The most consistent starter for the Braves in 2011, Tim Hudson had a very good 4 WAR season. Along with a great 3.21 ERA, he showed sustainability with a 3.39 FIP and 3.44 SIERA. His 2012 season may not begin Opening Day due to back surgery, but he should be back by May 1, leaving him with most of the season to provide good value again.
Hudson’s greatest skill is his groundball rate, sitting at 57% last year. While that figure was his lowest since 2002, it is still well above average. Using PITCHf/x numbers, Hudson’s sinker has just over an inch less sink on it, explaining part of the drop in groundballs. However, groundballs are not necessarily the greatest thing for this team. Uggla and Chipper are poor defensively, Pastornicky will likely be no better than average, and Freeman has poor range. That being said, groundballs are still the best type of batted ball to give up and Hudson induces a lot of them.
After his 2008 Tommy John surgery, Hudson struggled a bit with his control through 2010. This was expected since control is usually the last skill to return after the operation. In 2011, his BB rate fell to 6.3%, his lowest since ’07. Getting ahead of hitters was the key to the improvement, increasing his first-pitch-strike percentage from 54% to 62%. His current injury may affect his control the most, due to the lack of spring preparation. If his walks stay low early, he should get through the season without much struggle.
The last major factor in determining a pitcher’s performance is strikeout ability and Hudson also improved there last year. While he’s not a dominant whiff machine, Hudson struck out 17.9% of the batters he faced last year, his highest rate since 2001. His ability to get ahead of hitters helped, along with his increased usage of the curveball. In 2010, he only threw 4% curves, meaning 96% of his pitches were at least 80 MPH. Last year, that rate increased to 9%, not a big increase but it slows the hitter’s bat down knowing a 75 MPH pitch could be coming. Another factor was the increased effectiveness of his slider. The toughest pitch to throw after elbow surgery, Hudson’s slider was missed 13% of the time in 2010, increasing to 18% in 2011. As his most common offspeed pitch, this resulted in about 30 more whiffs over the season. Strikeouts generally decrease with age, so I don’t expect a rate higher than last year. If he can stay above 16%, that should limit the exploitation of the Braves’ poor infield defense.
One may look at his BABIPs from the last three full seasons and think he’s getting lucky. Hudson’s versatile repertoire is a big reason for such “control” of batted balls. He has seven separate pitches which have fairly distinct movement and velocity. His sinker has three more inches of tail and sink than his flat four-seam fastball. His slider has two more inches of lateral movement and drop. His splitter has one inch more tail and four more inches of drop. This may not sound like much, but a barrel is only 2 3/4 inches thick and the sweet spot is no more than six inches wide. Hudson makes hitters guess, keeping the ball off the barrel, which results in low BABIPs.
For 2012, I expect some regression due to the injury and general aging for a 36-year-old. A FIP around 3.60 in about 180 IP should give him 2.5-3 WAR, an above average total and worth the $9M he is being paid.