The Braves Should Give Tim Hudson a Quick Hook

Tonight, the Braves are essentially playing for their lives. If they lose and the Cardinals beat the worst team in baseball, their season is over. It’s possible that the Astros could help them out and beat Chris Carpenter, but Atlanta shouldn’t count on it, and thus, they should treat their contest with the Phillies this evening as an elimination game.

That kind of situation requires a different kind of managing. While they have their best healthy starter on the mound, Fredi Gonzalez should still be willing to go to his bullpen extremely early tonight.

This isn’t a slight on Tim Hudson, who is still a very good starting pitcher. His ERA was 14 percent better than league average this year, and his peripherals support the idea that he’s one of the more reliable starters around. However, even a good starting pitcher is generally more susceptible to allowing runs than a good relief pitcher, and their value comes from their ability to produce quantity of innings rather than quality.

For all the Braves struggles this month, they still have one thing going for them – the best bullpen in baseball. For all the talk about Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel being “worn down” and “overworked”, there’s not much evidence that it’s actually true. While Kimbrel has blown a couple of notable saves, his September xFIP is a ridiculous 1.30, so the problems have actually been more about the timing of hits allowed than actual struggles. Venters has been worse than earlier in the season (3.85 xFIP), but his GB and K rates remain strong, and his velocity hasn’t dropped significantly – I wouldn’t read too much into a one month surge in walk rate.

Venters and Kimbrel are two of the very best relievers in baseball, and the odds that the Phillies put up runs while either is pitching is dramatically less than if Hudson is the one on the mound. For comparison, Hudson allowed one run for every 10.2 batters he faced this year, while Kimbrel and Venters allowed one run for every 17.5 batters they faced this year. Even if you want to account for potential fatigue, you have at least a 30 percent decrease in run expectation with those guys on the mound as compared to Hudson.

The Braves can’t count on racking up a ton of runs tonight, so keeping the Phillies offense off the board is imperative – to that end, both Venters and Kimbrel should be informed before the game that they’ll each be going two innings tonight unless the Braves open up a big lead early. Kimbrel hasn’t pitched in four days, and Venters has made one appearance (throwing 13 pitches) in that same span. They’re rested and they’re capable of getting six outs apiece.

Ask Hudson to get through the line-up no more than two times, hoping he can give you five innings of something close to shutout baseball. After one full trip through the line-up, have Eric O’Flaherty start getting loose. It doesn’t take long for a rally to start, and with the left-handed bats in Philadelphia’s order, a critical situation with an LHB at the plate could materialize very quickly. O’Flaherty isn’t just a LOOGY, but he’s lights out against left-handers and good enough to get good right-handers out as well. If Hudson runs into some trouble in the 4th or 5th inning, O’Flaherty is likely a better bet to quench the rally before the Braves find themselves down a couple of runs.

By planning on getting three or four innings from Hudson, an inning or so from O’Flaherty, and two each from Venters and Kimbrel, the Braves can significantly lower the Phillies expected run total and increase their odds of winning tonight’s game, keeping themselves alive to fight another day. Pulling Hudson early also has the side benefit of potentially making him available for an earlier playoff start if the Braves advance to the National League Division Series.

Given the struggles of the rest of the team, I know it’s tempting to give your best starter the ball and ask him to win the game for you. However, the Braves best chance to win tonight – and to keep their season alive – is to let Hudson know that he’s only going to throw 60-75 pitches tonight, and he should plan accordingly. With a trio of relievers behind him that are just more likely to keep runs off the board, the Braves should not ask too much from Hudson tonight. Extending him too deep into the game could be costly, and this isn’t a game the Braves can afford to lose.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

41 Responses to “The Braves Should Give Tim Hudson a Quick Hook”

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  1. SaberTJ says:

    I think these suggestions are great. Not sure if Fredi will implement them.

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    • ))> says:

      yeah, there is no way Fredi does this

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      • Adam says:

        Fredi may not follow Dave’s wise advice, but here’s what he will do: stare blankly, passively, confusedly out at the field as his players go through the painful motions of one final game. Then he will blame the injuries to Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens, and preach how next year the team will be more “aggressive.”

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  2. xdog says:

    Just score some runs. That would be novel I know, but would greatly simplify the job of juggling pitching changes.

    Fortunately for the Braves, 1) Joe Blanton is scheduled to go for Philly and 2) Philly should be inclined to let Atl and Stl play one more game.

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  3. TK says:

    I agree if the game is within one run, but the Braves have to win tomorrow, too. Burning Venters and Kimbrel in a 3-run game wouldn’t be wise.

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    • SaberTJ says:

      Can’t play for tomorrow. Gotta worry about winning today

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      • TK says:

        you actually have to worry about winning both games. it’s a calculus of risk. Do you decrease your chances by 5% tomorrow to gain 1% today? I’m sorry, but I see no difference between going home after 162 games and going home after 163 games.

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      • Welp says:

        ^Generally speaking, one prioritizes securing the opportunity to play tomorrow, even with diminished odds of winning. Even if the outcomes are both no-playoffs, the opportunity is coveted.

