The Cardinals bullpen left much to be desired in 2018, and never was it more true than in the first half. By late July, management shifted their focus to throwing every possible solution they could at the problem. Tyson Ross and Tyler Webb were acquired from San Diego in separate moves, they grabbed Chasen Shreve in a deal with the Yankees, and a flurry of starting pitcher prospects were cobbled in for depth. That’s when Dakota Hudson entered the equation.
Few pitchers were as enigmatic on the quantitative side as Hudson. The quality of his stuff suggests dominance, but his 1.06 K/BB in his 27.1 inning debut was dreadful. His 2.63 ERA out of the bullpen last year is exciting and his 3.86 FIP is fine, but the 4.76 xFIP looks a little uglier. In spite of a few bad peripherals, both his 0.81 WPA (win probability added) and 3:1 ratio of shutdowns to meltdowns were second best in the bullpen.
His K/BB has always been a concern, even in his more dominant days in the minor leagues. At his best, it was 2.26 in AA in 2017 and 2.29 in AAA in 2018. In his first season in high-A, it was a meager 1.43 and an even worse 1.27 in his AAA debut in 2017. All of the low RPM spin that makes his sinker nasty also handcuffs his ability to get cheap swings and misses up in the zone. That needs improvement.
Hudson enters the 2019 season ranked 74th in the Baseball America Top 100 Prospects list, up 19 spots from 93rd before the 2018 season. His work in AAA last season (13-3, 2.50 ERA) was rewarded when he was named the Pacific League Pitcher of the Year. It was a repeat effort- his 2017 work in AA Springfield (9-4, 2.53 ERA) was good enough to be named the Texas League Pitcher of the Year. There’s a lot of shine on Hudson’s prospect status.
His repertoire reads like Tony Stark’s “We have a Hulk” quote in The Avengers (2012). He has a fastball that sits in the 97 mph range, and he can dial it up over 98.
He has a dirty slider/cutter in the 90-91 range.
Most impressively, his power sinker sits 96 and can reach as high as 98. He uses it to bully hitters into weak contact (trigger warning: end of season Cubs series highlight):
Fangraphs accurately calls it “angry stuff”, although that last video precisely shows the quandary. It’s filthy, especially in on the wrists like it was on Almora, but it’s also prone to contact and all of the poor events that can happen with contact.
2019 is a mystery for Dakota Hudson. Will he start or will he relieve? Will he begin the season starting in Memphis or in the bullpen in St. Louis? Wherever he pitches, in whatever role he pitches, will he unearth enough strikeouts? If he does, expectations begin to skyrocket.
What do you expect out of Dakota Hudson this year?