Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
September 14, 2006
BASEBALL: Hudson's Decline
What ails Tim Hudson? Yesterday's loss drops Hudson, once a premier pitcher, to 12-11 with a 4.95 ERA. Let's start by updating a chart I did at the end of the 2004 season of the major components of Hudson's game:
I noted in 2004 that Hudson had been plagued by a declining strikeout rate but had coped by relentlessly improving every other facet of his game. While the relatively low K rate compared to his early years may still signal a problem, Hudson has arrested that decline; the problem now is that all of his coping mechanisms have eroded or entirely unravelled - his remarkable control, his high groundball rate and low HR rate, his ability to strangle the running game and thus set up the double play. Of course, I strongly suspect that the hand of a declining Atlanta defense is at work in several of these. (As to balls in play, the Hardball Times notes that Hudson gets outs on 70% of balls in play, about average, and gives Hudson a fielding independent ERA of 4.43 or 4.14 (depending if you use the FIP or xFIP metric - the latter is more favorable because it assumes that luck is responsible for the fact that Hudson allows the highest percentage of home runs per fly ball of any pitcher in the National League)).
Another trouble sign I noted in 2004 was Hudson's difficulty with lefthanded hitters, who batted .298/.422/.352 against Hudson in 2004; it's only gotten worse, as this year, they're hitting .283/.505/.353.
A better defense and the confidence to throw more strikes might help Hudson, although if his problems with the running game can be ascribed to Brian McCann, he's stuck; McCann is the National League's best catcher and young, so he's not going anywhere. His HR rate probably will go down a bit on its own, but his troubles with lefthanded hitters may require him to take a new approach, something the intelligent and adaptable Hudson has shown the ability to do in the past. I expect Hudson to rebound a bit next year - there's nothing in his record that signals an imminent collapse to Russ Ortiz country - but his days as an elite pitcher are most likely behind him.