Posted May 01, 2013

Hudson’s 200th win praiseworthy but Hall of Fame not in his future

Atlanta Braves, Tim Hudson
Tim Hudson, Braves

Tim Hudson reached a major milestone on Tuesday night. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Tuesday night was a banner one for Tim Hudson. The 37-year-old Braves righty held the Nationals to one run over seven innings, and contributed to an eight-run onslaught by belting a solo home run off Zach Duke once his teammates had chased starter Gio Gonzalez. That combination was more than enough to net Hudson the 200th win of his career.

It’s an impressive achievement, even if the sabermetric gospel preaches that pitcher wins aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, as they depend heavily on the offensive, defensive and bullpen support a pitcher receives from his teammates. On a daily or yearly level, win totals can be wildly misleading thanks to those factors well beyond a hurler’s control, but it nonetheless takes a pretty good pitcher to stick around long enough to reach such a milestone. Consider that at the moment, just two other active pitchers have reached that plateau, and only one other is within range of reaching it this year:

Rank  Player Wins Years
1 Andy Pettitte 248 41
2 Roy Halladay 201 36
3 Tim Hudson 200 37
4 CC Sabathia 195 32
5 Derek Lowe 176 40
6 Mark Buehrle 175 34
7 Bartolo Colon 174 40
8 Barry Zito 163 35
9 Freddy Garcia 152 36
10 Chris Carpenter 144 38

Even as he struggles to recover his lost velocity (not that the results have been awful), Sabathia is almost a lock to get to 200. Given that Buehrle is under contract through 2015, and is on a run of four straight years of 13 wins, he’ll likely get there eventually. Zito, Hudson’s former teammate in Oakland, theoretically has a chance, but he’s averaged just under 10 wins a year in the first six years of his massive contract while pitching to a 91 ERA+, so he may need to stick around another few years to get there, and it’s not clear his stuff is good enough.

Beyond that, it could be awhile before we see anyone get to 200. Consider the distance that top Cy Young candidates such as Cliff Lee (127 wins), Justin Verlander (127) and Felix Hernandez (100) who are on the sunnyside of 35, are from getting there. (I’ll come back with a fuller examination of the 200 milestone this afternoon.)

Hudson, however, is going reasonably strong. In his three full seasons since returning from August 2008 Tommy John surgery, he has pitched to a 3.19 ERA (122 ERA+) while averaging 208 innings a year, and while he doesn’t miss a ton of bats (5.8 strikeouts per nine), his high groundball rate and low walk and homer rates have led to one of the stronger stretches of his career. That said, last year featured his highest ERA and lowest strikeout rate since his elbow surgery (3.62 and 5.1 per nine, respectively), and a slow recovery from offseason back surgery cost him five weeks on the disabled list to start the year. His average fastball velocity slipped below 90 mph (to 89.6) for the first time, as he lost around one mile per hour for the second year in a row. Even at similar velocity this year, he’s off to a solid start, with a 3.86 ERA and 6.2 strikeouts per nine, though he’s already allowed five homers in 35 innings, compared to 12 all of last year.

By itself, 200 wins isn’t enough to draw significant support in the Hall of Fame voting, and on the traditional merits, Hudson doesn’t have a ton else to augment his case. He’s been an All-Star three times, respectable but hardly exceptional. He’s finished as high as second in the Cy Young voting (back in 2000, his first full season, when he won 20 games with a 4.14 ERA) and in the top four three times (2003 and 2010 being the others). He’s led the league in a Triple Crown category just once (wins in 2000) and while he’s pitched well in the postseason (3.46 ERA in 54 2/3 innings), he has just one win, and has never been on the winning side in six October series. That’s not all his fault, but it won’t help him stand out on a crowded ballot eight or 10 years from now.

