As first reported by the Bay Area Sports Guy, the Giants are going to sign former Braves hurler Tim Hudson to a two year, $23 million contract. This is slightly higher than the FanGraphs Crowd’s expected price of $17 million over two years, but still in the same ballpark, essentially. And there are plenty of reasons to like this deal for the Giants.
Yes, Tim Hudson is heading into his age-38 season, and missed almost the entire second half of the season due to a broken ankle. And yes, the 108 ERA- he posted last year was the highest of his career. There are going to be assumptions that Hudson these factors suggest that Hudson is headed for serious decline. Don’t believe it.
Here’s how opponents have hit against Tim Hudson over the last 10 years.
The inflated ERA was simply a product of poor sequencing; hitters didn’t actually hit Hudson any harder last year than they had previously. For comparison, here’s how Hudson’s .292 wOBA allowed compares to other notable free agent pitchers on the market:
Tim Hudson: .292
Ervin Santana: .294
Ubaldo Jimenez: .305
Ricky Nolasco: .306
Matt Garza: .312
Bronson Arroyo: .318
Scott Kazmir: .323
wOBA allowed includes the results of fluctuating variables like hits on balls in play and home runs per fly ball, so one shouldn’t take a pitcher’s wOBA allowed as gospel about their future performance, but it does essentially reject the idea that Hudson was showing signs of significant decline last year. This is a case where ERA is essentially misleading, and it should be mostly discarded. Tim Hudson, in 2013, looked just like Tim Hudson in nearly any other recent season.
Even more encouraging, Hudson’s strikeout rate bounced back after a decline in 2012, so while he’s still not a big time strikeout guy, that potential indicator of eroding stuff simply doesn’t point in the direction of Hudson getting worse. He’s a strike-throwing ground ball guy who gets the occasional whiff, and that skillset seems to have not changed much at all as he’s gotten older.
That doesn’t mean he won’t get worse over the next two years. In fact, we should expect 38-year-old Hudson to be worse than 37-year-old Hudson, because eventually, skills do start to erode. But Hudson can decline from where he’s been and still be a very effective starting pitcher. Steamer projects Hudson as an above average starting pitcher for next season, expected to accumulate +2.1 WAR in 153 innings pitched. If he stays healthy and gets to something closer to 180, that would put him as something closer to a +2.5 WAR pitcher. He’s not an ace anymore, but he’s the definition of a mid-rotation starter.
$11.5 million per year for an above average pitcher nearing age-40 isn’t any kind of huge steal, but Hudson’s a better bet for the short term than either Dan Haren or Bronson Arroyo would have been, and the cost of acquiring either would not likely have been much cheaper. When picking between these kinds of pitchers, Hudson appears to be the least risky of the three from a performance standpoint. He might be the most risky from a health perspective, but I’d rather bet on talent than bet on health, given the unpredictable nature of things like breaking your ankle on a play at first base.
No pitcher without his warts is going to sign a two year deal anymore, so when you’re shopping for a short term rotation upgrade, you have to pick and choose which flaws you prefer. The Giants chose to bet on a quality pitcher recovering from a fluke injury and continuing his 15 year run as one of the game’s most effective and consistent starters. I’d take that over a bet on Bronson Arroyo’s magical hit prevention or Dan Haren’s xFIP being more predictive than his recent results.