiot. At least when Uncle Fester opens his mouth he puts a light bulb in it.

    • manute - Aug 13, 2013 at 5:20 PM

      Wrong site to mock someone for lack of hair.

    • sportsfanjay - Aug 13, 2013 at 5:22 PM

      It’s Ripken you dolt. Learn how to spell and then you can insult people you don’t even know Lurch.

      • bendover09 - Aug 13, 2013 at 6:33 PM


    • rayricepudding - Aug 14, 2013 at 11:13 AM

      No doubt that Tulo and Hanley are better, but would you rather have the single most reliable shortstop in baseball or a guy who can’t stay healthy. Enter Desmond into the discussion: Not a great glove, but a solid bat. I’d probably rather have Jean Segura than Desmond – why no love for him? Neither is really a plus fielder, and Segura has already eclipsed the value Desmond adds on offense. Andrelton Simmons is probably the only guy on this list who may be a better fielder than Hardy, and while he may grow into his bat, he’s not there yet. I think Hardy very well may be the best overall shortstop in baseball right now – not for the future, but right now. I wouldn’t say that if not for Hanley and Tulo’s injury woes, but you have to factor that into the value a player is providing his team THIS YEAR.

    • stlouis1baseball - Aug 14, 2013 at 11:47 AM

      A few weeks ago someone right here on HBT referred to him as “Billy Phuqface Ripken.”
      I now routinely refer to him the same way.
      So…let’s all here it for Billy Phuqface Ripken!

  2. gothapotamus90210 - Aug 13, 2013 at 5:19 PM

    What a fuck face.

    • stlouis1baseball - Aug 14, 2013 at 11:47 AM

      Hahaha! There he is. Thanks Potamus. I forgot who coined this.

  3. natslady - Aug 13, 2013 at 5:21 PM

    Probably some homerism in this article, but Desi comes to play.(Not saying JJ Hardy doesn’t.) Runs out everything. Has a gun of an arm. Fun to watch, especially considering that 2-3 seasons ago he was very frustrating to fans.

    • natslady - Aug 13, 2013 at 5:22 PM

      Oh, forgot the actual article. (edit function)

    • stoutfiles - Aug 13, 2013 at 5:33 PM

      Too bad the rest of the Nats don’t show up to play.

    • emdash01 - Aug 13, 2013 at 5:37 PM

      He’s been a lot to watch this season, along with Harper, Werth, Ramos and the three top starting pitchers. Everyone else…oy.

  4. sophiethegreatdane - Aug 13, 2013 at 5:24 PM

    Love me some JJ Hardy, but no he’s not the best in the league. Still, I’m thrilled he’s the O’s shortstop — one of my favorite players on a team of very likeable characters.

    JJ seems to fit the mold of the classic Baltimore Oriole. Understated, hardworking, reliable, the kind of guy I’d love to hang out with at Pickles and share a few Natty Bohs — or you know, some Jamesons at Life of Reilly’s. :) I find myself rooting for opposing players to hit the ball to JJ, much the way I did for years and years with Cal, and also with Mike Bordick (another fav of mine).

    Let’s go JJ!!! Wrangle some DBacks tonight!

  5. unclemosesgreen - Aug 13, 2013 at 5:24 PM

    I don’t think there’s any questions that he’s top five, and if we aren’t talking about 2 years into the future he might just be the best. I was ready to be disputatious but I started thinking and there is a current glut of high quality 2B’s but not at SS. He might be the best of a weak class.

    • emdash01 - Aug 13, 2013 at 5:36 PM

      Huh, really? Maybe it’s just because I watch a lot of NL East games, where 2nd base is the opposite of a position of strength, but I would say that there are fewer star second basemen than most positions. Cano, Pedroia, and Utley are the only three I can think of offhand.

      • unclemosesgreen - Aug 13, 2013 at 7:06 PM

        Jason Kipnis, Ian Kinsler, Brandon Phillips, Jose Altuve, Howie Kendrick, Aaron Hill, Matt Carpenter – there’s a ton of good 2B’s now whereas there are about 6 SS’s that you want in roto.

  6. uuddlrlrbastart - Aug 13, 2013 at 5:33 PM

    Ripken was filling in for Brian Kenny on MLB Now. Instead of an hour of debate of old school vs new school, as advertised, it was instead Billy Ripken and Harold Reynolds Agree With Each Other For An Hour. It was not riveting television.

    • js20011041 - Aug 13, 2013 at 5:47 PM

      It was brutal, wasn’t it? Are baseball players just stupid? Is it because they’ve been indoctrinated since they were littel? I’m just curious as to why there are virtually no current or former players that understand even the most basic tenets of modern baseball that the vast majority of front offices and intelligent fans have accepted. That things like RBIs and pitcher wins don’t actually mean anything. That the 9th inning in fact isn’t different from the 8th inning. That it’s probably not a good idea to put a guy with a sub low OBP in the leadoff spot “because he’s got speed” or in the 2 spot “because he’s got bat control.”

      • Hoss - Aug 13, 2013 at 6:08 PM

        “That the 9th inning in fact isn’t different from the 8th inning.” Maybe if you’re playing with a bunch of robots or completely lack human empathy.

