Braves 2012 Player Review: Tim Hudson

Scott Cunningham

Was this the season where Father Time had begun to set his sights on Tim Hudson?

After completing his eighth season for the Braves, it's easy to gloss over Tim Hudson's base stats, and simply think "good ‘ol reliable Huddy." And it's not entirely wrong either, because according to his base stats, Tim Hudson looked like more of the usual solid work he had given to the Braves pretty much every year: his 16 wins led the team; at 179.0 innings thrown, he was one away from tying with Mike Minor for the most innings pitched, and a 3.62 ERA over that span is acceptable, considering his career averages. 749 batters stepped to the plate against Huddy and hit .248/.304/.361, which is just about par with his career average slash-against line of .248/.310/.364, leaning towards slightly better.

But as always is the case, the base statistics are not necessarily the most sufficient degrees of analyzing a player anymore these days. As solid of base numbers that Tim Hudson had put up in 2012, the bigger picture leads to hypothetical questions of age beginning to catch up to Tim Hudson, and the subsequent decline that often is associated with the aging process. At 36-years old at the start of the 2012 season with 14 MLB seasons under his belt, Tim Hudson was at the age where even the best pitchers begin, if they already haven't, show some signs of aging.

On August 28, Tim Hudson was cruising, and the Braves were nursing a 1-0 lead over the Mets in Atlanta, on Chipper Jones Appreciation Night. In the seventh inning with two outs, and two runners on, the Mets' Lucas Duda stepped to the plate. After getting Duda to a 1-2 count, Duda would proceed to foul off three pitches and nurse the count full. On the ninth pitch of the at-bat, Huddy would hang a fastball and Duda launched a go-ahead, three-run home run that would ultimately win it for the Mets. Turner Field went quiet. I went quiet. Failure to secure the clutch out from Tim Hudson was something not a lot of us were used to. It didn't look like something that even Tim Hudson was used to.

Across the board, we do have legitimate reason to believe that perhaps 2012 was the year where age had begun to catch up to Huddy; just about every number on his Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference pages are worse than the prior year, and/or his career averages. We're not going to be too critical of these drops; everyone ages, and it's not like Huddy had any drastic extremes towards the negative; in fact, I'd be willing to wager that there are lots of veteran pitchers would have felt lucky to have aged as gracefully as Tim Hudson had over the last five years or so.

But the truth of the matter is that yes, Tim Hudson had dropped a little bit in just about every pertinent category. Huddy allowed 8.4 hits/9 (168 H), which is exactly where his career averages are, but it is also a declining trend from his last two previous seasons where he allowed 7.4 and 7.9 respectively. Huddy has never been a strikeout pitcher, but his 5.1 K/9 (102 Ks) rate is the second lowest he's turned in over his 14 year career, and the worst since 2004, when he was still pitching for the Athletics, and is almost an entire K lower than his career average of 6.0 K/9. At 2.4 BB/9, Huddy was still below his career norms of 2.7 BB/9, but again it is a decline from the previous year. 0.6 HR/9 is exactly the same as it was in 2011, and it's better than his career average of 0.7 HR/9, but consider the fact that Hudson had yielded 12 HR in 179.0 innings, whereas he had allowed 14 HR the previous year in 36 more innings total.

As is often the case with a groundball specialist, Tim Hudson does not fail to outperform his FIP of 3.78. His xFIP isn't as pretty, as his 4.10 xFIP is his worst since 2006. His WHIP rating of 1.21 is a little bit of decline from the two previous years, and looking at some of the more advanced stats, Huddy's tERA and SIERA were not favorable, and showed more considerable decline: 4.21 tERA, 4.14 SIERA.

But enough of the robot numbers, we're here to analyze and figure out just what led to this belief that Tim Hudson had a little bit of a stumble in 2012. For starters, as is the natural norm, with age comes a decrease in velocity, and Tim Hudson is no exception to that rule. Never known as a fireballer by any means, Huddy still had a fastball that averaged around 90-91 MPH throughout his career, but 2012 marked a season where his fastball averaged at 89.0 MPH, according to Fangraphs. Across the spectrum, all of his pitches lost a little bit of zip, and in the game where 1 MPH can easily make the difference between a 1-ish ERA to a 3-ish ERA, this is not something that can be dismissed.

The degradation of velocity is no more evident than in the plate discipline statistics for Tim Hudson opponents in 2012. Hitters were able to make contact with 84.3% of Tim Hudson pitches, almost 4% higher than his career norm; but anything inside the strike zone is being touched at a 92.2% clip. Both marks are career-highs for collective Tim Hudson opposition, and if you look at it in the perspective of 92% of pitches being touched, that exponentially means a high percentage of things to possibly go wrong.

