Washington Nationals: Daniel Hudson Pitching on Thin Ice

rshinberg
PHOENIX, ARIZONA - AUGUST 04: Relief pitcher Daniel Hudson #44 of the Washington Nationals pitches against the Arizona Diamondbacks during sixth inning of the MLB game at Chase Field on August 04, 2019 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
PHOENIX, ARIZONA - AUGUST 04: Relief pitcher Daniel Hudson #44 of the Washington Nationals pitches against the Arizona Diamondbacks during sixth inning of the MLB game at Chase Field on August 04, 2019 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /
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The Washington Nationals picked up relief pitcher Daniel Hudson last Wednesday, but his success this season is predicated mainly on luck.

It’s no surprise that the Washington Nationals traded for relief pitching help at last Wednesday’s trade deadline.  The first move the team made was to acquire right-handed pitcher Daniel Hudson from the Toronto Blue Jays.

Hudson pitched well for Toronto this season, and his contract expires after this season, making him an ideal selection for a low-risk trade option.

However, his stats this season are being held above average by one simple factor: Luck.

On the season, Hudson has a 2.94 ERA in 49 innings pitched.  Pretty good, right?  On the surface, it looks great.  His ERA would rank 41st among the 168 eligible relief pitchers.

But when looking at his peripheral stats, it tells us that Hudson is running extremely purely on the mound, and his performances are likely not sustainable.

The basis for this comment is Hudson’s “inherited runners scored” rate.  When announcing the trade, the official Nationals twitter account spotlighted Hudson’s 4.5% inherited runners scored rate, which is a phenomenal number in and of itself.

Obviously, inherited runners do not count against Hudson’s ERA, but that is just part of the more significant problem.  Some of his peripheral numbers simply aren’t sustainable over the long-term.

When Hudson lets his own batters on base, he strands them at an 80% clip, which, again, is a fantastic number.

The issue, again, is that it is simply not a sustainable mark.  The league average for relief pitchers is approximately 75.5%, so we should expect Hudson to regress in this regard as well.

When trying to isolate for what a pitcher can control (strikeouts, walks, home runs, and hit batters), we look at FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching).  FIP takes these factors and spits out an ERA-like number to see if a pitcher is getting lucky or unlucky.

In Hudson’s case, his FIP of 4.10 while his ERA is 2.95.  When a pitchers’ FIP is over one run higher than his ERA, it means he’s getting lucky.

The icing on the cake that shows this is Batting Average on Balls in Play, or BABIP.  This number tells us how often ground balls and line drives are finding defenders’ gloves.  The league average for relief pitchers is .287, but Hudson’s is .256.  Anything below the average means a pitcher is getting lucky, which is undoubtedly the case for Hudson.

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By no means am I saying Hudson is a lousy pitcher.  He’s fairly average as far as relief pitchers go, which means he is a massive upgrade to the Nationals’ bullpen.  However, the Nats may have traded for him right before his regression hits.

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