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Choose your Own Adventure: Dakota Hudson

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Stats suggest Cardinals/Rockies Starter Dakota Hudson is Great/Terrible. You choose!

League Championship Series - St Louis Cardinals v Washington Nationals - Game Four Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images

Who else remembers the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books from the 1980s? That series produced literary classics like Space Patrol, House of Danger and You are a Shark. (Best book I’ve ever read.) The CYOA genre allowed you, the omnipotent reader, to choose the fate of your intrepid protagonist. With a few flips of a page, you could send the story in any number of intriguing directions, or bring the book to a sudden and unsatisfying end.

This seems like exactly what we are facing with Dakota Hudson. Hudson was both terrible and great in 2019, depending entirely on which set of statistics you choose to look at. That obviously has vital implications for the young sinkerballer’s future.

One statistical path takes Hudson down the long road of career effectiveness. It’s a road tread by many recognizable sinkerballers who provided steady, though rarely elite production. A second path, seemingly equally likely, sees an avalanche of baserunners and homeruns that brings Hudson’s career as a stater to a quick and fatal collapse. There’s even a third option that lands Hudson on another team. Like the Rockies, where the Cardinals exchange his volatile sinker for Nolan Arenado.

If I really could choose my own Dakota Hudson adventure, I think I know which one I would pick. For now, though, Hudson is a Cardinal and he’s locked into the third or fourth rotation spot, depending on what happens with Carlos Martinez. What do we make of him?

First, I want to provide a list of names who ARE NOT NECESSARILY COMPARABLES for Hudson. Instead, they are starters who hold one vital trait in common with him: an elite ground ball to fly ball ratio (GB/FB). The following are starters who pitched at least 350 innings (they survived more than 1-2 seasons) and had a GB/FB of greater than 2.1. Dakota Hudson doesn’t meet these inning requirements, so I dropped him at the top of the chart for the point of comparison.

High GB/FB Pitchers since 1980

Name IP GB/FB HR/FB K/BB ERA- FIP-
Name IP GB/FB HR/FB K/BB ERA- FIP-
Dakota Hudson 174 2.68 20.00% 1.6 79 114
Brandon Webb 1318.2 3.62 13.50% 2.45 72 77
Derek Lowe 2253.2 3.04 12.30% 2.05 98 92
Jimmy Anderson 542 2.73 18.70% 1.05 121 111
Dallas Keuchel 1280.2 2.69 15.10% 2.74 90 92
Jake Westbrook 1656.1 2.65 11.40% 1.68 103 101
Marcus Stroman 839 2.62 13.60% 2.83 88 85
Chien-Ming Wang 768.1 2.59 9.40% 1.53 100 96
Tim Hudson 3123.1 2.47 10.40% 2.27 83 90
Aaron Cook 1362.2 2.45 10.80% 1.36 97 100
Joey Hamilton 1285 2.38 14.10% 1.79 104 100
Brett Anderson 974 2.26 12.30% 2.55 98 95
Henderson Alvarez 577.2 2.23 11.90% 2.16 97 106
Scott Erickson 2323.1 2.23 16.00% 1.47 101 99
Justin Masterson 1093 2.22 10.60% 1.94 110 99
Kirk Saarloos 380.2 2.18 14.20% 1.22 121 115
Jarred Cosart 386.1 2.17 8.60% 1.27 103 111
Mark Mulder 1312.2 2.16 13.80% 2.02 94 95
Lance McCullers Jr. 451.1 2.15 11.60% 2.84 90 78
Tyler Chatwood 736.2 2.14 12.90% 1.34 99 111
Mike Thurman 465 2.13 0.00% 1.54 112 105
Tyson Ross 808.2 2.11 11.30% 2.2 103 95
Kevin Brown 3237.1 2.1 9.80% 2.67 78 78
Jaime Garcia 1097.2 2.1 12.10% 2.56 97 94
Roberto Hernandez 1291.2 2.1 12.80% 1.62 115 114

Last season as a starter, Hudson produced an excellent GB/FB rate of 2.68. You should recognize several names who had a similar ratio from the not so-distant past. Brandon Webb heads a group of excellent sinkerballers like Derek Lowe, Tim Hudson, Dallas Keuchel, and even Mark Mulder. Less impressive but still effective pitchers like former Cardinals Jake Westbrook, Justin Masterson and Jaime Garica also make an appearance. Let’s just say that if Hudson’s career lands anywhere near the above names we should be relatively happy about it.

The problem with this list is that there is not necessarily a strong intrinsic relationship between GB/FB ratio and production stats, like Fangraphs’ ERA- or FIP-. The PiratesJimmy Anderson provides a cautionary tale. He had an exceptional GB/FB ratio, and yet, only produced a career ERA of 5.42. How he received 574 innings is beyond me, but if Anderson is an outlier, it’s only in innings. If you lower the innings cap to 100 or 150, it produces a number of starters with high GB/FB ratios and overall terrible production who could not survive long in a major league rotation.

There are our extremes for Hudson. What Hudson does exceptionally well does not necessarily guarantee him exceptional performance and the flaws that he displayed over a relatively limited sample size create significant drama in our unfolding plot.

A pitcher can’t just be good at getting ground balls and limiting fly balls. They also have to limit HR’s and BB’s. They have to get enough strikeouts to escape the danger that comes from having baserunners on when grounders sneak through the infield.

That’s where other stats, like K/BB ratio enter into the equation. It seems as if heavy groundball pitchers cannot have a high K%. Of the list above, only Lance McCullers Jr. has a GB/FB ratio over 2.1 and a K/9 over 7.38 — 10.1 K/9. McCullers, though, derives his high GB/FB rates by throwing a curveball almost 50% of the time. He doesn’t fit here.

