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Updated: April 5th, 2010 2:40pm
J.J. Hardy's (odd) struggles against lefties

J.J. Hardy's (odd) struggles against lefties

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by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
J.J. Hardy emerged as one of Major League Baseball's top-hitting middle infielders from 2007 to 2008 when he hit .280/.333/.470 with 50 home runs over the two seasons. Hardy was also rated as one of the top defensive shortstops in baseball over that period.

In 2009, however, Hardy's offensive numbers dropped off the planet. His batting average plummeted to .229, he reached base at a paltry .302 clip, and he hit only 11 home runs before being demoted to triple-A in favor of top prospect Alcides Escobar, who remains the Brewers' starting shortstop.

Hardy told reporters in February that 2009 was the most miserable year of his baseball career -- high school, college and minor leagues included. He pressed all season, never felt fully comfortable, and wasn't having any fun.

"Mentally, I was really hard on myself," Hardy said in February. "I felt like if I had a decent day, a 2-for-4 or 1-for-3, I wasn't happy. I just came to the ball park every day in a bad mood.

"I felt like no matter what I did, even if it was a good day, I just wasn't happy with it. I'm definitely going to learn from that and have a little bit more fun."

So what went wrong last year? And what is Hardy doing to fix it?

For starters, against right-handed pitching last season, Hardy (who bats right-handed) swung and missed at significantly more sliders than in 2007-2008 (16.4% whiffs, as opposed to 11.9% between '07-'08), especially sliders thrown out of the strike zone. This is a typical symptom of pressing, and it can happen to anyone (see: Cuddyer, Michael), but sliders weren't Hardy's only issues.

Hardy's main problems in 2009 actually stem from his struggles against left-handed pitching, which is odd because Hardy generally crushes lefties.

1.) In 2007, Hardy posted a .950 OPS against lefties, followed by a .977 clip in 2008. But in 2009, Hardy's OPS against lefties dipped all the way to .539.

2.) Hardy rarely hit line drives off left-handed pitching in '09 (8%, as opposed to 21% in '08), but instead hit an abnormally high amount of ground balls off lefties (54%, as opposed to 39% in '08).

What gives?

"I had a lot of bad habits," Hardy said on Saturday.

"I just took a ton of bad swings last year. It's hard to get into the mechanical stuff, but just taking correct swings, lots of correct swings. That's basically what it takes is just a lot of good swings to get rid of the bad habits."

This spring, Hardy has spent a considerable amount of time studying tape and working with hitting coach Joe Vavra to correct the mechanical flaws in his swing.

"I couldn't (drive the ball to opposite field) with where my hands were. There was a lot of adjustments I've made this spring training, and I feel pretty good about it."

It's extremely rare when a hitter fares worse against opposite-handed pitching than he does against same-handed pitching like Hardy did in 2009. Assuming he has indeed pinpointed the mechanical flaws, it would be extremely surprising if Hardy didn't turn the tide against lefties in 2010.

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
In this story: J.J. Hardy
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