Why has Tim Hudson been so mediocre?
Before we tackle a few reasons, let's hear from Hudson himself. Here are a few questions I asked him after his last game of the season, an impressive performance (six innings pitched, one earned run allowed) against the New York Mets.
SHANKS: How important is it for you to end the season on a positive note?
HUDSON: It's important for everybody to end on a positive note. I've had a very tough year, very frustrating. To be able to come out tonight and give us a chance to win, we had a nice win to start with, and to make some pitches made me feel pretty good. It was a good positive start for me. My offseason started tomorrow, so I'm excited to get ready for next year, working hard this offseason so I can come in strong and ready to come in next year.
SHANKS: Mechanically the things you've worked on with Roger. What has he helped you with?
HUDSON: Trying to stay back over the rubber and stay taller, get better tilt on my pitches, keep my arm up. I got into a bad habit of leaving the rubber a little bit early and trying to catch up and my arm dropping and the ball just coming in kind of flat. If I can stay back and get my arm up and get a downward tilt on everything, that's when the game is easy for me. But whenever I try to do a little too much, and leave the rubber early, and try to make things nastier than they should be, that's when things kind of flatten out. For me, more is not good. I have to try and stay back and trust my stuff.
SHANKS: Have you felt more consistent since he's worked with you on that?
HUDSON: Yeah. You take away the Colorado outing and I've felt pretty good the last few times out. I even felt pretty good in Colorado, but that place is always kind of a wash up there. Mechanically, I've been feeling pretty good. I feel like my pitches have been doing what they supposed to do. I've been getting a lot more ground balls here lately. Guys beating the ball into the ground is a good thing for me. I think that's what I've been doing.
SHANKS: Are the mechanical troubles where you think the inconsistency has come from?
HUDSON: Yeah. My arm angle, letting my arm drop, and not getting that downward tilt on things. It's frustrating when you go out there and you have a tough time. It's human nature you want to go out there and try to do more. You want to try harder. You want to keep trying. For pitchers, you have to back off. You have to trust your stuff and try to stay back and get nice levels on your pitches. That's kind of what I've fallen into, instead of backing off. You want to try to rebound from a tough start. It kind of snowballs on you a bit.
SHANKS: How important is the use of your splitter?
HUDSON: It's been pretty good lately. I threw some really good ones tonight. I threw some good sliders and good sinkers. When things are right, it's a lot of fun to go out there and pitch. When you're battling and you're trying to hard out there, that's when you're doing a lot of backing up third - and that's not much fun.
With Roger and the work that we've put in this year, he's come a long way in understanding my delivery and understanding what makes you tick. Roger had a tough job this year coming in and having to understand eleven or twelve pitchers and understanding their deliveries. He's really been able to get a good handle on what makes me tick. We've come to a conclusion on when I've been bad this year, the reasons why, and the adjustments I need to make. Going out there and making those in-game adjustments that will be the difference next year, instead of after the game, scratching your head wondering what was wrong.
SHANKS: Are you going to look back on this season and the numbers and wonder how it happened?
HUDSON: It's definitely been one of those years that you scratch your head and wonder what the heck is going on. It's been a eye-opener for me. I've never had a year like this. I've never looked forward to an offseason as I have this one - not because it was such a bad season, but I want to go out there and rebound from this year. I feel like I'm going to re-dedicated myself and get in the weight room and come in stronger than I've ever been and game-ready come spring training. It was a tough year for me. It was embarrassing. I feel like I've let a lot of my teammates down and the organization down and the fans. So I have a lot of motivation going into next year.
I've try to take the positives out of whatever I can. I don't like dwelling on the bad stuff that's happened, even in the tough games I try looking at the good pitches that I made. You need to know what you were doing wrong, so you have to look at some of the bad stuff. You've got to go out there and make those adjustments and try to stay as positive as you can.
SHANKS: Especially for someone that hasn't had many bumps in the road along the way, it identifying what the problems are part of the solution?
HUDSON: Yeah exactly. There were times when it's almost like you hit the cruise control button and you're on auto pilot. This is one of those years where you have to go out there and make adjustments and I didn't make them - at least not nearly as consistently as I needed to. But this has been a learning year for me. As tough as this year was, it's only going to make me better because it's something I've never experienced and it's something that I'm definitely going to learn from.