Tossing McCullers Jr. out, that leaves us with a max K/9 of 7.38 among sinkerballers with a variety of secondary offerings. That’s a very low rate for a bunch of effective starters, some of which were at times elite, and Hudson’s 7.01 K/9 is near the top of this list. BB’s on the other hand are not his strong suit. That’s where K/BB ratio becomes important for pitchers who throw heavy sinkers. I’ve re-sorted the list above by K/BB ratio and inserted Dakota where he would have fallen had he qualified.

High GB/FB Pitchers - Sorted by K/BB Ratio

Name IP GB/FB HR/FB K/BB ERA- FIP-
Name IP GB/FB HR/FB K/BB ERA- FIP-
Marcus Stroman 839 2.62 13.60% 2.83 88 85
Dallas Keuchel 1280.2 2.69 15.10% 2.74 90 92
Kevin Brown 3237.1 2.1 9.80% 2.67 78 78
Jaime Garcia 1097.2 2.1 12.10% 2.56 97 94
Brett Anderson 974 2.26 12.30% 2.55 98 95
Brandon Webb 1318.2 3.62 13.50% 2.45 72 77
Tim Hudson 3123.1 2.47 10.40% 2.27 83 90
Tyson Ross 808.2 2.11 11.30% 2.2 103 95
Henderson Alvarez 577.2 2.23 11.90% 2.16 97 106
Derek Lowe 2253.2 3.04 12.30% 2.05 98 92
Mark Mulder 1312.2 2.16 13.80% 2.02 94 95
Justin Masterson 1093 2.22 10.60% 1.94 110 99
Joey Hamilton 1285 2.38 14.10% 1.79 104 100
Jake Westbrook 1656.1 2.65 11.40% 1.68 103 101
Roberto Hernandez 1291.2 2.1 12.80% 1.62 115 114
Dakota Hudson 174 2.68 20.00% 1.6 79 114
Mike Thurman 465 2.13 0.00% 1.54 112 105
Chien-Ming Wang 768.1 2.59 9.40% 1.53 100 96
Scott Erickson 2323.1 2.23 16.00% 1.47 101 99
Aaron Cook 1362.2 2.45 10.80% 1.36 97 100
Tyler Chatwood 736.2 2.14 12.90% 1.34 99 111
Jarred Cosart 386.1 2.17 8.60% 1.27 103 111
Kirk Saarloos 380.2 2.18 14.20% 1.22 121 115
Jimmy Anderson 542 2.73 18.70% 1.05 121 111

Notice the stronger correlation between K/BB ratio and ERA-/FIP- for groundballers than GB/FB. The upper tier of sinkerball pitchers didn’t necessarily generate a large number of strikeouts. They did, however, limit walks. Marcus Stroman, Dallas Keuchel, and Kevin Brown all K’ed between 6-7 per 9 while walking less than 3 per 9.

The middle tiers in K/BB ratio were more volatile. Masterson had the highest K rate and one of the highest BB rates. Jake Westbrook BB’ed under 3 per 9 but only K’ed around 5.

The bottom tier in K/BB ratio is an odd mix of players who either couldn’t get K’s at a survivable rate or walked over 4 batters per 9.

What does this say about Dakota Hudson? Well... choose your own adventure!

Scenario 1: Hudson maintains his high GB/FB rate while controlling his BB’s and HR’s
There is some reason to believe this is a viable path for the young hurler. While Hudson BB’ed 4.4/9 last season, he showed significantly better control in the minors. In his long stops at AA and AAA, Hudson had a 2.68 and 3.06 BB/9 respectively. Hudson also only allowed 8 HR’s throughout his minor league career. In ‘19, Hudson’s 20% HR/FB rate was among the highest in the league, but 15 of his 22 HR’s allowed came in two months: April and July. You can see this in his ERA by month: 5.63, 2.80, 2.25, 5.47, 2.38, 2.33. Based on this profile, Hudson should display better control in 2020 and allow fewer HR’s. Even if he regresses in some other areas, that should allow him to remain a good starter.

Scenario 2: Hudson’s Production Regresses to his Peripherals and Sadness
Here’s the chart of said sadness:

Blue is bad and that’s a lot of blue. In this scenario, we treat sinkerballers like every other pitcher. Hudson’s inability to generate K’s, control his BB’s, and limit hard contact show up in a devastating way. Despite being able to defy his FIP throughout his MiLB and MLB career, that script finally flips, and Hudson comes in near the bottom of the league with FIP’s and ERA’s both approaching 5. That barrage pushes Hudson out of a starting role.

Scenario 3: The Cardinals pass Hudson to the Rockies and There is Much Rejoicing
I shudder to imagine what Hudson’s HR rate from ‘19 would look like if he played half his games in Colorado. In this scenario, though, that’s not something we, as Cardinal fans, need to concern ourselves with. The Cardinals would be selling high on a young starter who is likely to see at least some regression, and they acquire a Hall of Fame caliber third baseman.

Scenario 4: Dakota Hudson Becomes a Shark
Hudson, while hiking in Nepal in the offseason, visits a mystical temple high in the Himalayas. There, he finds an ecstatic monk who lays a curse on the young sinkerballer, transforming him into an animal. He’s never heard from again.

You really should read You are a Shark.

The more you know: If you want to read more about Hudson, both Ben Clemens and John LaRue had excellent in-season takes on him here at VEB. Even though I intentionally avoided re-reading these articles when I approached the subject myself (so I could see the stats with fresh eyes), they reached similar conclusions, all while providing their own set of Hudson-inspired eclectic tropes. Enjoy.

Ben Clemens: Dakota Hudson, Huh?
John LaRue: Dakota Hudson is an Enigma