Everybody knows that breaking one's ankle in a gruesome accident, then pitching at age 38 with lingering pain from said injury, is bad for a pitcher. What Tim Hudson's season presupposes is: Maybe it's not?*
Hudson has thrown 46 innings this year. In those 46 innings, he has walked two batters (both of them Carlos Santana, YCPB). He has gone to just 15 three-ball counts in six starts. Walk rate for pitchers stabilizes at 170 plate appearances, according to Russell Carleton, and Hudson has faced 170 batters on the nose, so this isn't easily dismissed as a sample size thing anymore. Shoot, even if it were: Two walks in 46 innings. Two walks in 46 innings is never totally dismissable.
So where does the ankle come in? I talked to Hudson this week (before his start on Wednesday, when he went 8 2/3 walkless innings) about his exceptional control this year. His theory:
"I think a lot of it is 'cause I'm not driving off the rubber like I have in the past. Probably has a lot to do with my ankle," he said. "I can't overthrow it as much (this year) just because, you know, when I had fresh legs and I didn't have a bad ankle I had a tendency to overthrow a little bit and leave the rubber early."
His fastball velocity is down a tick this year, which might be an effect of that—he says he'd like to be back to the low 90s as the year goes on, but "I'm pretty comfortable with what I'm at right now. I'm staying in line, in my lane a lot better with the catcher, not driving quite as much as I have."
So he says that's the case. But is it? I challenged Doug Thorburn to assess Hudson's mechanics this year compared to last, without tipping him off to what Hudson had said. Doug's words:
Hudson's delivery looks much as it has for years, but I did notice a few small changes from 2013 to this year. He appears more balanced this year, keeping his head over the center-of-mass more than last year when he was rearing back during the stride phase, and he finishes with better posture. The biggest difference that I noticed with his lower half actually has to do with his follow-through; last year Hudson's back leg popped off the ground earlier in the progression, nearly on top of release point, but this year he is keeping the back foot anchored longer and popping up with less ferocity. All of these small elements seem to be helping with his stability and repetition.
Nailed it. Here's what that looks like:
I love it when a quote comes together.
So does this mean that the ankle is the reason he's so good this year? And does this mean that he'll always be this good this year? And does this mean that the greatest threat to the Giants is that his ankle will heal fully, most likely right in the middle of the biggest game of the year, Henry Rowengartner style? Eh, probably not. But Hudson says that, even now, as the game goes on his ankle starts hurting him a bit. "It'll get a little cranky," he says. It doesn't bother him: "Honestly, most people when they get out there, they're feeling something that's a little cranky. For me it just happens to be my drive ankle." What all the above means is that it maybe shouldn't bother the Giants, either.
*Cripes do I ever need to get a new joke for my introductory paragraphs.