Braves Infield Defense Hurts Hudson’s Value

Judging the Braves defense in 2011 depends on which stats or methods you see as the most accurate. For instance, UZR has the Braves ranked in the bottom five of defensive teams while DRS has the Braves ranked in the top nine. Alex Gonzalez (-0.3 UZR, +15 DRS) and Freddie Freeman (-12.6 UZR, 0 DRS) are the two players the numbers disagree with most, and are a big reason for the differences in the two totals.

Whatever stats you decide to look at, it is easy to see that the Braves’ defensive strength was in the outfield, where both Jason Heyward and Martin Prado were above average defenders. The Braves shuffled centerfielders for a majority of the season, with Jordan Schafer, Michael Bourn, and Nate McLouth all amassing similar innings totals in center. McLouth was quite poor in center while the other two were at least average to above average.

The problem with the Braves defense, and what is likely to be an even bigger problem this season, was the infield. Freeman likely is not the plus defender many expected, but he probably also is not as bad as the one year UZR sample suggests. He is closer to average defensively, which is fine. Gonzalez was a top notch defender the whole season, which was the lone reason for the Braves sticking with him at shortstop for the entirety of the year was in his high quality glove.

Losing Gonzalez will be a big loss to the team’s defense, and it will especially hurt a pitcher like Tim Hudson. Hudson has relied on ground balls as much as any starter in the league since entering the Majors, so losing a quality defender at the infield’s most important position will certainly sting. Gonzalez’s replacement, Tyler Pastornicky, is expected to be about an average defender. Mike Newman shared those thoughts as well in a brief scouting report of Pastornicky.

With the downgrade at shortstop, a few other negatives also arise when looking at the Braves’ infield defense. Chipper Jones will play this season at age 40, and he has already seen his defense decline in recent years. Dan Uggla is arguably the worst defensive second baseman in the league, sporting the second lowest UZR of -34.2 and the second lowest DRS of -38 since both numbers’ inception. Freddie Freeman, who I already explained is close to an average defender, has his biggest problems with range. His hands are quality around the base, but his ability to move quickly and get to grounders is his biggest weakness. Freeman has reportedly added at least 15 pounds, which will probably not help him with this issue.

It is rational to expect worse defense at third base, shortstop, and first base due to the above reasons. Include those factors with Uggla’s already awful glove and you likely get one of the worst defensive infields in the game. Martin Prado will help the team defensively on Chipper’s days off, but the overall third base defense will still be well below average if Chipper stays healthy enough to play a majority of the season.

Tim Hudson GB BABIP
2007 .210
2008 .208
2010 .188
2011 .239

The poor infield defense could be detrimental to Hudson’s fantasy success. Hudson already saw a bit of a jump in his ground ball BABIP last season, which could be due in part to Uggla’s arrival and Chipper’s knees. In the above chart, 2009 is not included as he missed all but seven starts as he recovered from Tommy John surgery. The expected decrease in defense across the infield could push that mark up a bit further. The back surgery Hudson received combined with him pitching this season at age 36 for the first half and age 37 for the second half also make him a risky fantasy option.

On a good note, Hudson did post the best strikeout-to-walk ratio of his career last season. He was a bit less dependent on grounders than he usually is, as he was able to strike more batters out and amass a 56.7% ground ball rate compared to the 64.1% and 59.4% that he posted in his two previous years on the mound. However, the questions surrounding Hudson’s back – it is likely that he misses at least a few starts at the beginning of the season – along with the very poor infield defense behind him are big caution signs for the veteran sinkerballer. Hudson has been utilized in fantasy formats as a wins, WHIP, and ERA performer, but expect all three to be a bit worse than his career norms as his expected innings total and the Braves’ infield defense hurt his roto value.

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Ben has been at RotoGraphs since 2012 and focuses most of his fantasy baseball attention toward dynasty and keeper leagues.

20 Responses to “Braves Infield Defense Hurts Hudson’s Value”

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  1. bvilebaron says:

    Freeman is a Gold Glove calibre firstbaseman. Forget the sabermetrics and watch him play sometime.

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  2. bvilebaron says:

    I suggest you keep watching then.

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  3. harpago17 says:
    FanGraphs Supporting Member

    I understand the concern with the downgrade from Gonzalez to Pastornicky at SS, which is a legitmate concern for Hudson defensively. I am a bit confused by the concern at the other positions though. While you make the arguement that all 3 are below average (I disagree on Freeman, but that’s not important for this arguement), they are the same 3 players that were behind Hudson last year, so to expect his performance to decrease as a result of them doesn’t make any sense…there has been no change in defense at those positions. You also bring up Chipper’s advancing age, which is a legitimate concern, but I actually view it as a reason the defense is likely to be improved, since less time on the field for Chipper means more time on the field for Prado, the superior defender at 3b.

