Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Watching J.J. Hardy Hit
It may sound strange following a 1-5 homestand in which the team hit a measly .116 with runners in scoring position, but the Brewers actually haven't been that bad with RISP this year. In fact, they're a hair above average both in the NL and for all of MLB. Their performance with RISP mirrors their hitting overall: slightly above average at getting on base and a little more above average in power.
As with all team batting numbers, some players inflate the average and some bring it down. The usual suspects are atop the team leaderboard: Prince Fielder and Casey McGehee are cleaning up with RISP, while Felipe Lopez and Ryan Braun are close behind. Craig Counsell is sitting right at the team average. Jason Kendall is contributing at a rate slightly below his overall numbers, which is to say he isn't doing much at all. However, there is one Brewer struggling even more than Kendall with runners on second or third: J.J. Hardy.
Through yesterday's game, J.J. Hardy is hitting .190/.272/.241 in 137 plate appearances with RISP in 2009. His 137 PA is good for fourth-most on the team, behind Fielder, Braun, and Cameron. He is one of only ten major leaguers to bat 100 times with runners in scoring position this season and put up an OPS under .600. For the record: the others are Robinson Cano, Ivan Rodriguez, Dioner Navarro, Emilio Bonifacio, the aforementioned Kendall, Rick Ankiel, Vernon Wells, Rafael Furcal, and Mike Fontenot. This isn't new for Hardy, either. Last year he sputtered to a .609 OPS in 160 plate appearances. He has matched his 2008 RISP RBI total in 23 fewer tries, though, so it's not all bad in 2009.
Now, it's not with an eye to sullying Hardy's reputation even further that I'm posting all this. Consider, for example, that the past two seasons have totaled fewer than 400 plate appearances with RISP. That's about four months' worth of at bats. Certainly it's not enough to judge a player's ability. Consider also his work with RISP in his first three seasons: a robust .298/.393/.440 line. For whatever reason, the last two seasons have not been kind to Hardy with runners on second or third. Maybe the baseball gods don't like soap operas. Who knows.
Whatever the reason, it doesn't take away from the fact his season in 2009 has been historic. If he doesn't play another game this season, he would finish with the third-worst OPS with RISP in a season in team history, minimum 100 plate appearances.
I guess we know now why the 1972 team was hard up for runs. I included RBI because I think it's interesting that Hardy has already beaten everyone on this list. The next-lowest OPS for someone with 35 or more RBI is Charlie Moore's .567 in 1982.
Tim Johnson's appearance brings up another interesting point. Baseball-reference has something called tOPS+ for each player's splits. It basically compares his OPS in the split to his overall OPS. Like OPS+, anything over 100 means he did better in that split than overall. Johnson actually had a 112 tOPS+ for that anemic 1973 performance with RISP. He was just an awful hitter. He also had a pretty strange ending to his managerial stint with Toronto.
You may suspect that Hardy shows up on a tOPS+ leaderboard as well. You would be correct. In fact, he shows up twice on the list of 10 worst seasons with RISP in terms of tOPS+. I guess a better way to say it would be that these guys suddenly lost their ability to hit when runners were on second or third.
Hardy still has the better part of a month (albeit not starting consistently) to work his way off these lists. A brief hot streak should do the trick, though it's hard to see how he could reverse his recent futility that drastically. Then again, stranger things have happened. Since it seems obvious Hardy will not be back in Milwaukee in 2010, it will be interesting to see if a change of scenery and coaching staff brings his performance with runners in scoring position back in line with his overall totals.