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Fixing Daniel Hudson

A check up from the neck up could be what ails Daniel Hudson

Last night, in a classic pitcher’s duel between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Chicago Cubs, Gerrit Cole pitched 8 brilliant innings. So did the Cubs’ pitchers, though, and the game went to the 9th inning in a 0-0 tie.

On came Daniel Hudson in the top of the 9th inning. Felipe Rivero was unavailable to pitch last night, apparently from previous usage. Clint Hurdle tried to call for Juan Nicasio, but do you know how much it costs to have a call routed from Philly to St. Louis? It’s pricey! Apparently Dovydas Neverauskas and Angel Sanchez were also unavailable, since Nicasio was traded to give younger pitchers more high-leverage innings, as per Neal Huntington trying to justify the Nicasio waiver deal.

Daniel Hudson has been awful this season when placed in high leverage innings and, unfortunately, last night was no exception. A walk, a stolen base, and an RBI triple later, the Pirates lost 1-0 after failing to muster anything in the bottom of the 9th inning.

The Pirates signed Hudson to a 2 year/$11M deal this past offseason. While I was a little skeptical about the 2nd year for a guy with two Tommy John surgeries on his curriculum vitae, I thought he would be a solid 8th inning guy. Obviously, that has not borne out this year. With his performance this year and his guaranteed $5.5M in 2018, the Pirates are stuck with Daniel Hudson. The best they can do is try and fix him to an acceptable level that may allow him to at least be a 7th inning next year, rather than just a low-leverage pitcher.

In trying to parse through Hudson’s stats and splits, it’s pretty obvious that his walk rate has ballooned out of control. Last year it was an OK-not-great 3.28 BB/9, but this year it is a wildly unacceptable 4.77 BB/9. His stuff is still the same, velocity wise, so I looked a little deeper into his splits. What I found is that Daniel Hudson has seemed to lose his confidence.

Take a look at his by pitch breakdown from 2016 with the Diamondbacks:

If you start from the bottom up, you see that with two strikes in any count, Hudson was pretty much a put away pitcher, as you would expect (and hope). But take a look at his 3-2 count breakdown, too. Quite a plethora of strikeouts on what is essentially a 50-50 proposition. The only situations where Hudson was expected to walk more than strikeout were pure hitter counts of 3-0, 3-1, and 2-0. But he still had more than his fair share of K’s along the way, even in those 3 ball counts. He sure served up a lot of meatballs on 2-0 counts, too!

Now here’s Hudson’s same pitch breakdown from 2017:

Hudson is a vastly different pitcher this year in these counts. Compare those BB/9 rates and you’ll see a guy that as soon as he falls behind in the count, even a 1-0 count, he’s defeated. On 2-1 counts, he’s just as likely to walk a batter than strike him out. On 2-2 counts even, Daniel Hudson has a 5.14 BB/9 rate. This is a guy who’s not only competing against the opposite team, but also himself as he navigates his own mind on the mound.

So what to do? How can Daniel Hudson Get His Groove Back? An offseason to forget about his nightmare 2017 could cure it. A few video sessions with Ray Searage both looking at his successes in 2016 with the Diamondbacks and working on whatever mechanical issues they can find might do it. A sports psychologist may not be out of the equation, either. Is Daniel Hudson worried that his elbow may explode for a 3rd time and he’s pitching scared? Who knows? No one, except Hudson himself, can delve into what may be rattling around his head while he’s on the mound.

But for the Pirates’ 2018 sake, a return to normalcy for Daniel Hudson is imperative. By any means necessary.

Nerd engineer by day, nerd writer at night. Kevin is the co-founder of The Point of Pittsburgh. He is the author of Creating Christ, a sci-fi novel available on Amazon.