Q&A: Tim Hudson, Evolution of a Repertoire

Tim Hudson has had a long and successful career. The 36-year-old right-hander owns a 187-100 recrod and a 3.41 ERA in 389 big-league appearances. Now in his eighth season with the Atlanta Braves — after six years in Oakland — he has accumulated 50.5 WAR. Primarily a sinkerball pitcher, Hudson has been a consistent front-line starter despite a pedestrian 6.11 K/9.

Hudson talked about his repertoire, and how it has evolved over the years, when the Braves visited Boston earlier this month.


Tim Hudson: “When I first signed, I was sinker, slider, split — mostly sinker, split. I didn’t really throw much of a breaking ball; it was kind of a show-me type of pitch. That was pretty much all I had up until I got to Triple-A. Then I started working more on a changeup and a little bit of a bigger breaking ball.

“When I got to the big leagues, I was still mostly sinker-split, with an occasional slider. After about a year or so, I started relying more on a bigger breaking ball that I could throw more often when I was behind in counts. I also started throwing an occasional changeup, which was a different look than my split.

“My breaking ball went from being more of a cutter to more of a slider — just a bigger break. I needed something with a little more depth, something with a little more swing-and-miss potential. I needed something that would move away from a right-handed hitter a little more. The [pitch] I had been throwing had a smaller break, because it didn’t have slider rotation.

“A cutter is just an offset fastball that looks like a fastball and spins like a fastball, but at the very end cuts like a small slider. The more you get around it, the more you get it to break. The rotation of the pitch turns, therefore it shows a dot to the hitter. The hitter can recognize a slider spin easier than a cutter spin, but what you have when you have with more of a slider spin is a bigger break. With a cutter, the hitter recognizes four-seam fastball spin and then — at the end — it cuts three or four inches.

“Today I throw more of a cutter than I do a slider, but I’ve also developed a curveball. I’m more of a sinker, cutter, curveball, split guy now.

“Changing my repertoire has been a gradual thing. As a pitcher gets older, you start learning your mechanics and, honestly, you start losing range of motion in your arm. Your pitches start doing things differently. My slider wasn’t as good for me after awhile.

“A pitcher’s arm speed may slow down a touch, or you may lose range of motion in your shoulder as the wear-and-tear builds up. You hear about pitchers evolving over the years and, fortunately, I’ve played long enough to where I’ve needed to evolve. My sinker has always been there. My split has been there for the most part, although there have been times where I’ve had to make adjustments with it as well.

“To keep guys honest with my cutter, I’ve developed a bigger curveball. It’s one of those things where, at this point of my career, you have to evolve and change. I also think that the more a pitcher can change throughout his career, the more it keeps the hitters guessing. Honestly, I pretty much throw anything now.

“My changeup and split are pretty similar, and on a given day one might be better than the other. My change is a two-seam circle and my split is just a normal split, outside the horseshoe. Circle changeups usually have the same rotation as most four-seam fastballs. They have a fast spin and usually don’t tumble very much. Split-fingers are a change-of-pace pitch where you can recognize the rotation better, because it has a tumble. Splits usually have more depth to them, though. If you have that good action on your split, you’ll sacrifice letting that hitter recognize the pitch. But if you don’t have the depth and action on it — and they recognize it — those are the ones that get hit a long way.

“I was more consistently in the low-90s when I was younger. Now I’m usually 89, 90, 91, whereas before I’d touch 93-94 and sit 91-92. How much velocity matters depends on the type of pitcher that you are. The more life you have on your pitches — including the more sink you have on your fastballs — the less important velocity is. If you’re a control guy whose fastball is pretty straight, 86-87, as opposed to 88-89, can be a pretty big difference. You have to really spot it, because there’s not a lot of room for error.

“When you lose velocity off of your fastball, one thing that suffers is your off-speed pitches — the action on your off-speed pitches. Once you lose arm speed, it takes away rotation from your off-speed pitches. The rotation is what gives them the sharpness and the nastiness.

“I throw five or six pitches, but honestly, I’m usually going out there with three that I have the confidence to throw more than couple of times. I can throw all of them at least one time during a game, but there are three standard pitches I’m usually out there executing a game plan with.

“I feel really good physically right now, as good as I’ve felt in awhile. My arm feels good and I feel I can play at least a few more years. As far as whether I’ll need to make more adjustments, I think I have the ability to throw a lot of different pitches. If a situation calls for a certain pitch, or a certain game plan, I feel I can out on the mound and execute it.”

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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-March 2011 and is a regular contributor to several publications. His first book, Interviews from Red Sox Nation, was published by Maple Street Press in 2006. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.