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December 16, 2008

Prospectus Today

Dogging O-Dog?

by Joe Sheehan

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I received a question in the comments section of a recent article that deserves a longer answer than I'd be able provide there. It had to do with something I'd written about there not being any elite second basemen available in free agency, with the commenter asking about Orlando Hudson. I do not consider Hudson to be an elite player, and while he has been a good one, I would be extremely wary of signing him for his age 31-33, or 31-34, seasons. He strikes me as a good example of the kind of middling player who falls off a cliff in his early thirties.

This may seem ungenerous, given that Hudson has shown improvement in almost every season of his career. His batting average has risen in each of the last five years, and his EqA has climbed more or less steadily to peak at .277 in 2007 and 2008. From not walking much as a Blue Jay (7.3 percent of PAs), he developed his plate discipline and drew walks in 9.6 percent of his PAs in three years as a Diamondback. Despite good speed, he's not a basestealer, though he picks his spots well: 42-for-60 in his career, including 14-for-17 over the past two years. For whatever it might be worth, Hudson is considered a very good teammate, and a gregarious, good-natured guy who is popular with the fans.

A big part of Hudson's value has been his defense. He ranked fifth among MLB second basemen in Plus/Minus in 2006, third in 2007, then slipped to 23rd last year. Hudson's defensive statistics have always been strong, thanks in part to very strong numbers on balls in the air; balls that reflect, to some extent, discretion rather than range. In any case, the falloff by Hudson last year could be a one-year blip, or it could be a sign of decline, and it's not easy to tell which without more information. That he's 30 and a second baseman who's had an assortment of physical ailments would lead you to believe that it's not merely a fluke. Because so much of Hudson's value has come from his defense, any loss of range or skill will take a chunk out of his value.

The ailments are perhaps the bigger issue. In six full MLB seasons, Hudson has averaged 135 games a year. He has played in more than 140 games just twice, and gone a full season without a DL trip exactly once. His last two seasons have been cut short by injuries that have crippled the Diamondbacks down the stretch. Last August, Hudson suffered a dislocated bone in his left wrist while making a tag at second. The injury required two surgeries to fix, and is one he's currently rehabbing. His 2007 season ended with a torn ligament in his left thumb, suffered on a slide into third base. In both seasons, he played through leg injuries; a sore ankle in '07, and a tender hamstring in '08. There's an argument that you might wave off the traumatic, season-ending injuries as flukes, but the wrist injury was part and parcel of being a second baseman, and the leg injuries have popped up again and again-ankle and hamstring problems in '05, hamstring again in '04. He simply isn't going to give you 150 games per season.

The injury issues affect both playing time and performance. We've seen Hudson continue to play well with these injuries, but as a player heads into his thirties, it can be more difficult to perform under those circumstances. It's not just that Hudson might miss 30 games, but that he'll start to lose some hits, some extra bases, or some range, and he doesn't have that much to lose. Providing a .277 EqA with good defense, he'll play. At .265 with average defense or below, he's just a guy, and not worth a significant free-agent investment. Remember, there's exactly one thing Hudson can do for a team: be a starting second baseman. He can't play shortstop, so he's not capable of being your utility infielder, and his bat won't cover a move to third base or anywhere else on the diamond. If he slips to the point where he's not an asset at second base, he's not really worth the roster spot.

Hudson is 31, not durable, and at his peak has been a good, not great, player. He plays a position that exacts a physical toll on all players, one that has already chipped away at his playing time over the years. Hudson's defense took a turn for the worse last year, and while that's not necessarily predictive, it's something to worry about. Second base is a spot that you can generally patch fairly easily, as opposed to shortstop or catcher or the rotation, so it's not the best use of resources. With any decline, Hudson, as a second baseman only, could go from a starting player to not worth a roster spot-think Luis Castillo.