In 2010, we witnessed a Tim Hudson season where 64.1% of batted balls ended up on the ground and where 32 double plays were turned. Both marks were fairly absurd in a good way as Braves fans, but also compared to Huddy's career averages. In 2012, almost an entire ten percent fewer balls ended up on the ground, and at 55.5%, marks the lowest GB% that Huddy has notched since 2002, a year removed from when Fangraphs even started logging GB% at all. Obviously, the number of double-plays turned is proportionate to the quality of the infield defense behind him, and Dan Uggla/Revolving Door SS isn't Martin Prado/Alex Gonzalez, but for a guy who has averaged 20 GIDPs turned behind him a season, Huddy's nine GIDPs forced in 2012 was scathingly low. To make matters worse, with the decline of GB%, came an increase in line drives and fly balls in general; never necessarily a good sign.

One eye-test observation that many a 2012 Braves fan may have made about Tim Hudson this season, was his susceptibility to the big inning. How many times did you watch a Tim Hudson start and thought "Man, he's through five innings in 48 pitches. Maybe he'll go the distance?" or something along those lines? If you're like me, probably more than you want to remember. Just eight times out of his 28 games did Tim Hudson actually throw more than 100 pitches, and one of them was indeed a complete-game shutout (vs. MIA, 6/5), but to no surprise, Huddy was very economical with his pitch counts overall. On the flip-side however, in eight of his 28 starts, Tim Hudson yielded four or more runs in a single inning, confirming that he was susceptible to the big inning.

The first inning was problematic to the point where it became routinely discussed on television and radio commentary, about how it was notable whenever Tim Hudson made it out of the first inning with no runs allowed. Cumulatively, batters hit Huddy at a .316/.372/.462 (.834 OPS) and stretching him out to a 6.75 ERA. Throughout the season, Huddy yielded more XBH in the first inning than any other inning.

However, on days in which Hudson didn't get burned in the first inning, they weren't days where Braves fans could really relax either; on the days in which it seemed like Hudson would cruise through seven, it would be the seventh inning where Huddy had worse results than all his first inning woes. Naturally, the fatigue factor from having pitched in six prior innings comes into play here, but we all witnessed days where it looked like Huddy would go all nine and should theoretically cruise through the seventh. Regardless, batters would go on to compile a .349/.417/.508 (.925 OPS) slash line against Hudson in seventh innings, with a 7.98 ERA.

On this note, the third time through the order for Tim Hudson throughout 2012, saw 202 batters hitting Huddy at a .291/.374/.477 clip; which is a stark contrast to his career average of .264/.329/.390 when hitters see him a third time in a game. It's safe to assume that fatigue has to do a lot with this, but at the same time, the declining velocity certainly stands out, at least in my mind.

An interesting deviation I noticed in Tim Hudson's numbers this year were his home/road splits. Throughout Huddy's career, he's typically pitched better at home (combined OAK/ATL) as indicative by the .239/.299/.349 slash listed for "home" starts, and an overall .247/.304/.357 at Turner Field. 2012 saw a season where Hudson was a noticeably better pitcher away from Atlanta than when he pitched at the Ted. Opposing hitters were hitting .266/.314/.369 against Hudson in Atlanta, all higher than his career norms, but when Tim Hudson situated in someone else's home, he was holding hitters to a .227/.293/.353 line.

In conclusion, in 2012, Tim Hudson did have another solid season for the Braves, overall. Perhaps it was age beginning to catch up to him, or the fact that he missed the start of the season while recovering from off-season back surgery, and occasionally had some ankle issues throughout the season, but it also wasn't the smoothest of seasons of his long and productive career. Maybe it was both. But for what it's worth, he was without question a positive contributor to the Braves, with fWAR liking him more at 2.3 fWAR over bWAR's 1.3 score. Let's face it though, WAR in general has never been as kind to contact pitchers and groundball specialists like Tim Hudson, so measuring him on that alone isn't necessarily the best measure. There's still fewer things more relaxing than seeing Tim Hudson mow through an inning on eight pitches with three groundball outs, whether or not it can be measured statistically.

As reported earlier this week, Tim Hudson was among the names of Braves players whose options were picked up for 2013. So it's great news that the Braves will have the luxury of Tim Hudson's services for at least one more year. At 37-years old come the start of the 2013 season, Huddy has stated that he isn't sure what lies ahead for his future, but that his health and pitching performance will tell him everything he needs to know on whether or not he wants to keep playing beyond 2013. I can't say I'd complain if he turned in more quality work in 2013 and were willing to sign another team-friendly extension for another year or two, and finish out his fruitful career with the Braves.

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