      • js20011041 - Aug 13, 2013 at 8:38 PM

        The whole “the 9th inning takes a closer mentality” is a fucking myth. It literally didn’t exist more than 20 years ago. Pitchers had been closing out ballgames without some magical intestinal fortitude for more than a hundred years before this nonsense started. It’s been perpetrated by former closers who go on tv and try to expound upon the importance of their former position. Only an idiot would think that pitching the 9th inning with a 3 run lead against the opposing 7, 8, and 9 hitters is more difficult than pitching the 8th inning of a tie game against the opposing 3, 4, and 5 hitters. But that’s what we see EVERY day.

    • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Aug 13, 2013 at 6:01 PM

      If only there were a second person who understood advanced metrics in the world.

      • DJ MC - Aug 13, 2013 at 7:10 PM

        It’s MLB Network, so at this point we’re lucky to get Brian Kenny.

        About the only ex-player analyst I really find worthwhile there is Eric Byrnes, because even if he isn’t all-in on the numbers he really seems to get the balance you need to analyze the game. Which, considering how he seemed during his career, surprises the hell out of me (in the est way possible).

  7. petey1999 - Aug 13, 2013 at 5:55 PM

    “Are you trained as an analyst to say extreme things like “J.J. Hardy is the best shortstop in baseball” because saying “J.J. Hardy is good and solid” is considered too boring?”

    This is exactly the reason I can’t take these new (ESPN vs MLB.TV) guys seriously, or at all. I’ve often wondered what attributes the network talent people are looking for. In this case, was it anything more than his last name?

    • ctony1216 - Aug 13, 2013 at 7:27 PM

      Yes, it’s definitely a TV thing.

      Bad TV analysts use ridiculous superlatives, like Ripken did.
      Good TV analysts find something about that player that is superlative — like J.J. Hardy hits a lot of HRs for a SS, or has a great fielding pct., or is a Gold Glover, or flosses every day, whatever — and talks about that.

  8. nobody78 - Aug 13, 2013 at 5:58 PM

    Yes, Craig, superlatives are ALWAYS more interesting than simple assessment. He probably wouldn’t have inspired this post on is he’d said that JJ Hardy is an excellent, well-above average shortstop?

    FYI, I looked over some advanced defensive stats to try to compare Hardy to other players. Hardy ranks among the top 5 in the league by most measures. But Andrelton Simmons might be having a season for the ages. Per FanGraphs, he has a 26.6 UZR / 150 — second is Yuni Escobar, at 15.1.

    I know defensive stats are still very much in their formative stages, that they can be VERY fluky with small sample sizes and that Simmons’ sample is still very small… but the preliminary evidence suggests he could be VERY special out there. I know very little about him. Anyone know of any good articles on his play?

    • misterj167 - Aug 13, 2013 at 6:37 PM

      I watch the Braves nearly every game and Simmons is probably the best defensive shortstop since Ozzie Smith, maybe even better than Oz. What’s really amazing is that while he has a gun for an arm he doesn’t feel the need to use it on every play like Shawn Dunston did. He can make a diving stop and get up before you even know it and send a rocket to 1st base.

      He’s still learning as a hitter but he has the potential to hit .300 regularly and hit 15-25 homers a year. But even if he doesn’t pan out offensively, the number of hits and runs he prevents with his defense makes him one of the elite shortstops in the game now.

      • schniz61 - Aug 13, 2013 at 8:41 PM

        So far he IS Ozzie Smith, because Ozzie could not hit a lick his first few years either. I agree Simmons is the best defensive SS already but have you looked at his OPS? Dude.

  9. Hoss - Aug 13, 2013 at 5:59 PM

    I’d take simmons based on what is in his pants.

  10. hackerjay - Aug 13, 2013 at 6:00 PM

    I think this is actually a less crazy comment than it seems at first.
    Over the last three years according to Baseball-Reference WAR Hardy is second behind Tulowitzki, 10.6 to 10.5. Now, Tulo has had some injury issues the last three years and barely played last year, so I think there really isn’t any argument that he is the best SS in the game.

    After Tulo though, Hardy is right there, and I think you could make a decent case that he is the best in the AL. I would personally give the nod to Reyes, but it’s closer than I would have thought before looking at it.

  11. cohnjusack - Aug 13, 2013 at 6:05 PM

    MLB Network once did a segment where they asks panelists to name the greatest rookie season of all time. What resulted was the most baffingly idiocy I’ve ever seen on the network.

    It started out with Matt Vasgersian talking about Mark McGwire’s 1987, and though he hit 49 home runs, it’s not really thought of as a great rookie season. Umm…what? Says who? He lead the league in slugging, set the rookie home run record and finished 6th in the MVP voting. Who says that’s not a great rookie season?

    It got worse. Harold Reynolds named Benito Santiago’s 1987 as the best. Nevermind that McGwire and Kevin Seitzer were better, so was Matt Nokes. Yep, Benito Santiago wasn’t even the best rookie catcher that year

    Barry Larkin had Edison Volquez’s 2008 on his list…when Volquez wasn’t even a rookie.