    There are plenty of reasons to be concerned about Tim Hudson’s production in 2012: his back surgery, the downgrade from Gonzalez to Pastornicky, and simply advancing age. But pointing out factors that have remained constant from 2011 to 2012 as negatives simply doesn’t make any sense.

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    • Ben Duronio says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      Freeman’s range was an issue, and he put on more weight which makes it hard to see him improving in that regard. Chipper’s range has been in decline, and that decline is expected to continue. It is not as if the players’ performance will be constants despite it being the same group. Additionally, the biggest difference will be at shortstop, and Hudson’s success on grounders was already worse than it had been in recent years. Taking away the best defender and subbing in an average defender in his place will hurt, as will the expected worse defense from third base and first base.

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      • harpago17 says:
        FanGraphs Supporting Member

        Totally agree on the SS issue. Disagree on the Chipper issue since I don’t see him getting any worse and still being able to stay on the field, meaning that we are likely to see more Prado this year, leading to a net positive. As for Freeman, the weight might have an impact, but I could easily argue that it would be outweighed (no pun intended) by another year of experience in reading balls off the bat. Range at first base is much more dependant upon quick reactions than top end speed, so I don’t see his weight playing a huge factor there. I do think an extra year of experience for a player that has only been playing 1b for 3 seasons could make a difference though.

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  4. Scott Clarkson says:
    FanGraphs Supporting Member

    Tim Hudson’s back surgery is also gonna hurt him this season….hopefully he’s good to go after missing a few weeks to start the season.

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  5. bvilebaron says:

    Well that one video which you linked which shows poor reaction time on Freeman’s part is conclusive evidence that he has lousy reaction time generally. How about if you show others videos where he frequently made great picks on hard hit balls? Or how about the video where he ran down a ball hit over his head down the first base line and threw out a runner trying to tag up from third and the announcer mentioned Freeman may have the strongest throwing arm on the team.

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    • tim204 says:

      This article is talking about the amount of area the infielders can cover. While Freeman is great at picking balls, he needs to be near the ball in order to do that. If he can’t get to the ball, his great scooping ability is negated. Jason Giambi was great at scooping, but he was never considered a good let alone great fielder.

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    • bsally says:

      Yes, because first basemen typically save so many runs with all the throws they have to make.

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  6. Brad of This Nation says:

    Freeman rocks. I am uniquely impressed by great first base throwing arms. The extra 15 pouns intrigues me, hopefully it’s muscle and not too much pizza and beer in the offseason. I look forward to seeing Freeman’s immense, towering frame, and watching him assert his dominance at the plate this season.

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  7. Vinny says:

    Gotta love the old “You dont know you dont watch the game Derek Jeter Defense” defense. Its scientifically proven thats stats and scouting do nottell as much as a fan on a couch watching highlights on sportcenter.

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    • bstar says:

      This wasn’t a fan watching sportscenter highlights. It was a Braves fan who has seen more of their games than I would say the OP has. It deserves a mention. I’m sure I saw 155+ Braves games last year, and I would agree that Freeman’s scooping ability, arm, and ability to stretch that extra six inches to get the throw from second base during double plays all help his defense at least a little more than a one-year UZR sample suggests. Gold Glove? probably not. Below average? No way.

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  8. DV says:

    I wonder if the front office has even considered switching Prado and Uggla? I think I remember where Uggla was against it but it would clearly benefit the team.

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  9. Eddie Money (no, not the singer) says:

    Call me old fashioned, but when I evaluate IF defense, I first look at the player who touches the ball most, the 1B. In Freeman, they have someone who can be a game changer with his arm. He should field all relay throws from the outfield and that would render any questions about his range moot. Put the strongest arm on the team at 1B, I always say.

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  10. bstar says:

    To his credit, Tim Hudson has been amazingly consistent his whole career, never posting a losing season once. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he leads the Braves in wins once again.

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  11. Juan Alou says:

    I em pretty sure los Bravos are going with the all 1stbaseman infield strategy…Chipper, Uggla, and Freeman are all fine firstbaseman. All they need is Jeter at short and they’d be set!

    I, too, love Freeman’s arm.

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  12. sun king says:

    why the heck would you put the strongest arm at 1st base? Are you being sarcastic? 1st base makes very few throws…

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