Is There Something Wrong with Tim Hudson?

On Saturday, Tim Hudson had a poor three-inning performance against the Mets. It was his second bad start of the season, and its similarity to the first bad start may be cause for concern. Hudson’s velocity was down in that game, which might indicate an injury.

The initial problem occurred in Hudson’s April 16 start against the Marlins, when he lasted only three innnings. According to the AJC, Hudson could get nothing on his pitches.

Hudson’s fastball velocity was down about 5 mph all night. He said he threw a pitch as hard as he could to Mike Jacobs in the third, and Jacobs scorched the mere 85-mph fastball to the right-field seats.

Hudson allowed six hits and four runs while looking nothing like the pitcher who entered with a .167 opponents’ average and National League-leading .181 opponents’ slugging percentage.

“I felt fine physically,” Hudson said. “Just one of those nights I went out there and just couldn’t get anything behind the ball. It was kind of a weird feeling. My heater [fastball] is normally a lot better than that. Just wasn’t coming out of my hand good, for whatever reason.”

Hudson (2-1) was weakened by flu symptoms last week in Colorado. That game was snowed out, and he rebounded to pitch eight scoreless innings of three-hit ball Friday in a win at Washington. Which made his Wednesday performance only more surprising.

“It wasn’t coming out [of his hand] really good tonight,” manager Bobby Cox said pulling Hudson after three innings. “I thought it might be a good time to give him a break. … His arm was kind of dead.”

The NL East-leading Marlins (9-5) took a rare opportunity to feast on Hudson, who was 4-0 with a 2.27 ERA in six previous starts at Dolphin Stadium.

“It could be some residual effects from the flu that’s just catching up to me, but I don’t know,” Hudson said. “I’m not one to make excuses like that. Just one of those things where consistently my heater was 84, 85, 86. That’s not gonna get it done, for me.”

But there was good news in his April 21 start against the Nationals, as he appeared to have regained his form. The AJC reported the following.

Tim Hudson’s velocity issues were fleeting, as was, apparently, the bad karma from the Braves’ recent road trip.

The Braves won their fifth game in a row Monday night, beating the Washington Nationals 7-3 behind 6 2/3 solid innings from Hudson, who bounced back from an oddly ineffective start.

Five days earlier, Hudson had topped out in the mid-80s from lingering effects of the flu. He was back throwing in his usual low 90s throughout the game Monday and working the Nationals into a familiar trance. He scattered 10 hits but allowed only two runs, to move to 7-1 with a 1.13 ERA in 11 career starts against them.

“Little more normal this time out,” said Hudson, now 3-1 with a 2.93 ERA. “It’s hard to put your finger on what the cause was last time. It must have been the effects of the flu bug finally catching up. It was nice to go up there today and look up there and see [velocity readings] with a 9 in front of it, instead of an 8.”

Hudson only recently realized he’d lost about five pounds while he was sick. That helped explain why he threw as hard as he could in Florida and came up with only 84 mph.

And this brings us to Saturday’s game against the Mets. The general impression was that Hudson’s poor showing was not a product of diminished velocity.

“I was missing with my location and they were hitting it,” said Hudson, who allowed four runs and seven hits in three innings, including three extra-base hits and two singles in the fateful third to give New York a 4-2 lead.

“I don’t know what to say. It was a tough inning. I gave up some hits.”

Hudson (3-2) gave up four runs and six hits in three innings April 16 at Florida, and afterward conceded that weight loss from a recent bout with flu symptoms might have contributed to that performance.

This time, he wouldn’t make any excuses and said he felt “great” physically. Unlike in the Florida game, the radar-gun readings on his fastball didn’t seem out of kilter Saturday, consistently in the 90-92 mph rage.

“He just couldn’t locate,” said manager Bobby Cox, who replaced Hudson after three innings. “He just could not hit his spots. I thought it was best to give him a breather. [The season] is a long haul.”

Asked again about Hudson’s health and whether he was sure the pitcher was not injured, Cox became perturbed and said, “He missed his spots. He’s fine.”

I happened to have followed most of the Braves games on MLB Gameday this year, which makes it easy to monitor pitch speeds. I was surprised to see this response, because I thought I had remembered Hudson’s pitch speeds on Saturday to be similar to the speeds in his April 16 outing in Florida. So, I opened up the Gameday archives and had a look.

Here are some summary statistics of Tim Hudson’s fastball speeds as recorded by MLB’s Gameday for the first three innings of his last three starts.

Start	4/16		4/21		4/26
Mean	88.81		90.58		88.53
Median	89		91		89
Mode	89		90		89
Min	85		85		84
Max	91		92		91

The April 16 and 26 pitch speeds are almost identical, while April 21 speeds were 1–2 MPH faster than the other two starts. Now, this doesn’t mean Hudson is injured—if he was, I would suspect that April 21 would have looked worse—but it does show that the starts on the 16th and 26th have more in common than has been reported.

For the Braves’ sake, I hope these are just normal blips that a pitcher has over the course of the season. According to Fangraphs, Hudson’s fastball velocity is down slightly (90.4) from last season (90.), but it is similar to his average from the previous three seasons (90.3). It’s too early to worry, but I will keep my eye on Hudson’s pitch speeds for the next few starts.

4 Responses “Is There Something Wrong with Tim Hudson?”

  1. James Kushner says:

    JC,

    You left out an important datum in your table – number of fastballs thrown in those first three innings of each start.

  2. JC says:

    26, 27, and 38.

  3. dlf says:

    I am very hesitant to read anything into a 2mph difference across three radar guns in three parks. Have the Pitchf/x folks established how consistent the data is from park to park? I suspect that 2mph is within the margin of error between two locations / operators.

  4. Mac says:

    I dunno… Like dlf says, the variance isn’t really that great. I am not good at statistics, but it seems like normal variation. You’d know better than I.

    I also wonder if Shea has a slow gun. It seemed that several pitchers’ velocity was “off” this weekend, not just Hudson and Smoltz (who is definitely hurt).