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February 6, 2014

Tale of the Tape

J.J. Hardy vs. Xander Bogaerts

by Wilson Karaman


Today’s “Tale of the Tape” will look at a quintessential grizzled veteran vs. young gun matchup as we debate the merits of two AL East shortstops, Baltimore’s J.J. Hardy and Boston’s Xander Bogaerts.

Hardy’s been one of the better power options at short for several years now, owning the fifth-best ISO among big-league shortstops since his breakout campaign as a 24-year-old in 2007. Now entering his age-31 season, he’s as good a bet as any middle infielder to hit you 20-plus homers and give you 140-160 R+RBI this year. In the other corner, Bogaerts is a consensus top-three prospect in all of baseball after a breakout post-season debut last fall that saw him hit .296/.412/.496 in October for the eventual World Series Champions. Bogaerts will be ranked among the third-base tiers per our internal discussions, but he would’ve rated as a borderline two-to-three-star player on Paul’s SS rankings. That would have put him right around the same ballpark as Hardy, who checked in at the back end of tier three. Let’s see if we can shed a little more light on where Bogaerts would’ve/could’ve/should’ve slotted in among shortstops, at least relative to Hardy.

Batting Average
Hardy is a .260 hitter over the course of almost 4,600 career plate appearances, and he’s managed that average despite a routinely below-average BABIP number that sits at .273 for his career. He hits a lot of popups and doesn’t hit a lot of line drives, and when he runs into an “unlucky” year, it hurts that much more, because his normal AVG range is that much lower to start. He’s tossed up two clunker seasons of sub-.240-average work in his last five, and he does not carry the kind of profile to suggest he’s likely to suddenly stumble into a .290-plus season at this point. Bogaerts, meanwhile, is a career .296 hitter in the minors, including a .315 mark over 311 Double-A at-bats and a .284 mark at Triple-A last year, all before his 21st birthday. He profiles as a player capable of posting strong batting averages routinely over the course of his big-league career. However, this seems as good a time as any to mention what will be a recurring theme of this breakdown: He’ll play the 2014 season as a 21-year-old rookie with all of 50 big-league plate appearances on his résumé. PECOTA projects a .259 average over about 500 at-bats, and I’d say that’s a very fair starting point for expectations. The fragile nature of Hardy’s batted-ball profile and the immense relative upside for Bogaerts push this category narrowly in the rookie’s favor, but at least for now, that gap is not as large as it’ll likely be a couple of years down the line.

Slight Advantage: Bogaerts

On-Base Percentage
While Hardy’s managed to more or less hold his own in the batting-average department, his OBP skills are subpar and the main driver of his below-average career OPS+ and wRC+ marks. His career seven percent walk rate is propped up by a more patient approach earlier in his career. In fact, since his arrival in Baltimore three years ago his approach changed rather dramatically from a guy who swung at 21-24 percent of balls to one who consistently hacks at over 30 percent of pitches outside the strike zone. He’s posted walk rates south of six percent in each of the past three seasons, and his .298 OBP during that span ranks 22nd among 28 qualifying shortstops. Bogaerts boasts a 10 percent career minor-league walk rate, and he backed that up with 11 walks in his first 84 big league plate appearances between the regular and post-seasons last year (that’s a 13.1 percent rate). Rookie-year adjustments notwithstanding, he’s a patient enough hitter who, barring a worst-case scenario of misfortune and struggle, should be able to work his way on base at a better rate than Hardy right out of the gate.

Advantage: Bogaerts

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Related Content:  Prospects,  Fantasy,  Shortstops,  Xander Bogaerts,  J.J. Hardy

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<< Previous Article
Premium Article Prospects Will Break Y... (02/05)
<< Previous Column
Fantasy Article Tale of the Tape: Juri... (01/30)
Next Column >>
Fantasy Article Tale of the Tape: Evan... (02/13)
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