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J.J. "Hacker" Hardy?

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When JJ Hardy was optioned down to AAA Nashville on August 12, he had offered at the first pitch in only 34 of 417 plate appearances, or 8.15% of the time. That number, while still low, was evidence he was being much more aggressive than he had been early in the season. However, his competition for the coveted Taking the First Pitch award went through a similar change over the course of the season, and Hardy's 8.15% would place him near the top of the relevant NL leaderboard*. NL hitters overall swing at the first pitch about 27% of the time.

However, since Hardy returned to the majors on September 1, he's been much more aggressive. His start on Friday brought his September total to 8 first pitch swings in 34 plate appearances. That doesn't sound like a lot, but it comes out to 23.53% of the time, almost three times more often than the pre-September Hardy.

It's tempting to chalk up his different approach to the team telling him to be more aggressive at the plate before sending him down or once he returned, but I believe his "aggressive" streak actually dates further back. On June 23, the Brewers returned from Detroit ready to face the Twins. In 257 plate appearances prior to that date, Hardy had swung at the first pitch 11 times, or 4.28%. Between June 23 and June 28, he swung at the first pitch in 7 of 25 plate appearances. While he obviously didn't maintain that pace, he has swung at the first pitch in 30 of 194 plate appearances (15.46%) since June 23.

It is also possible to look at if pitchers pound the zone with Hardy at bat. Overall in the NL, pitchers start a plate appearance with a strike or ball in play 58% of the time. About 11% of the time, that first pitch ends the at bat, so approximately 47% of plate appearances leaguewide start with a strike. Looking at Hardy's numbers, 54% of his plate appearances start with a strike or ball in play. About 5% of the time he puts the first pitch in play, so nearly 50% of his plate appearances start with a strike. That difference of 2-3% works out to him starting with a strike in ten to fifteen more plate appearances than an average NL hitter. I expected more, especially since it has always been pretty obvious he is willing to look at the first pitch. Here is the breakdown of the first pitches in each of his 451 plate appearances:

205 called strikes
204 balls
22 balls put into play (6 hits)
11 fouls
9 swinging strikes

Only time will tell if this aggressive JJ Hardy is here to stay. He still isn't swinging at as many first pitches as an average hitter but 6 hits in 19 at bats means hitting the first pitch has actually helped his overall numbers. At the very least, it's a discernible shift in the approach to hitting from someone who has struggled over the course of the season. The results of Hardy's 42 first pitch swings are after the jump.

* - you may note the plate appearance totals are a little off from otherwise listed totals. STATS says this is due to plays on the basepaths ending innings. I think there's a little more to it than that, but either way, it doesn't change the numbers too much.

# Date vs. Pitcher Result
1 April 18 vs. Johan Santana Groundout to SS
2 April 21 vs. Jamie Moyer Groundout to SS
3 April 30 vs. Jon Rauch Flyout to LF
4 May 3 vs. Yusmeiro Petit Strike swinging
5 May 9 vs. Ryan Dempster Strike swinging
6 May 21 vs. Roy Oswalt Strike swinging
7 May 31 vs. Micah Owings Sacrifice fly to CF
8 June 5 vs. Jair Jurrjens Single to RF
9 June 9 vs. Jason Hammel Groundout to SS
10 June 14 vs. Mark Buehrle Foul bunt
11 June 17 vs. Greg Aquino Sacrifice fly to CF
12 June 23 vs. RA Dickey Single to LF
13 June 25 vs. Scott Baker Foul (runner going)
14 June 25 vs. Joe Nathan Strike swinging
15 June 26 vs. Matt Cain Strike swinging
16 June 26 vs. Matt Cain Bunt single to P
17 June 27 vs. Barry Zito Foul
18 June 28 vs. Ryan Sadowski Groundout to SS
19 July 2 vs. Ryan Dempster Strike swinging
20 July 4 vs. Rich Harden Foul bunt
21 July 17 vs. Bronson Arroyo Foul bunt popfly to C
22 July 18 vs. Aaron Harang Foul flyout to RF
23 July 20 vs. Ross Ohlendorf Strike swinging
24 July 20 vs. Jeff Karstens Groundout to 3B
25 July 24 vs. Javier Vazquez Double to CF
26 July 25 vs. Tommy Hanson Groundout to SS
27 July 27 vs. Craig Stammen Flyout to CF
28 July 29 vs. Logan Kensing Foul
29 July 30 vs. Sean Burnett Sacrifice bunt to 3B
30 July 31 vs. Edward Mujica Foul
31 August 1 vs. Clayton Richard Groundout to P
32 August 4 vs. Hiroki Kuroda Strike swinging
33 August 7 vs. Bud Norris Foul
34 September 2 vs. Chris Carpenter Foul
35 September 2 vs. Chris Carpenter Groundout to 1B
36 September 2 vs. Jason Motte Foul
37 September 6 vs. Jonathan Sanchez Strike swinging
38 September 6 vs. Jonathan Sanchez Foul
39 September 18 vs. Bud Norris Foul
40 September 18 vs. Bud Norris Groundout to SS
41 September 18 vs. Jeff Fulchino Single to CF
42 September 19 vs. Brian Moehler Double to CF