    But Billy Ripken out did them all. He chose Gary Redus. But, not Gary Redus’s actual rookie season, but Redus’s rookie league in the Pioneer League. So, fuck you Albert Pujols, Fred Lynn, Dwight Gooden and Ted Williams. Gary Redus hitting .450 in 250 rookie league at bats is more impressive than your feats.

  12. Darkoestrada - Aug 13, 2013 at 6:06 PM

    Per fangraphs war this season

    JJ Hardy – 2.6 war
    Yunel Escobar- 3.0 war

    I don’t bring this up to knock hardy but to show Yunel is massively underrated by the mainstream because he isn’t likeable.

    • js20011041 - Aug 13, 2013 at 8:51 PM

      Much of that is defensive value. Escobar has a 690 OPS and a 94 OPS+. In other words, below average offensively. That may very well be above average for a shortstop, but I honestly don’t know. I’m not sure what to make of defensive statistics for Escobar. I’m not sure that for teams like the Rays or the Red Sox, that do so much shifting defensively, that you can take those statistics at face value.

  13. razorbyrd - Aug 13, 2013 at 6:09 PM

    any special reason why Jean Segura isn’t in this discussion?

    (and no, I’m not a Brewers fan)

    • yahmule - Aug 13, 2013 at 6:22 PM

      Wondering that myself. Hanley’s name was mentioned, so we’re not talking strictly defensive prowess.

    • biasedhomer - Aug 13, 2013 at 8:27 PM

      He put Simmons in there over guys like Segura, Andrus, Reyes, etc

      As a writer, you need to stay objective.

      • razorbyrd - Aug 13, 2013 at 9:50 PM

        I understand staying objective, but you can’t deny what Segura has done so far this year…

        114 games – 142 hits – 17 2B – 8 3B – 12 HR – 43 RBI – 62 RS – 33 SB – .311 BA – 12 E – .978 FP

        in my opinion, he deserves AT LEAST a mention in the conversation

      • km9000 - Aug 14, 2013 at 12:03 AM

        A week or so ago Ripken actually picked a SS from each division, and took Segura there. Eventually Reynolds nudged him into picking a single guy, and he went with Hardy. So his comment here may have been in reference to that earlier prepared segment, and wasn’t just off the cuff praise.

      • biasedhomer - Aug 14, 2013 at 12:18 AM

        What I’m trying to say is Simmons doesn’t belong anywhere near the conversation of best SS in baseball.

  14. rockthered1286 - Aug 13, 2013 at 6:12 PM

    Not that I consider him the best in the game, but for what it’s worth we ARE discussing a gold glove SS with more HR than any SS from ’09 to current day. Just something to mull over in the old noggin.

  15. biasedhomer - Aug 13, 2013 at 6:57 PM

    Andrelton Simmons? The guy thats part of the worst bottom of the order in MLB?

  16. DJ MC - Aug 13, 2013 at 7:21 PM

    Billy gets a lot of slack in Baltimore for being the younger brother of St. Calvin (and to his credit, a fine second baseman and utility player in his own right), but if I see him on MLB Network I’m just as likely to flip the channel as watch.

    That said, even if Hardy isn’t the best shortstop in baseball (and I’ll happily concede that spot to Tulo), he deserves a spot in the discussion.

    Since we have moved away from the brief period of dominant offensive and defensive shortstops, we are back to a point of making major trade-offs between offense and defense at the position. There are very few players who can provide both.

    Hardy is an excellent defensive shortstop. His defensive ability is truly the only thing standing in the way of Machado playing there full-time. The club considers it unlikely that they could find a third baseman who provide the same value to the club; it’s a similar situation to the Angels vacillating between Mike Trout and a healthy Peter Bourjos in center field.

    Hardy has major problems getting on-base. This is well known, and an annoyance when Buck Showalter decides to bat him second every. Single. DAMN. GAME. As he did last season. However, besides Tulo and maybe Desmond, there are few players able to be effective shortstops who have Hardy’s power. He’s hit 20 homers in three straight seasons, and with a good stretch run could break 30 for the second time in three years. Even minus the on-base skills there is value there.

  17. Dan the Mets Fan - Aug 13, 2013 at 7:41 PM

    I don’t think Hardy gets the Young-Franceour treatment. Actually, I think he is very under-rated. The man got traded for spare-parts relievers a couple of years ago and nobody blinked. That said, he is pretty clearly not anywhere near the best shortstop in baseball. He’s probably the best non-elite shortstop in baseball though. He can definitely come play for the Mets any day and I’ll be happy.

  18. mlblogsbig3bosox - Aug 13, 2013 at 8:08 PM

    Ummm.. Andrelton Simmons? I know his defense is at least top-3 in the league but his offense leaves too much to be desired…

  19. spyder9669 - Aug 13, 2013 at 11:45 PM

    Any SS conversation that doesn’t include Brandon Crawford is invalid.

    Start again.

  20. janessa31888 - Aug 14, 2013 at 7:23 AM

    Id take him over Asdrubal Cabrera. I pray that the ball DOES NOT get hit to him. The errors are coming more often lately.

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