Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Favorite Braves List - #3 Starter

(Previous information on this series can be found here. Of importance, this is not a best list, but a favorites list since I started to follow the Braves.)

Favorite Braves List (so far)
Ace Starter - Greg Maddux
#2 Starter - John Smoltz
Catcher - Brian McCann
First Base - Fred McGriff
Second Base - Marcus Giles

Favorite Braves List - #3 Starter
Tim Hudson

What a strange week to add Huddy to the Favorite Braves squad. I wrote about him on Monday, making light of his tremendous start to 2014. And later that day, an article from USA Today made the rounds of twitter that indicated Huddy was offended by the Braves this last offseason. According to Tim, it was a "slap in the face" that Atlanta didn't provide an offer that he felt was deserving of a pitcher of his stature. He was disappointed "after what (he) had done for them," that they didn't want him back. I don't want to devote much time on this when I'm supposed to talk about all the things that I liked about Hudson, but Hudson would be wise to remember that this is a business. I'm sure had he taken a few extra million to play for the Giants over, say the Dodgers, it would have been about business. He would later walk back the quote in a recent article by Mark Bowman.

But anywho...I still like Hudson. The former 6th rounder by the A's out of Auburn, Hudson made it to the majors in 1999 and was a main cog in the A's "Moneyball" run. In fact, if you remember the game in the movie where Scott Hatteberg hits a pinch-hit homer, that game was started by Hudson. Hudson's production, especially in the AL, was extremely valuable. He posted a 3.30 ERA in six years with the A's, complete with a 3.63 FIP and 136 adjusted ERA.

However, after a 2004 campaign saw the A's miss the playoffs and once again presented with the option of losing a good player for nothing more than draft pick compensation, Billy Beane and company completed a deal with the Atlanta Braves. Going to the Braves was Hudson, who grew up cheering for the Braves of the early 90's. Before long, the Braves would sign him to an extension. The A's received a trio of players and got little in return. In fact, I imagine if Beane could do it again, he would have preferred draft pick compensation. Swingman Juan Cruz was a former star prospect in the Cubs system who they gave up on before 2004. After a solid year out of the Braves pen, he tried his luck in Oakland. Ugh. He would last one year and after bouncing around for awhile, finished his career after 2012. Charles Thomas was a no-name prospect who came out of nowhere to post a 2.0 fWAR season in 2004. After flaming out with the A's, his career fWAR fell to 1.4. He was out of baseball a few years later. Former James Madison left-hander Dan Meyer was expected to be the key to the trade. A top prospect, Meyer had appeared in two innings with the Braves in 2004. Injuries and bad pitching kept him from getting back to the majors until 2007. Two years later, he had his only significant run in the majors, pitching effectively in 71 games as a LOOGY for the Marlins. But after 13 forgetful games the following season, he never was able to get back to the majors and after failing to make the final Orioles roster last spring, Meyer's career was over.

Meanwhile, Hudson was a solid pitcher in his nine years with Atlanta. Though he only threw 188 innings or more five times after matching that total in his five full seasons with the A's, Hudson was often very good, though never the elite Cy Young contender he was with the A's. He posted a 3.56 ERA in his 244 games with the Braves, including his one relief appearance. His adjusted ERA+ of 116 is notably worse than his time with the A's and pitching in his prime didn't last nearly as long as the Braves expected. Nevertheless, his post-prime years, while shorten at times because of injury, were solid and Huddy gave the Braves everything he had.

Hudson was well known for any number of pitches that he would use to get an out. His velocity continued to head south, with his average falling under 90 mph toward his final years with the Braves. Still, he threw upwards to five pitches at different arm angles in efforts to keep hitters off-balance.

He took the ball in three postseason starts with the Braves. While the Astros beat him up in his NLDS Game 1 start in 2005, he left his Game 4 start with two runners on, nobody out, and an 8th inning lead of 6-1. Of course, Kyle Farnsworth took it from there and made it into a dumpster fire. The Braves would eventually lose in the 18th inning. Hudson would leave his NLDS Game 3 start in 2010 down 1-0, but in the bottom of the 8th, Eric Hinske hit what could have been a game-winning, series-tying two-run homer. A ninth inning that included four different Braves relievers and Brooks Conrad put an effective end to those hopes.

A memorable moment for Hudson occurred on April 30th last year. Facing the Nationals at home, Hudson doubled off Gio Gonzalez and later homered off Zach Duke while throwing seven quality innings. It would go down as his 200th win. I don't put much value into win-loss records, but as a fan of the game, anytime you hit a pitching milestone and add a homer, that's awesome sauce. Unfortunately, less than three months later, his season came to a close when Eric Young Jr. shattered his ankle. It was a horrifying end to his season and at the time, we wondered if he would ever pitch again. While he wouldn't pitch again for the Braves, he did head back to the west coast and is running away with Comeback Player of the Year honors.

While one can look at Hudson's time with the Braves and be disappointed he wasn't the same pitcher he was with the A's, his time in Atlanta was very productive. He helped to bridge the gap between The Streak (which ended in his second year with the Braves) and the new core of young Braves. His exit from the Braves, while maybe handled with a lack of finesse, was expected considered his injury and the perceived starting pitching depth. Hudson was a guy who was easy to root for, especially in today's age of filthy movement matched by ridiculous velocity. Hudson maximized all he had to get outs. To boot, he was, and still is, a remarkable human being whose charitable work is rightly lauded. You don't get the impression that Huddy's going through the motions for good PR. He's doing what he thinks is right.

After his comments hit twitter, Chipper Jones ripped him, but I saw a tweet in response that rings true. It went something like "I would rather my unborn son grew up to be like Tim Hudson than Chipper Jones." While a fan of Chipper on the field, you can't argue the sentiment. Huddy might be a Giant for a couple of years, but to me, he is defined as a guy with a tomahawk on his jersey and #15 on his back.

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