Tim Hudson’s Renaissance Season: King or Magician?
Analysis by John Hoey
Tim Hudson, 39, is enjoying a renaissance season with the San Francisco Giants. But if it is indeed a renaissance, is he more king or magician? A pitcher is not supposed to vastly improve or turn back the clock when he is on the doorstep of forty, so what’s going on here? Hudson is pitching in a big ballpark at AT&T, and he also has the comfort of his team playing more games than any against the Padres, Rockies, and Diamondbacks. There is no doubt this combination is beneficial right off the bat. Aside from these face value advantages, we need to look at what type of pitcher Tim Hudson is and has always been, which is “pitch-to-contact”. Hudson is known not for missing bats, but for missing barrels. He relies on changing speeds, movement, and location to get batters to make low impact contact for outs, most desirably ground balls. I am going to use some sabermetric stats and ratios to see how Hudson is doing in comparison to some of his past seasons to see if we should expect continued success for the remaining third of the season, or a sharp tumble down the San Francisco Peaks.
When a pitcher doesn’t have the ability to over power hitters they need to be much more precise, calculated, and careful when facing hitters. Tim Hudson might be the best example of this in the game today. I have taken a look at stats that aren’t on the back of the baseball card but are absolutely crucial for Tim Hudson to continue to bring the bread home year after year. These stats are his ground ball to fly ball ratio (GB/FB), including ground out to fly out (GO/AO), home run/fly ball percentage (HR/FB), and walk rate (BB%). If you throw all of these in to a blender they will help determine Hudson’s success more than any other combination of stats because they show us if he is keeping runners off base from free passes which limits damage done on hits, while inducing the type of ball he needs for outs (most importantly ground balls).
The table below will be the chart you should go back to as you read each paragraph to compare Hudson’s 2014 numbers, career averages, and his worst season in 2006. I have included each stat I am analyzing to find an outlier and point to what has made him more successful this season.
The first thing I assumed before delving in to the stats was that Hudson was inducing way more ground balls than fly balls, therefore keeping the ball out of the air and avoiding big hits. It turns out that’s not the case. Hudson’s ratios this season are right on target with his career averages and even his career worst season. How can that be? To befuddle you further, his extra base hit percentage (XBH%) and line drive rate (LD%) are worse than his career average this season. I know, it makes no sense…but it will.
Take a look at Hudson’s walk rate and home run rate. In his worst season of 2006, where he finished with an ERA of 4.86, 8.2 percent of batters Hudson faced reached from a walk and 9.1 percent of the fly balls he gave up went over the fence. He had virtually identical groundball to fly ball numbers that season but allowed too many free passes and long balls that ultimately lead to big innings and ballooned statistics.
This season Hudson has decreases his walk rate three percent from his career average. His hits per nine innings is around his career average so by limiting the free passes, when he does give up a double or a home run, less damage is done. In addition to this, he is throwing less pitches and able to go deeper in games, now averaging 6.6 innings per start, his best mark in the last five seasons.
To be fair though, it’s not all to Hudson’s credit. As I stated his extra base hit and line drive percentages are both up this season, and the fact that his home run to fly ball percentage is lower than average might just be some good old fashion luck.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Tim Hudson is an experienced, professional, veteran starting pitcher. He knows the league and the hitters. He knows his limitations and he knows what he is still capable of. The fact that he is walking less batters this year indicates that he has a strong command of the strike zone and his pitches. If he is able to continue to limit the free passes while keeping his hits allowed in line with his career average, I think he will ride this success out for the rest of the season which winds up being an excellent signing for the San Francisco Giants especially in wake of the loss of Matt Cain for the season and the unpredictability of Tim Lincecum.
Sometimes it’s not all numbers, but if the numbers in this instance say anything, Tim Hudson knows how to avoid the big inning, and should continue to make you look like a drafting wizard for choosing him late in your draft, in what may be one of the best value picks of 2014. Is Tim Hudson a king or a magician? Neither. He’s just a solid, consistent, and damn good baseball pitcher. He won’t rack up the strike outs but fear not giving him the ball for the rest of your fantasy season, which hopefully includes the playoffs.