Since he broke into the big leagues back in 1999, Tim Hudson has quietly ranked among the better starting pitchers in the majors. According to Sean Smith’s historical Wins Above Replacement numbers, Hudson racked up nearly 41 WAR from ’99 to 2009. With a couple more solid seasons, the former two-way Auburn star will rank among the top 100 pitchers in career WAR.
Hudson’s combination of quality (career 3.81 FIP) and quantity (he has topped the 200-inning mark six times during his career) was interrupted in 2008, as the undersized righty had Tommy John surgery in August of that year. Hudson returned to a major league mound in September of 2009, and the 34-year-old looked none the worse for wear.
In 42.1 innings, Hudson had 6.38 K/9, 2.76 BB/9 and a 3.47 expected FIP (xFIP), getting ground balls at the highest rate of his career to that point (62.2 percent). Again showcasing one of the deepest arsenals among starters, Hudson posted a 9.5 percent swinging strike rate (9.3 percent career average, 8-9% MLB average) and he didn’t dawdle, either: he placed 52.7 percent of his pitches in the strike zone (52.5% career average, 48-51% MLB average) and got first pitch strikes two-thirds of the time (57.8% career average, 58-59% MLB average). In other words, it was vintage Hudson.
Encouraged by Hudson’s work, the Braves signed him to a three-year, $28 million contract extension, with a $9 million club option for 2013. So far in 2010, Hudson has thrown 44.1 frames and has a spiffy 2.64 ERA. Despite that ERA, his season has been a mixed bag.
The difference between Hudson’s ERA and xFIP (4.57) is nearly two runs. He has benefitted from a .234 batting average on balls in play, and his 85.6 percent rate of stranding base runners is way above the 70-72% big league average and Hudson’s career 73.8% strand rate.
He’s doing a tremendous job of keeping the ball on the ground, with a new career-high 66.2 GB% that tops all starters. However, Hudson isn’t missing bats or painting the corners like he usually does. His swinging strike rate is down to 5.7 percent, and his percentage of pitches within the zone is 44.9. Hudson is inducing first pitch contact or getting ahead in the count 0-1 just 50.6 percent of the time. Given those figures, it’s no surprise that he’s striking out just 3.45 batters per nine innings and walking 3.65 per nine.
I made bold the most marked changes between ’09 and ’10 Hudson. His four-seam fastball, changeup/splitter and slider are all getting fewer strikes and whiffs this season.
Hudson owners should watch his control and whiff rates. He’s not pitching poorly, but that 2.64 ERA is misleading. If he continues to garner so few swings and misses and has a merely average walk rate, Hudson loses his fantasy appeal.
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