One of the reasons why I love baseball is because there are so many sophisticated tools that can be used for analysis. In my opinion, it really allows people to have a wide variety of perspectives in which to understand the sport, something that currently does not exist on a comparable level for sports like basketball and football.
I wanted to get this post out there before Daniel Hudson's game this afternoon. First off, I want to admit that I love Hudson and think he has amazing stuff. Because of this, there may be some inherent bias on my part. However, my belief is that Hudson, despite the early season results, is still the amazing pitcher we witnessed last year. He's just been unlucky so far, and will shortly revert to form.
In the meantime, I'm currently praying that Hudson will go 8 innings tonight, and blank the Cubs on 10 K's.
Pitch F/X is awesome
I've never really fiddled around with Pitch F/X before until recently, but I have to say, this tool is just so ridiculously cool. Seriously, if you ever have time, you should just explore Brooks Baseball (where I obtained the below graphs) and fiddle around with the pitching data from games. Really makes the nerd in me just want to go crazy. For instance, check this graph out:
Now, what this graph is visually showing us, are all the pitches that Hudson threw against the Phillies in his most recent start, and the results of them, while grouping them based on speed and horizontal movement. And we can distinctly see something that we already knew: Hudson throws three types of pitches. But which ones are which? Well, for that, we have to do a little more research and understand the background of pitching physics, but the short and dirty is that the huge group of pitches that sits around 93-94 mph consists of Hudson's fastballs, the medium-sized group of pitches that sits around 83 mph consists of Hudson's changeups, and the small group of pitches that sit around 86 mph with no horizontal movement (due to no horizontal spin) consists of Hudson's sliders. Pretty cool right?
Hudson is unlucky
In his last start against the Phillies, Hudson gave up 3 ER in 6 innings, despite striking out 6 and walking none. A major reason for this, was because he gave up 10 hits as well. So what was going on? Was Hudson really just unlucky, the way sabermetricians would describe?
I believe the answer is yes. The following graph shows only at-bat results against LHH (I'm only giving the LHH graph, because that's who you would expect Hudson to have the most trouble with, and also because there weren't too many at-bat results for RHH since the Phillies lineup consisted largely of LHH) from the catcher's point of view:
So what exactly is this telling us? Well, most importantly to our discussion, aside from the two singles and one double he gave up from pitches that lie in the middle of the plate, Hudson pitched exactly where he wanted to. He was living on the outside edge, against left-handed hitters. Throw the fastball on the outside, because it's incredibly difficult to get hits there. And then what happened? Out of ten pitches hugging the outside edge, Hudson ends up getting knocked around for four singles and a triple. He made pitches where he was supposed to, and just got hit. That's not going to happen most of the time, which is why I firmly believe Hudson will come around.
Some other interesting pieces of information about the graph. The two strikeouts below the strike zone were generated from sliders. In fact, if my memory is correct, the slider on the bottom right is the one he threw to Shane Victorino, which was flailed at pathetically. So it looks like the slider may be an effective weapon for him to use against LHH, and should be used more often. That being said, one has to wonder if for some reason Hudson's offspeed pitches are not leading to swings. Against left-handed hitters, only three at-bats ended with a changeup and only two at-bats ended with a slider. The rest were all fastballs. I don't know what the normal rate is, but considering how dirty Hudson's changeup was last year, my guess is that he was generating a ton more outs with the pitch previously. If it's a factor of the league having extensive scouting reports on Hudson, and hitters have started to get a handle on his offspeed pitches, when they are thrown, and how to layoff those pitches, then Hudson may have some more things to consider about.
Which brings me to an important point about Pitch F/X. That, as with any tool, there are always inherent limitations. As NASCARbernet has mentioned before, velocity readings are subject to a lot of different factors that can create inconsistencies. For instance, humidity, temperature, and wind speed all play a role in how radar guns and cameras record velocity, which is why some stadiums end up consistently recording velocity a couple of mph higher or lower than others. The same issues apply with movement and spin readings of pitches. In addition, when I do a simple analysis like the one above, it doesn't take into account a crucial element of pitching, which is pitch sequencing. For instance, is the reason why Hudson's down and away changeups were not effective against the Phillies because he didn't set them up properly with a high and inside fastball? This is important and not observable from only looking at an at-bat result graph (though admittedly, it's something that you can research using Pitch F/X also and find out....which I was too lazy to do). So as always, take everything you read about and see with a grain of salt, and think it through with your own analysis. My opinion though, having looked at some of the Pitch F/X data and combined with his overall peripherals, is that Hudson has been unlucky. He probably won't ever repeat his stellar start with the Dbacks over the course of a season, but Daniel Hudson is still the best pitcher on our team, and one of the best in baseball.