Back in March, I profiled Tim Hudson, saying that he would need a better defense behind him if he were to succeed. His mechanics were shot relative to his days in Oakland, his velocity was down, and his strikeouts stayed around the league average while his walk and homer rates both climbed. It looks as if Hudson did not get that memo though, as he has seemingly dominated opponents the entire April.
USA Today ran a fairly informative piece about a week ago, detailing the changes that Hudson has made to his mechanics, and mentioning that he’s brought back his splitter and regained 2-3 mph on his fastball. For those who do not feel like clicking over:
Third baseman Chipper Jones saw a difference in Hudson’s first spring training start: “He was painting,” referring to a pitcher’s ability to hit the corners of home plate. “He was putting sinkers on the corners, cutters on the corners. Mentally, he was where he needed to be.”
This season, Hudson is stronger and his mechanics are sound…His fastball, now at 94 mph, is 2 or 3 mph faster than it has been…And, he says, his split-finger pitch is as good as it was in 2003.
The stronger body is because of health. He spent more time in the weight room without worrying about re-injuring the strained left oblique muscle — the side muscle below the rib cage — that limited his ability to rotate during his 2004 and 2005 seasons with the Braves. The strain came with the wear and tear of the strong torque in his delivery.
Hudson has gone with more of an over-the-top delivery, as opposed to last year’s where his arm angle would drop and cause the pitch to “flatten out”. This is more of a question for someone like Will Carroll, but I wonder if, even with the extra work done in the weight room, he isn’t risking another problem with the oblique. Besides that though, it’s very interesting that he’s added velocity and brought the splitter back. ESPN.com does not list the splitter among the pitches he has thrown this year, although he has thrown 6% “Other” pitches. Opponents are only hitting .216 against “Other”, so if it is the splitter, it has been effective.
Of course, Hudson’s numbers so far are what happen when you only have a month of starts to look at. Yes, he’s been dominant with a 1.22 ERA, but his defense has been fantastic behind him thus far. Hudson’s FIP is 2.66, meaning his defense has saved him roughly a run-and-a-half on on his ERA so far. He has also stranded 90% of his baserunners, an absurd total. He allowed 78% to score in 2005, and 68% in 2006. Part of the reason for that is his high double-play rate, as he’s already induced 6 of them in just 37 innings (that’s a 6% increase from last year). Meeting around halfway at a more normal 75%, you can add another 1.03 to his FIP-adjusted ERA, giving you 3.69.
That’s still wonderful, but I also did that rough calculation based on his allowing only one baserunner per inning. If he really is at his 2003 level, then that’s about right, as his WHIP was 1.08 that season. If he’s around his career rate of 1.26 though, then we could expect his ERA to be around 4.34 after making the adjustments.
Basically, if Hudson really has changed his mechanics around–and he needed to–then the Braves are going to be happy with the results. His strikeouts are up to 7.54, an increase of over 2 per nine from last year. His walks are down, and he has only allowed one homerun thus far–although he only allowed 2 all of last April, and finished with 25 for the year. Once things even out, he will probably finish in the mid-to-high 3’s in ERA, unless he dramatically increases his baserunners per inning, as shown above. The Braves will certainly need him to be at his best if they want to top the Mets down the stretch, even with their offense.
UPDATE: Looks like my rough calculation included some extra information. FIP adjusts for Left on Base percentage already, meaning that I was adding an extra run to Hudson’s ERA. The initial estimate of a mid-to-high 3’s ERA is still accurate, although that mid-4 ERA should only occur if his progress is, well, not really progress. The point still stands about the changes to his mechanics and the fact that he has been a better pitcher so far this year, but you can toss the league average idea out the window. Thanks to a few readers for alerting me to this.