2011 Diamondbacks Report Card: Daniel Hudson

Hudson report card

Daniel Hudson
Age on opening day: 24
Salary: $414,000
2011 stats: 33 games, 222.0 IP, 3.49 ERA, 16-12, 169:50 K:BB
2010 stats (combined): 14 games, 95.1 IP, 2.45 ERA, 8-2, 84:27 K:BB

Going into the 2011 season, I don't think there was a player I was more excited to watch than Daniel Hudson. Justin Upton? Sure, he's fun to watch, but there was nothing to suggest that 2011 was the season where he would finally play up to his amazing potential. Miguel Montero? I was excited to see what he could do in his first season as the undisputed starter, but we pretty much knew what we had with him at that point? Jarrod Parker? He might be a September call-up, but that's cold comfort in March.

Daniel Hudson, though, was just the right mix of tantalizing and unpredictable. While Barry Enright got the attention for his streak of great starts, Hudson showed up in a trade and dominated for the rest of his time with the Diamondbacks, to the tune of a 1.93 ERA. It wasn't sustainable, but he struck out more than four times as guys as he walked, and it's not as though an FIP of 3.22 would be a problem for a 24-year-old starter. Needless to say, I was excited to see what he would do for an encore.

2011 Expectations:

IP W/L ERA BB K WHIP
200.0 18-3 1.93 40 175 1.20

These are just a few of Hudson's numbers from his time in Arizona in 2010, extrapolated over 200 innings. So basically Pedro Martinez at his peak, minus all the pesky injuries. Pretty nice, huh? Anything short of this in 2011 would obviously be viewed as such a severe disappointment that the only logical response would be to DFA him outright, and to burn his possessions just to prove a point.

Ok, so obviously no one actually expected this in 2011. Hudson's BABIP in 2010 was .216 and his LOB% was a staggering 91.5%. Both of these numbers would regress toward the mean over a full season, and his ERA would rise as a result. But he clearly had fantastic stuff, and if his control was for real, Hudson might still emerge as a front-line starter in 2011.

2011 Performance: With that in mind, I think we were all a bit taken aback when Hudson began the season by going 1-4 with a 5.64 ERA. What gives, Daniel? If I didn't know any better, I'd think that young pitchers were prone to erratic fluctuation over small sample sizes or something crazy like that. Luckily for us, he maintained fantastic peripherals throughout this stretch, and there were plenty of reasons to believe that he would go back to dominating hitters once his BABIP stabilized.

And that's more or less what happened. Hudson's ERA slowly dropped as the season went on, and it was down to 3.74 by the All-Star Break. It's difficult to tell whether Hudson pitched better as the season progressed, or just had better luck with batted balls, but whatever the reason, Hudson settled in as a nice number-2 starter for a team bound for the playoffs. Hudson was dazzling at times, with one of his best starts of the season coming in a memorable game against the team that gave up on him. Overall, Huddy ended the season with a 3.49 ERA, supported by a 3.28 FIP. Overall, those are plenty respectable numbers for a young, cost-controlled number 2 starter.

Of course, it wasn't entirely sunshine and roses for Hudson. The most notable change from 2010 was the drop in his strikeout rate, from 23.3% in 2010 to 18.4% in 2011. Everyone had a theory about this drop, from a change in arm angle* to NL hitters simply figuring him out a bit better. For my part, I think Hudson tweaked his fastball a bit to get more velocity on it (it jumped by almost a mile per hour in 2011), and sacrificed some movement on it. If he can continue to work on it with Charles Nagy, it should remain a plus pitch going forward.

*I'm not great at identifying differences in pitching mechanics, so I'll leave such judgements to you, the reader. Here is Hudson at his best this year, and here is Hudson from 2010.

Hudson also struggled with getting through starts without his best stuff. While rotation-mate Ian Kennedy only had four starts all season (including the playoffs) where he allowed more than four runs, Hudson had twelve such starts, indicating that when Hudson would struggle, he was occasionally unable to limit the damage. Ultimately however, these are absurdly small problems for a guy in his first full season in the majors to have. For some perspective, Hudson was drafted in fifth round in 2008, and here is a list of the top five first round picks from that draft, along with their biggest flaws.

Brian Matusz Actually finished the season with an ERA over 10.
Aaron Crow Is a reliever, and thus throws about a forth as many innings as Hudson.
Ethan Martin Had an ERA over seven in A+ ball last year.
Andrew Cashner Career BB/9: 4.71
Josh Fields Was once traded for Erik Bedard. ERIK BEDARD!
Daniel Hudson Only struck out seven batters per 9 rather than eight in his first season.

Yeah, I think we're pretty lucky to have Huddy.

2012 Outlook: Hudson will only be 25 in 2012, and he still has some room to grow as a pitcher. It's weird to think that we haven't seen the best of our second-best pitcher, but there's a very real chance that Hudson could eclipse Kennedy next year. But even if he doesn't, he should remain a solid number 2 starter who is under team control for the forseeable future. That's good enough for me.

Final Grade: Hudson did not live up to the video-game numbers he put for a third of a season in 2010. He didn't get as lucky regarding his batted-balls, and prolonged exposure to him revealed a few flaws that we didn't notice in 2010. But these flaws are ultimately nitpicks. Hudson is a very good young pitcher, and he should continue to improve as he develops as a pitcher. Grade: A-

And here's the peanut gallery's opinion:

soco: B+
There was a lot to like about Daniel Hudson’s 2011 season. He showed the talent that brought him to the team in the first place, but he still has some strides to make. It seemed like sometimes he would get a little rattled or overcome by his emotions.

Jim: B
No-one realistically expected Hudson to reproduce his 2011 performance for Arizona, where he went 7-1 with a 1.69 ERA. But I think an ERA below 3.50 certainly surpassed hopes for his first full season in the majors. His FIP was even lower, at 3.29, almost identical to Kennedy’s, with Hudson not being as lucky as Ian with regard to BABIP. It was a very solid season, and given his youth, I’m expecting better yet to come in the years ahead. It’s worth noting where Hudson sits in terms of career ERA at age 24 - his 3.19 number is in the same area, with about the same number of innings, as Tim Lincecum (3.14) at the same point in his career...

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