It’s worth noting, of course, that the Hall has inducted just one pitcher with less than 300 wins since Fergie Jenkins in 1992, that being Bert Blyleven (283 wins) in 2011, his 14th year of eligibility. More decorated pitchers with less than 300 wins have reached the ballot or will do so before Hudson arrives: Pedro Martinez, Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling and John Smoltz, perhaps even Halladay if he can’t turn the corner. Martinez has the Cy Youngs and World Series rings, Mussina 270 wins and far more strikeouts, Schilling an amazing postseason track record to go with a ton of Ks, Smoltz a Cy Young, the Ks and a spot as a pillar of the Braves’ dynasty. From a voter standpoint, Hudson’s not at their level.

The JAWS system isn’t particularly optimistic about Hudson’s credentials, either. his 55.8 career Wins Above Replacement ranks 78th among starting pitchers, 0.4 ahead of the much younger Sabathia, but a bit behind non-Hall of Famers such as Dave Stieb and Orel Hershiser. Both of those pitchers had much higher seven-year peak WARs than Hudson’s 38.4, which ranks just 104th, tied with Sabathia and Jim Kaat. That combination gives him a 4.7.1 JAWS, 86h among starters. He’s well below the average Hall of Fame starter (72.6 career, 50.0 peak, 61.3 JAWS) in all three categories, but among good company in the neighborhood of his ranking:

Rank Pitcher years Career Peak JAWS Wins ERA ERA+
78 Orel Hershiser 1983-2000 56.8 40.4 48.6 204 3.48 112
79 Frank Tanana 1973-1993 57.9 38.5 48.2 240 3.66 106
80 Tommy John 1963-1989 62.0 34.4 48.2 288 3.34 111
81 Johan Santana 2000-2012 51.4 44.8 48.1 139 3.20 136
82 Wilbur Wood 1961-1978 50.2 45.8 48.0 164 3.24 114
83 Wilbur Cooper 1912-1926 53.7 41.4 47.6 216 2.89 116
84 Sandy Koufax* 1955-1966 49.0 46.1 47.5 165 2.76 131
85 Burleigh Grimes* 1916-1934 53.0 42.1 47.5 270 3.53 108
86 Tim Hudson  1999-2013 55.8 38.4 47.1 200 3.42 125
87 CC Sabathia 2001-2013 55.4 38.4 46.9 195 3.50 125
88 Nap Rucker 1907-1916 48.0 45.6 46.8 134 2.42 119
89 Jack Powell 1897-1912 56.8 36.8 46.8 245 2.97 106
90 Andy Pettitte 1995-2013 58.7 34.1 46.4 248 3.86 117
91 Babe Adams 1906-1926 52.0 40.4 46.2 194 2.76 118
92 Dwight Gooden 1984-2000 53.2 39.1 46.1 194 3.51 111
93 Whitey Ford* 1950-1967 57.4 34.7 46.0 236 2.75 133

Of the 15 pitchers around Hudson in that table, three are Hall of Famers: Koufax, who had a tremendously high peak, a lot of hardware and a big postseason impact; Grimes, who had a high peak and stuck around a long time thanks to his still-legal spitball; and Ford, who didn’t have much of a peak but was a key part of a long-running Yankee dynasty, with an exceptional postseason career. Of the more contemporary quartet mentioned above, Martinez, Schilling and Mussina are well above the JAWS line and in the top 30 among starters, while Smoltz, who spent a few years as a closer, ranks 58th, still way above Hudson.

Hudson isn’t done yet. On a Braves team that’s off to a hot start, he’s still got a shot at a World Series ring and and a more well-rounded posteason resume. On the other hand, he’s in the final year of a four-year, $36 million contract, and while it sounds as though he plans to continue, he may have to leave Atlanta to do so. His push up the JAWS rankings won’t be easy; the 3.4 WAR he has averaged during his post-surgical career masks a pattern of decline — 5.7 in 2010, 2.9 in 2011, 1.6 last year — that suggests he’ll be hard-pressed to maintain that rate.

All of which means that the moment is right to appreciate Hudson for what he is: a very good, consistent and fairly durable pitcher, always crafty if rarely dominant, part of a whole lot of contending teams over the course of his 15-year career, and still in a position to help one get over the top.

