Wednesday, April 04, 2007
First Hudson. No doubt that the braves thought they were robbing the A’s blind when they acquired Hudson after the 2004 season. The oldest and most solid of the “Big Three”, Hudson seemed like a sure bet to become the Braves ace. To that point, Hudson had been a solid starter:
Win-Loss / ERA
1999: 11-2 / 3.23
2000: 20-6 / 4.14
2001: 18-9 / 3.37
2002: 15-9 / 2.98
2003: 16-7 / 2.70
2004: 12-6 / 3.53
Total: 92-39 / 3.30
Since then he’s gone 14-9 with a 3.52 ERA in 2005 and 13-12 with a 4.86 ERA in 2006. Compared with what he did as a member of the A’s, Hudson has been a major disappointment as a Brave.
It strikes me that a lot of Hudson’s failure is intertwined with the relative lack of success the Braves have had defensively in the recent past. In 2006 the Braves were a below-average defensive team, finishing with a .689 DER, .004 under the league average. Why is that important? Hudson is an extreme ground ball pitcher. How extreme? Of the balls he allowed to be put into play, nearly three-fifths – 58% – were ground balls. The league average in 2006 was 44%. Just 24% were fly balls, well under the league average of 37%. The result is that Hudson is a pitcher who relies on the strength of the rest of his team to get the job done. He struck out 15% of the batters he faced in 2006, under the league average (17%). The problem is that not only are the Braves a weak fielding team, they are arguably one of the worst defensive infields in baseball. According to John Dewan’s Plus / Minus data, the Braves were +15 as a team in 2006, but were +63 in the outfield, far and away the best in baseball. Their infield was a combined -48, the worst in the National League. The fact is that Tim Hudson will only be an effective pitcher when the Braves play better defense in the infield. While Phillies fans probably wanted Edgar Renteria playing for the Phillies after Monday’s game, I submit that Renteria, a poor defensive infielder these days, is a major obstacle to the Braves success. With a shortstop of such limited range and ability, how can the Braves hope that Hudson will return the investment that the Braves made in him?
Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to defined:
WHIP – Walks plus hits by innings pitched: (BB + H) / IP = WHIP
ERA – Earned Run Average: (Earned Runs * 9) / IP = ERA
DER – Defense Efficiency Ratio: (Batters Faced – (Hits + Walks + Hit By Pitch + Strikeouts)) / (Batters Faced – (Home Runs, Walks + Hit By Pitch + Strikeouts)) How often fielders convert balls put into play into outs.
HR/9 – Home Runs allowed per nine innings: (HR * 9) / IP
K/9 – Strikeouts per nine innings: (K * 9) / IP
BB/9 – Walks per nine innings: (BB * 9) / IP
Cole Hamels is virtually the anti-Hudson. Coming on like a burst of flame in 2006, Hamels struck-out 26% of the batters he faced, much more than the league average or Hudson’s. When the ball was put into play Hamels allowed it to be a fly ball more than a grounder (43% to 39%). While this might not auger well for Hamels pitching in a hitters park, his capacity to aggressively challenge hitters and mow them down is impressive.
Even more impressive is the adjustments Hamels made in 2006 after getting called up in May from the farm system. Look at the differences between before and after the 2006 All-Star Break:
ERA: 5.44 / 3.39
WHIP: 1.52 / 1.11
HR/9: 1.00 / 1.44
BB/9: 4.84 / 2.46
K/9: 8.87 / 10.37
Hamels numbers are even better when you factor out a rough July and concentrate on his August and September. I am optimistic that Hamels will continue to slice through National League hitters like he did in 2006. Naturally, teams have had time to study his delivery and will adjust to him, however, Hamels has also had time to adjust to N.L. hitters and ought to be prepared to take the Braves down tomorrow.
Oh, I looked up pitcher projections in the Bill James Handbook and it predicts that Hudson will pitch well in 2007, going 15-10 with a 3.75 ERA. Unfortunately the Handbook doesn’t contain a prediction for Hamels because it lacks sufficient data, but I suspect it would have good things to say. With such a strong outing from Brett Myers on Monday, I am hopeful that the Phillies revamped rotation can continue to impress.
My call: a 3-2 Phillies victory, with Hamels going seven strong innings.
Our Daughter, and an email friend love your city.