Detroit Tigers rumors: is JJ Hardy the right target?

Sourced rumors are starting to swirl that the Detroit Tigers are engaged in talks to move Rick Porcello in a 3-way deal. The other teams rumored to be involved are the Chicago Cubs and Baltimore Orioles.

If a deal like this were to go down, it means that the Tigers are most likely targeting Baltimore’s JJ Hardy to be the new shortstop in Motown. The obvious questions that follow are:

  1. How much should the Tigers expect to get in return by moving an everyday infielder (as Jhonny Peralta would have to be moved in that deal) and a 24-year old starting pitcher?
  2. Is JJ Hardy worth the trouble?

Moving Rick Porcello alone should net something solid for the Tigers. He is a young pitcher with gobs of experience who is still a few years away from entering merely the beginning of his prime. Detroit’s problem with Porcello is he lacks a true strikeout pitch and as a result just gives up way too many hits.

JJ Hardy

JJ Hardy

When a team has an infield that is as defensively challenged as that of the Tigers, strikeout pitchers are vital to success. A stat that I’ve mentioned before that bears repeating is that when you tally up Detroit’s Big 4 in the rotation and then throw in Drew Smyly you get 868 strikeouts in 2012 covering just 882.2 innings of work. Porcello K’d 107 in 176.1 innings. Simply put: he just doesn’t fit in anymore.

If the Tigers add Peralta to the Porcello deal, it seems reasonable that they could land another starting shortstop in return (i.e. Hardy) and maybe even some potential bullpen help. And who knows, such a 3-way deal might also prove to be the ideal time to ship Brennan Boesch out of town if it enhances the return package that much more.

But is JJ Hardy worth all the fuss? I monitored Twitter a bit yesterday as the news of the potential trade started to leak. By and large Tigers fans seemed excited by the idea.

I wonder if they know that Hardy hit .238 last year with a putrid .282 on-base %? Yes, the 22 homers, and 30 in 2011, are always easy on the eyes, but Hardy lacks the entire offensive package and always has.

It can be argued that aside from 2008 and 2011, easily Hardy’s best years of production, that Peralta has been the more complete offensive performer. Jhonny’s career average is .264, Hardy’s is .259. Peralta has historically gotten on base at a .327 clip as compared to .314 by Hardy. Their slugging and OPS numbers are virtually identical.

So if you’re excited about a possible boon to the offense as a result of this swap, you better reconsider. Hardy would likely see a drop in his home run production if he played half of his games in Comerica Park as well.

I think we can all agree that the Tigers are clearly after an upgrade at defense and a probable wash offensively if they make this move.

Anyone who watches the Tigers knows that Peralta’s range leaves much to be desired. In fact, a lot of the people reading this article probably have better lateral quickness than he does. But the Tigers have hung their hat on the fact that when he gets to a ball, he almost always makes the play. The numbers bear that out.

In 595 total chances in 2012, Peralta made just 7 errors. But Hardy was even better. He amassed 779 total chances and committed just 6 errors for a sterling .992 fielding percentage. Hardy helped turn 113 double plays to just 75 by Peralta.

Defensive Wins Above Replacement (DWAR) is one metric used to measure a player’s value on defense. Hardy posted a DWAR of 2.8 in 2012 compared to just 0.7 for Peralta. The translation is that Hardy would have earned the Tigers 2 extra wins based on his defense. 2 wins doesn’t sound like much, but as we saw with a tight pennant race last year, they can loom large in the standings late in September.

Look back a bit further and the issue gets a little more clouded. The 3 years prior to last season, Hardy’s DWAR’s were 0.7, 0.1, and 1.5. 2012 was by far his best year defensively. At age 30, will there be more to come or was it merely an outlier in an otherwise average defensive career? During those same 3 years, Peralta posted numbers of 0.7 (splitting time at 3B and SS), 1.0, and 1.0.

Peralta has never had a great year defensively, or even a really good year for that matter. At least Hardy has the ability to give that to the Tigers. He’s quicker on his feet and will throw a few extra outs on the board over the course of several weeks as a result.

Contractually, Peralta is likely in the last year of his run as a Tiger. Hardy is signed through 2014 and will make a shade over $7.4M each of the next 2 years. So, he is affordable and not a 1-year rental, which increases the attraction level for potential suitors.

Of course, none of this has happened yet and is all merely rumor. GM Dave Dombrowski has surprised us all before when it seems like he has locked in on one target and suddenly swoops in and grabs an off the radar guy as his man.

In what has turned into a fairly intriguing offseason due to some free agent spending, the Tigers seem likely to have one big splash left in them. What Dombrowski must weigh is whether the potential of the 2 extra wins per year that Hardy might give them, along with perhaps some other spare parts for the bullpen, is worth completely depleting the top-end starting pitching depth in the system, which is what Porcello’s exit will cause.

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  • jrohlman

    i would like to see Hardy in a Tiger uniform but not at the expense of Porcello who should be kept on the team for long relief and spot starter when the inevitable injuries pop up to the other SP…I believe that Dombo is trying to win a WS before Illitch moves on to the after life and will do what ever it takes..

  • Jim

    Peralta turned a double play every 12.6 times per chance, Hardy every 14.5 per chance,
    Peralta tuened the double play 1.9 times more each chance than Hardy.

  • Keith Richards

    If those two wins come in the WS, do it.

  • itsfun

    I still don’t have a problem with Danny Worth at Shortstop. He has excellent range and a fine arm. With the lineup the Tigers have, they can afford his bat in the lineup. He should hit around 240 with doubles. If Worth is at shortstop, Rick Porcello becomes a better pitcher. He get batters to hit ground balls. With Worth at short he will improve his stats and people will say how much he has improved and forget that Worth is making plays that haven’t been made in 3 years at shortstop. Its a team effort, better infield defense makes Porcello a much better pitcher and you don’t need to make a trade. Maybe just play Worth when Porcello pitches or any pitcher that gets ground balls.

    • Joe White

      It’s hard to argue with that line of thinking. With Peralta on the roster though, Worth would be limited to 1-2 games/week. Seems like the Tigers are intent on moving Porcello and upgrading at short if at all possible. I love Worth’s defense too.

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  • BobWhite

    From what you reported Joe, I do not like the deal.

  • Joe White

    Right. I think the premise of this trade rumor would definitely include Porcello and Peralta. Boesch is debatable.

  • Vince in MN

    A straight up Peralta for Hardy swap would AT BEST be even. Hardy has the better glove, but offensively he would be a downgrade even against Peralta’s poor ’12 season. How much is that glovework really worth in the particular circumstances. IMO the drop in offense would not be worth it, and I would need to see a bigger return than just Hardy. The Tigers still would like to trade Porcello and Boesch, so perhaps that is why a three-way deal has been rumored.