So no, I don't think Hudson is an elite free agent. I don't think he's a terribly attractive free agent at what you might call his market value, three years and $30-33 million or so. There's very little upside in him, maybe none, and the downside risk is significant. If I can bring him in for two years at a premium on Mark Ellis money (Ellis will make $5 million in '09 and $5.5 million in '10), that's a deal I would take, but given his performance, injury history, and position, making a larger commitment to him is likely to be a mistake.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

Related Content:  Orlando Hudson

14 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Vilica

Tom Tango did a nice piece on his site back when Ellis was signed comparing Ellis to the O-Dawg, and he concluded that they were essentially equal players but Ellis is getting dramatically underpaid while Hudson is inevitably going to be overpaid by whoever signs him. It's definitely an interesting example of how inefficient the market still is, even with the expansion of sabermetric methods and analysis into most MLB front offices. Think about it - two essentially equal players who both had the option of testing free agency are going to wind up with hugely disparate contracts (3/12 vs 5/60) for no real reason.

Dec 16, 2008 12:15 PM
rating: 1
 
jmurph79

I think you're general point is interesting, but let's not jump to conclusions just yet; I don't see anyone giving Hudson 5/60m. I would guess 4/40, which you can still argue is an overpay, but, again, we don't know what will happen.

Dec 16, 2008 12:57 PM
rating: 0
 
Evan
(47)

Regarding Hudson's performance on flyballs, he's the reason David Pinto had to build a ball-hog effect into PMR (the Probabilistic Model of Range), because in 2006 Hudson broke PMR. It said he was 60 runs above average with his glove, which would have made him the best player in baseball.

Dec 16, 2008 12:48 PM
rating: 2
 
frankg

On the other hand there have been many midfielders that have blossomed in their early thirties. It would seem that if he did battle a hammy in '08, that would explain the drop off in defense. In all other cats he has been steady improving, especially in eye which I feel is the most important. A chance to get a gold glove caliber 2nd sacker with lead-off type numbers warrents paying the extra and taking the risk. How much did the Phils give Adam Eaton? And where did the Phils finish last year? C. C., as great as he is, is probably no less of a risk than Hudson and on a % basis no greater a reward.

Dec 16, 2008 13:57 PM
rating: 0
 
Sacramento

C.C. Sabathia is no greater a reward than Orlando Hudson? Now I've seen everything...

Dec 16, 2008 16:48 PM
rating: 2
 
supersam

Joe,
where did you get the plus minus figures for 2008? I thought the Bill James Handboook only published the top and bottom ten for each position.

Dec 16, 2008 19:02 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Joe Sheehan
BP staff
(17)

For three bucks a month from billjamesonline.net. Worth every penny.

Dec 16, 2008 20:56 PM
 
misterdelaware

Would be worth more pennies if they had some sort of database.

Dec 17, 2008 13:24 PM
rating: 1
 
Ogremace

Yeah really, how are we even putting Orlando Hudson and C.C. in the same sentence?

Hudson - complete no DL season 1x
Sabathia - 180 INN 9x

No less of a risk? What?

Dec 16, 2008 22:09 PM
rating: 1
 
carterneal

The only thing to add to this is the other second-basemen available. You've got Kent, Grudz, and Ray Durham? If I'm a team looking for some full-time help at 2B, O-Dog looks pretty good compared to the competition.

I don't think this changes Joe's analysis, but it might change the way a team with a need at second applies that analysis.

Or, it might just make us all think that the Cards actually got a decent deal with Lopez. Or that the efforts to convert Furcal to a 2B should get moving again in earnest.

Dec 17, 2008 11:12 AM
rating: 2
 
frankg

% basis means return based on investment. Your investing significanly more on CC therefore you need to get back that much more. Check pitcher abuse points. All that wear and tear on that Wellsian body adds up to plenty of Pavanian risk. I'd still take Hudson at say $25 mil for 3 years over CC at whatever.

Dec 17, 2008 13:56 PM
rating: 0
 
Ben L

I would have to agree with this statement wholeheartedly

Dec 17, 2008 20:09 PM
rating: 0
 
Christopher Taylor

Hudson doesn't equal Sabbathia, but I'd still take whatever O-dawg's contract is over what CC signed for... I think that is the commenter's point. CC contract carries a ton of risk, he MUST keep pitching how he has for 7 years for it to be worth it - and what pitcher does that?

Dec 17, 2008 20:33 PM
rating: 0
 
David Coonce

Man, can we all just agree to stop calling him O-Dog/Dawg? It sounds like the kind of nickname you give to a thirteen-year-old with a goofy hat.

Dec 18, 2008 07:22 AM
rating: 0
 
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