You've got to love Hudson's attitude. He clearly knows he's not the same pitcher he was in Oakland, where he was 53 games over .500 in six seasons. In his two Braves' seasons, he's only six games over the break even point at 27-21.
In Hudson's first season, he missed a month with an oblique problem. Considering he made only 29 starts, a 14-9 record was acceptable, particularly in his first season in the National League. But the 13-12 record and more importantly the 4.86 ERA in 2006 was unacceptable to everyone - especially Hudson.
The peculiar thing is we see glimpses of the old Tim Hudson. Take May for example, where he was 4-1 with a 2.79 ERA in seven starts. He threw a one-hit shutout against the Rockies on May 1st and could not have looked more dominant. Then a few weeks later he threw eight scoreless innings in Arizona and was equally impressive.
But in June and July, Hudson was truly lost. In his eleven starts over the two-month period, Hudson was 3-6 with a 6.82 ERA, 81 hits allowed in 63.1 innings, 48 earned runs, 30 walks, and 33 strikeouts.
And then for the rest of the season, he was good and bad. He gave up three runs in six innings in his first start in August, and then shut out the Phillies in seven innings in his next. Then he gave up three runs in 6.2 innings in his third August start, but bounced back to allow only one run in 7.2 innings in his next. Then he gave up four runs in each of his next two starts.
September was the same. He got bombed in Phily on the 3rd of the month giving up six runs in seven innings, followed by a start at home against the Cubs when he allowed only one earned run in six innings. Then the next time out he gave up five runs in five innings, but he followed that start up with a three-hit, one-run performance over seven innings against the Marlins. Colorado was difficult for him, as he gave up six runs in 6.1 innings, but he returned home to finish up strong in that game against the Mets.
Inconsistency. Pretty much sums up Hudson's Braves' career thus far.
So what can he do to snap out of it, and maybe the better question is: Will the Braves have the patience to let him snap out of it in an Atlanta uniform? Not many pitchers have come to the Braves and struggled, and not one great pitcher elsewhere has come here and been so mediocre. Might the Braves just give up on him and deal him away?
Well the contract is an issue. He's due $4 million next season (along with an additional $2.5 million of his signing bonus), but then his contract balloons up to $13 million in 2008 and 2009. If Hudson struggles again with the Braves next season, they will not be able to trade him with that contract. So if they are going to deal him, this winter might be the time.
Would a team be interested in the right-hander? Well, you'd think the only scenario that would make sense would be if an American League team would take a gamble that if they got ahold of Hudson he could once again be the dominant starter he was in Oakland. I could see a team believing that.
With the contract situation, it would have to be the big market teams that would be have interest. So the Yankees, Red Sox, White Sox, and maybe the Angels would be the best candidates if a Hudson trade takes place this winter.
But should the Braves give up on him this quickly? If it is mechanics, and if Roger McDowell has helped Hudson figure out what was wrong, what if he did bounce back? With Mike Hampton coming back, the Braves must wonder how strong the rotation could be if Hudson were to become the pitcher they hoped they were getting from Oakland.
If it was that Tim Hudson, the one that was so dominating with the A's, along with John Smoltz and a healthy Mike Hampton, the Braves might have the best trio in the game. And with John Schuerholz saying he wants to get the Braves back to being a pitching-first organization, what better way to do that than to have a terrific threesome to lead the rotation?
But can Hudson figure it out? He sounds determined to bounce back and prove he's better than what he's showed us in his two years in Atlanta. And if it's a problem with him being comfortable in the clubhouse, won't another year simply make him even more comfortable, perhaps feeling more like it's his clubhouse?
This is a very difficult decision. Expect Schuerholz to at least ask around to see how much interest there may be in Hudson. He'd be foolish to not do that. And if the right deal comes along, he might pull the trigger on a trade. But in a way, that would almost be admitting that he made a mistake in getting Hudson in the first place, and Schuerholz doesn't do that very often.
As Hudson said, he's embarrassed with the way he's pitched. He's got to know that he's about the first pitcher in the last decade and a half to come to Atlanta and get worse. We're not talking about Albie Lopez here; it's Tim Hudson - one of the best pitchers in the American League from 1999-2004. And if someway, somehow he can find that magic again, the Braves might just yet reap the benefits of a trade they thought was a slam dunk only two winters ago.
Saturday - 6. How good is Chuck James?
Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. He can also be heard regularly on the Braves Radio Network. Email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.