What’s Wrong With Dakota Hudson?

There was a lot of hope for Dakota Hudson coming into the 2022 season; he showed promise in 2019 and 2020 before going down to Tommy John surgery. This season, the red flags we saw in the past have hampered him and the team this year. He’s doesn’t strike out hitters and walks too many. Prior to this season, he had a 132 ERA+, meaning he was 32% better then the average pitcher; this season, his ERA+ is sitting at 86, or 14% below average.

As mentioned, he struggles to generate strikeouts and walks too many. K Rate and BB Rate are important indicators on pitcher performance; they are aspects of the at bats a pitcher can control. Strikeouts limit runs while walks contribute to them. According to Fangraphs, here are the K/9, K%, BB/9, and BB% and how they translate to pitchers:

And here are the rates for Hudson over his career and how they grade; I’m saying the grades are the mid-points between the averages in the tables above (average K/9 would be roughly 7.3 to 8.0):

20186.3Poor16.1Below Average5.9Awful15.3Awful
20197.0Below Average18.0Below Average4.4Awful11.4Awful
20207.2Below Average20.5Average3.5Poor9.9Awful
20216.2Poor17.6Below Average1.0Excellent2.9Excellent

It’s worth noting that 2021 was limited to 2 appearances over 8.2 innings due to Tommy John surgery; he controlled walks very well for that small sample. Generally, he been bad at striking guys out and walking guys for his whole career; early on, like his outstanding 2019 season where he had a 2.1 bWAR, he didn’t get bit by it. This season has been a different story.

Part of the reason he was better in 2019 was his batted ball rates, which is driven by his pitches. He’s primarily a sinker ball pitcher, but also incorporates a slider, 4-seam fastball, curve, and changeup. Here’s what his pitch selection looks like:

In 2019, Hudson threw almost 50% of the time; this season it’s dropped to about 36%. In 2019, that pitch had a value of +6 runs, which is not great; that value has jumped to +12 in 2022, which is pretty bad. His slider is being used about the same (25.6% in 2019 to 27.0% this season); the pitch went from pretty good (-5) to not so good (+2). His 4-seam has been used more this year (13.0% to 19.5%) and it’s become less effective; in 2019, it was worth -14 runs but is now worth -6 runs, which is still good. Both his curve and changeup usage has increased from 2019 to 2022, but neither has really changed in run value.

On the surface, it looks like some of his pitches lose effectiveness when they are used more. Ideally, he should stick with his 3 main pitches – sinker, slider, 4-seam; the curve and changeup aren’t entirely effective and he should be focusing more on sharpening the other 3 pitches.

His sinker is good for double plays. He’s invoked 22 double plays this year, up from 20 in 2019; part of this is the improved defense behind him this season. That said, he’s seen his groundball rate drop and while his flyball rate has gone up. Since 2019, his GB/FB ratio has gone from 1.32 to 1.16. He can’t generate ground outs if he’s allowing more fly balls.

Another issue is velocity. Here is the range of velocity for all of his pitches in 2019:

He was consistently hitting 93-94 with his fastballs, about 87 with his slider, and 84 with his curve. That changed this season:

He’s throwing fewer fast balls an average of 92-93 miles per hour, the speed on his slider is all over the place, and his curve is a little slower. This could be coming back from the Tommy John surgery and arm fatigue after missing almost a full season. This could be from the changes in pitch usage. It’s hard to say, but it could be a reason for the ineffectiveness of his pitches.

It’s not impossible for pitchers to fix these issues; Sonny Gray is a good example. The Cardinals gave Hudson a week or so with no starts to see if he could work on pitching to lefties; as we saw against the Reds, it didn’t help. What they need is to invest in technology that can allow Hudson to watch his grip, like the Rapsodo camera; he can throw pitches in a bullpen session and check the break versus the grip he’s using (for more on this, read The MVP Machine by Ben Lindbergh and Travis Sawchik). If the Cardinals haven’t or won’t invest in the technology, they might be better off checking the market for Hudson this off-season; there will be team interested in Hudson based off the success he had in 2019.

At this point, they need to throw Andre Pallante back into the rotation or hope that Jack Flaherty is really ready to come back; Hudson is a liability and could hurt the team down the stretch. At least adding Jordan Montgomery and Jose Quintana makes this move easier, and it eliminates Hudson from a rotation option in October.

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