J.J. Hardy: the best shortstop in baseball?

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I didn’t see this, but reliable correspondents tell me that Billy Ripken was on MLB Network a few minutes ago and said that J.J. Hardy was the best shortstop in baseball. The general idea was that he was reliable and played every day and “started the 6-4-3 double play.” Which, man, if he didn’t do that he’d be fired for not carrying out his job responsibilities. Or at least would get written up by his supervisor.

But I’m not sure on what planet that makes him the best in the game. He’s reliable and sure-handed and has some pop, but I think I’d take Troy Tulowitzki, Andrelton Simmons, Hanley Ramirez, Ian Desmond and maybe a couple of others over him. Long term his teammate Manny Machado is a better bet at shortstop than Hardy is.

Which isn’t to slight Hardy. Just to say that this is the flipside of that stuff I talked about with Alfonso Soriano yesterday. Just as we seem to have a hard time talking about some players without being negative due to things like contracts and expectations, there are some players we can’t seem to praise without going crazy and talking about them in terms that are wild exaggerations. Ask Michael Young — also a very good player — who has been talked up as the best or one of the best far too much. Doesn’t take away from what he is, but certainly distorts the conversation about him.

Is it a TV thing? Are you trained as an analyst to say extreme things like “J.J. Hardy is the best shortstop in baseball” because saying “J.J. Hardy is good and solid” is considered too boring? Is this just an ex-ballplayer thing? I dunno. But I feel like we have a tremendous difficulty, overall, properly assessing most ballplayers due to a tendency to say some are the best ever and some are the worst ever while ignoring the fact that the vast, vast majority of ballplayers fit in neither category.

2017 Preview: The American League East

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For the past few weeks we’ve been previewing the 2017 season. Here, in handy one-stop-shopping form, is our package of previews from the American League East

Boston may have the most talent and, in Mookie Betts, the best player. The Yankees have the best farm system. Baltimore has all the dingers and the best closer. Toronto may have the best collection of heels, at least in the view of fans of the other AL East teams.  The Rays have the best . . . hmm. I’ll get back to you on that.

Anyway, here are our previews for the American League East:

Boston Red Sox
Toronto Blue Jays
Baltimore Orioles
New York Yankees
Tampa Bay Rays

Steven Matz likely to start season on DL; Zack Wheeler to adhere to innings limit

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Mets manager Terry Collins said on Wednesday, “It’s unlikely that [Steven Matz] will start the season with us.” The final spot in the Mets’ starting rotation will go to either Zack Wheeler or Seth Lugo, Newsday’s Marc Carig reports.

On Wheeler’s innings limit, assistant GM John Ricco said, “There’s going to be some number but we don’t exactly know what that is.” Wheeler missed the last two seasons after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

Neither Wheeler nor Lugo have had terrific springs as each carries a 5.11 and 5.56 Grapefruit League ERA, respectively. However, Carig notes that Wheeler has impressed simply by appearing healthy and brandishing a fastball that once again sits in the mid- to high-90’s. Lugo, meanwhile, proved crucial to the Mets last year, posting a 2.67 ERA across eight starts and nine relief appearances.