After nine seasons in Atlanta, Tim Hudson entered free agency fresh off a gruesome ankle injury and with a question mark on his future. At the time, the Atlanta Braves looked fairly set with a rotation led by young veterans Kris Medlen and Mike Minor, plus the arms of Julio Teheran, Brandon Beachy, and Alex Wood. Finding room for Hudson would be tough.
Early in free agency, the Giants came calling for Hudson, attempting to bring the former A’s pitcher back to the Bay Area and the Braves weren’t likely going to match the offer of $23M over two seasons. The Braves had other plans involving locking up stars, such as the aforementioned Teheran, and keeping their core together. While Frank Wren may have been interested in bringing back Hudson and letting Wood provide depth, especially with the fragile Beachy around, that was a lot of money to keep Hudson home in the southeast.
So, Hudson left, heading to the west coast while the Braves later added Gavin Floyd for depth purposes. Their decision was reasonable and defensible. Hudson, coming off an injury, would turn 39 in mid-July. And while Hudson was not that good in his first two years in Atlanta, he was very productive over the next seven years, though only three times did he stay off the disabled list in those years. He had pitched about 310 innings in 2012-13 and his GB% had fell from above 60% to about 55%, which wasn’t a significant change but a concerning one considering Hudson’s age. And while he never had great velocity, even back to his Oakland days, he was now averaging under 90 mph and was a 3 fWAR guy only once between 2008 and 2013.
Fast-forward to eleven starts into the 2014 season and Hudson has been superb. His control has never been this good (0.93 BB/9) while his GB% rate is up five points. A 2.91 FIP would not only be well below his career 3.75 FIP, but also significantly below his personal low of 3.38. His split-finger, which he rediscovered last season, is now his #3 pitch behind his fastball and slider and is considerably more effective than it has been in years.
Atlanta’s injuries took away Medlen and Beachy and while Floyd has been good, he has not been Hudson-good. And despite not willing to match Hudson’s salary, the Braves eventually inked Ervin Santana to a $14.1M one-year deal. However, it did take the injuries to the staff and a lot of money already dished out for Frank Wren to get the permission to go out and sign Santana. Plus, reports of a re-worked television deal seemed to also help. Still, neither Santana, nor the bargain find Aaron Harang, have been as good as Hudson. Did the Braves miss out?
It’s possible, though Hudson’s .237 BABIP almost certainly will normalize closer to his career rate of .278 and it seems likely he will walk more. Players rarely have their best season at 39. And while Hudson will be productive, this level of productivity is ridiculous. And sure, after giving Santana that money, watching Hudson outperform him in every way while making $3M less sucks. However, decisions are made based on the knowledge one has at the time and in the early stages of the offseason, the prospect of Hudson at two years and $20M+ was just too rich for the Braves’ blood and, again, at the time, many people agreed with the decision. It hurts for us that he’s having such a nice run, though I think it won’t last. It would have been nice for him to perform at that level with the Braves at any point of his career. But, at the end of the day, Hudson remains an aging starter who has struggled to stay off the disabled list and is owed a lot of cash.
I miss Huddy, but I won’t change my mind that the decision to sign Floyd was a better move. I might have to rethink of my theory that Floyd would outperform Hudson this season, though.