12 comments
DanielSmith2
DanielSmith2

Hudson is indeed in a no-man's land, and I think that comes in that he's measured as a good, solid pitcher in two ways -- both by the accumulated, traditional measures of wins, ERA, etc. and via advanced metrics. He'll have to stick around for a while to make his case more impressive. One thing, though, is that these years, I think, have a chance to really have a dearth of HOF-worthy players -- as has been pointed out, the traditional, wins-based case is all but disappearing, as the onset of pitch-counts and the now-firmly-established 5-man rotation all but guarantees 300 wins can no longer be used as a barometer since pitchers can't reasonably achieve that. That being said, lowering that bar to meet any lower win totals could run into the sabermetrics shift. 

I just think that you could end up with a case where there's push back on both ends of things -- HOF voters could relax standards a bit to let a guy like Hudson in if he's able to get well over 200 wins, but then there'd be push back from the stats community. On the other hand, pitchers that end up w/ great metrics but an unlucky win/loss component won't get in, either, as they won't have enough wins to garner enough support. We could end up with quite a run of years, soon, where there are very few pitchers getting in. 

trobb963
trobb963

Couple points - first, Hudson isn't done yet. He may have another 3-5 years, which gets him to 250+ (which, to me, is the new 300), and gives him an opportunity to have some postseason success, if the Braves are as good as they think they are. Second, there are two ways to pitch - the far more common and impressive "missing bats" and getting outs with ground balls and keeping the ball in the yard. Hudson has done the latter as well as anyone. Finally, there might be a place in the Hall for the consistent A- performer over 15-20 years (see Don Sutton) as opposed to the 5 year A+ performer (Dizzy Dean, Sandy Koufax). I don't think Hudson belongs yet, but in 3-5 years, he might.

ezwriter69
ezwriter69

I don't recall anyone claiming it was hall-worthy. Easy to win an argument against yourself... although it might indicate a need for some therapy.

0xfece5
0xfece5

Maybe Jay Jaffe's analysis is valuable to some scouting department or a fantasy draft, but it's boring as hell to a reader. Walking through a bunch of vaguely relevant stats is not journalism.  I'll come back in another 6 months and see if he's progressed at all as a writer.

Mark90
Mark90

I don't know how you even being talking about Hudson for the HOF. And please - his name doesn't belong on the same page with Pedro Martinez. Pedro made batters crap their pants. Hudson's just a guy.

keycross3
keycross3

Perhaps, in the evolving world of voter disqualification of those suspected of steroid-elevated performance, we should remember this is a Hall of FAME, not a Hall of Performance.  Hudson's fame credentials include his long tenure with two respected franchises during which he has devoted himself to exemplary public service and charitable pursuits.  If steroid use can disqualify a candidate with high performance levels, I see no reason that high levels of public and charitable service cannot qualify a candidate whose fame rests on both public service and high performance.   

mjone182
mjone182

I think if Hudson had won a Cy Young or at least been in the conversation for a few of them, then we'd be talking about a HOFer. I also think that if he were to get to 250 wins, I think he moves into that conversation as well. 

Ray1950
Ray1950

@ezwriter69 Jaffe needed an excuse to impress his with his use of stats, and you're right, he's the one talking about Hudson and the Hall.  Nobody else is ... or will be.

trobb963
trobb963

@keycross3 Hear, hear. If he gets to 250, has some more postseason opportunity and success, I think this matters a lot. He's woven deep into the Atlanta community.

BryanCustard1
BryanCustard1

@keycross3 well said. they should have a wing for players like Tim Hudson, guys that have stayed clean (on and off the field), been charitable members of society without seeking out attention for it (Clayton Kershaw is another guy that does A TON off the field, but few know about it, simply because they don't really care if you know they are doing it or not, recognition does not matter to them), and still played the game at a high rate. Based on stats, Tim is probably on the outside looking in, but considering the points you made, I'd give him the push!

DanielSmith2
DanielSmith2

@Ray1950 @ezwriter69 I...think you're too focused on stats. I don't think he's using stats to be impressive, I think that's just what he does -- and it's up to you to recognize that and decide whether these types of articles are for you or not.