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      • Anon21 says:

        TK, that’s right, but you also have to apply a probability discount to tomorrow’s game, in the sense that there’s an approximately 25-40% chance the Cards lose and no game is necessary. Now, this calculus may change depending on what the out-of-town scoreboard says, but as a rule of thumb that applies before the outcome of the game in Houston is known, I think you’re justified in weighting outcomes in tonight’s game more heavily than outcomes in tomorrow’s still-hypothetical game

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      • Math Nerd says:

        These are baseball players not math nerds. I doubt they’re really thinking about the calculus. This is a worthless arguement.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Only Lou Pinella plays for tomorrow.

        You MUST win today. Worry about tomorrow … tomorrow.

        In a do or die situation, if you hold anything back … you should get what you deserve, and you almost always will.

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    • phoenix2042 says:

      well they do need to worry about today first, but i do see your point. if they play STL tmrw, they might need those bullpen arms worse than they do tonight, as the cards have the best NL lineup.

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      • Dave Cameron says:

        Asking either to get six outs won’t make them unavailable tomorrow – they’ve barely pitched at all this week. The NLDS doesn’t start until Saturday, so at the maximum, you’d be asking for two innings today, some amount of work tomorrow, and then they’d get an off-day. Teams ask their relievers to do this kind of work in October all the time. The Braves just need to start acting like it’s already October.

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      • Welp says:

        ^I think people tend to confuse “not available today” (something we hear all season after a pitcher has thrown a couple days in a row”) with “could not pitch effectively today”. Generally teams make their pitchers “unavailable” all year in order to conserve their strength for the end of the year. Today is the playoffs for ATL. All bets are off.

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    • Phils_Goodman says:

      Agreed. The Braves still have to worry about the play-in game. Also, the quality of the Phillies lineup could be very low in the later stages of tonight’s game. Does it make sense to burn up EOF, Venters and Kimbrel on Ross Gload, Michael Martinez, Pete Orr, and John Bowker?

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      • Anon21 says:

        I think Dave’s whole point is that you worry about this in the early stages of tonight’s game. The way the Braves have been playing, one Phillies run is too many, so you have to manage the bullpen in order to drive your odds of a shutout up. Thus, if Hudson allows a baserunner to reach second base in the second…

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    • nilbog44 says:

      Your logic is flawed.

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  4. Mozelle's says:

    Agreed. Odd’s of this strategy actually happening are incredibly low.

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  5. Hurtlocker says:

    I’ve had enough of that stupid tomahawk chop for a lifetime, I hope the Cards eliminate the Braves today.

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  6. cthabeerman says:

    I like it, unless the Braves mount a considerable lead early. Maybe particularly in that situation…get Hudson out early and save him for the playoffs.

    While O’Ventbrel are the main relievers mentioned, Sherrill is also back and will be valuable against a left-heavy Phillies lineup, particularly with one of their two switch-hitters sitting tonight. Insane numbers against lefties.

    Likewise, Medlen should be available for an inning or two as well. I expect that he’ll be the first man in after Hudson’s pulled (especially if pulled early), unless it’s a lefty coming up.

    The bullpen has been a strength most of the season. Might as well flex that muscle when it matters most.


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  7. Nick says:

    In theory this is a much better for tomorrow’s game, with a SP who could actually be better if he were told to give us 5 strong innings, add he was much better must of the year until he started trying to give us 6 or 7 innings per start, after the injuries to THK & JJ.

    Huddy’s been better than good for a good while now. If he can’t give us 7 or 8 string innings tonight, so that er can implore that strategy tomorrow, we don’t have a thing to play for anyway.

    Who am I kidding, the Braves got shut down by Chien-Ming Wang, or we wouldn’t have to even worry about this.

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  8. tdotsports1 says:

    I was going to say isn’t that why you pay Hudson the big bucks? But then I read the whole article again, and it makes sense…

    UPDATE: Hudson has given the Braves 6 IPs (89 pitches) and only 1 earned, 1 BB and 4 Ks.

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  9. Brian says:

    I hate Fredi Gonzalez so much.

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  10. Phillip says:

    Yup Kimbrel got the job done.

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  11. Nik says:

    Venters and Kimbrell totally not overworked. Should have both went 2.

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  12. Frank says:

    I understand the logic behind this post, but I do find it hilarious that Hudson was very good and Kimbrel blew the save. Can’t win ’em all I suppose.

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  13. wes says:

    pitching to Pence with Mini-Mart on deck? Pence 946 ops, Martinez 547 ops; easy decision, right?

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  14. shred the gnar says:

    You learn a lot of things from watching an entire baseball season.


    A Braves fan.

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  15. Phils_Goodman says:

    Whelp, so much for that. Neither Venters nor Kimbrel had any semblance of control tonight.

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  16. Soren says:

    Cameron’s ability to constently be wrong about the phillies is legendary.

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    • Slugsrbad says:

      What do you know? Cameron is a legend. He has been right about everything, especially the #6 org Mariners.

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    • phdave says:

      Cameron likes to play the role of a contrarian, which is fine except that he is often a contrarian to reality when it comes to the Phillies.

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  17. WY says:

    What a non-prescient blog post.

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