The Orioles enter the 2011 season with a very different outlook than they have in previous seasons–a chance. No, we don’t expect the O’s to compete with the powerful Red Sox, Yankees, and Rays in the rugged American League East, but their acquisition of proven players such as Vladimir Guerrero, Derek Lee, Mark Reynolds, and J.J. Hardy make them an 81 win team for the first time in many years. (Editor’s Note — Both Lee and Hardy were members of our Hottest Looking Baseball Players poll in 2009.)
The lineup is formidable when you add in the mainstays of the team for the past few seasons like Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, and Matt Wieters. The Orioles will go as far as their pitching will take them in 2011.
Batting ninth in the Orioles lineup will be shortstop J. J. Hardy who spent last season with the Minnesota Twins who lost out in the first round of the playoffs to the Yankees. Hardy was hampered by injury last year and appeared in only 101 games and compiled a line of .268/6/38/1.
Hardy has been working with hitting coach Jim Presley in Sarasota in an effort to regain the stroke that helped him swat 26 and 24 homers in 2007 and 2008 with Milwaukee. Presley was Hardy’s hitting coach during his time in Milwaukee and Presley wants to see the new Oriole drive in 80 runs like he did in ’07.
“We (Presley) talked about it and he told me what he wants and it was basically exactly what I wanted to hear, which was drive the ball,” said Hardy. ”He said ‘I want to see you turn on the ball if they throw it in.”
Hardy felt as though the Twins wanted him to go the opposite way more. Of course, in cavernous Target Field, the hardest park in which to hit a homerun, that may have been the best strategy for Hardy. ”I felt like in Minnesota that’s kind of what they wanted me to do,” said Hardy. ”Hit the ball the other way, so I tried to please, and here, that’s not what they want.”
“He’s not a 25-home run guy,” Presley said, “but he’s big enough and strong enough, especially in our ballpark to hit 15, 18, 20 homeruns and drive in 74. If he’s going to be hitting in the ninth spot in the order, we need him to do that.”
Surely, a move from Target Field (ballpark homerun index of 65) to Camden Yards (ballpark homerun index of 122) will naturally help Hardy’s homerun totals. And, the strong lineup hitting in front of him is going to mean there will often be some guys on base when Hardy steps into the box.
2011 Fantasy Baseball Projection: J.J. Hardy – J.J. Hardy’s lifetime stats show he is a .263 hitter and he’s not a base stealing threat (only 6 career stolen bases), but he has had some strong power numbers in years past. Based on a full season and the improved ballpark homerun index of Camden Yards over Target Field, Hardy projects to a 18 homerun season and with the improved Orioles lineup, he’s going to get a chance for those 74 RBI, even when hitting out of the 9 hole. We see J.J. Hardy as a legitimate 2011 sleeper pick for your fantasy baseball draft.