Was injured Hardy O’s best shortstop?

Remember when J.J. Hardy was a power-hitting shortstop? Yeah. Not so much anymore. Still, his numbers this season are pretty shocking. Well, turns out he’s been playing hurt – playing badly hurt – since coming off the DL back in early May. From The Baltimore Sun’s Eduardo A. Encina:

Hardy missed the first 25 games of the season with what the Orioles called a left shoulder sprain injury that occurred during spring training, but Hardy said the injury was a torn labrum all along.

The 33-year-old Hardy has dealt with a variety of other injuries this season, including lower back spasms, a sore oblique and a right groin strain.

–snip–

Hardy said he’s restricted his swing all season, overcompensating with his top hand because of concern of re-aggravating the shoulder on his backswing. He took several measures to overcome the injury, tinkering with his swing and his stance and reducing his swings in batting practice throughout the season, but admits it has led to some bad habits at the plate.

“It’s swinging a bat in the game,” Hardy said. “Doing a controlled swing is different than 100 percent in a game.”

You think?

Hardy’s been just terrible at the plate this season. Among the 205 major leaguers with at least 400 plate appearances, Hardy’s wOBA ranks 204th (only Omar Infante’s been worse, if you must know).

So this is a classic case of a player hurting his team by playing hurt, right?

No, not really.

For one thing, we typically save that category for guys who don’t tell anyone they’re hurt, thus taking the decision out of the team’s hands. But in this case, it seems clear that the Orioles knew the severity of Hardy’s injury.

And for another, he hasn’t actually been a terrible player this season. Because somehow he’s still been solid in the field. I don’t know that Hardy’s deserved to win the last three Gold Gloves (as he did) or that he’ll win his fourth (he probably won’t). But the numbers suggest that he’s been quite good again this season.

And the Orioles’ alternatives? As bad as Hardy’s been with the bat this season, backups Everth Cabrera and Paul Janish have been at least as bad. And while Cabrera’s probably a better hitter than he’s showed, he’s not Hardy’s equal with the glove. And while Janish might be as good as Hardy in the field, he’s no better with the bat. On balance, the Orioles essentially had three replacement-level shortstops on the roster this season, and reasonably went with the one making $11.5 million.

I think the only good argument against Hardy playing so much would be the possibility that taking a few weeks off might have helped him heal up enough to get back to some semblance of his former hitting self. If so, the O’s screwed up. But if not, hard to fault them. Especially considering they’re going to finish far, far, far out of contention for a playoff spot.