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Dakota Hudson’s Improved Curveball

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MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Chicago White Sox Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

So far this season, Dakota Hudson has started two games and thrown just 8 13 innings while struggling to the tune of a 5.40 ERA and 5.28 FIP. That is not a great start to the season for the right-hander. However, despite his overall struggles, he has shown some improvements from last season, namely his curveball seems to have improved significantly. Caution must be used due to the small sample size this early in the season, but there have been some interesting changes in Hudson’s curveball so far.

Last season, only 10% of Hudson’s pitches were curveballs and his results were not great as he allowed a .343 wOBA and.362 xwOBA against the pitch. Additionally, he typically only trusted his curveball against left handed hitters as 76% of his curveballs were thrown against them. That has changed this year as 19% of Hudson’s pitches so far this season have been curveballs. This is still a small sample size, but so far there is reason to believe that his curveball has improved, and therefore will be trusted more throughout the season. One of these reasons is an improved spin rate. Last season Hudson’s curevball had a spin rate of 2196 RPMs. This season, however, that has improved to 2472 RPMs. When combined with a one mph increase in velocity, it appears that Hudson’s curveball has been crossing the plate faster and with sharper movement than in the previous season.

This holds true as Hudson is getting the exact same amount of drop on the pitch as he did last season (44.5 inches). However, he has molded his curveball into more of a 12-6 shape as he has decreased the pitch’s horizontal break from 9.4 inches to 5.7 inches. Typically, it is harder, sharper break that is more effective than a breaking pitch with lots of loopy movement and so far this season, Hudson is experiencing the benefits of such a change.

Hudson’s curveball usage (19%) has increased to the point where it is beginning to rival his slider (24.1%) as the primary breaking pitch in his arsenal. Additionally, his curveball actually has a 37.5% PutAway% which is 7.5% higher than his slider. This means that Hudson is placing more trust in his curveball to be the pitch that ends at-bats. So far, this has proven to be a good decision as he is allowing just a .109 wOBA and .140 xwOBA against the pitch while generating a 40% whiff rate.

it is still early in the season, so therefore it is nearly impossible to tell if this will be a long term trend for Hudson. However, with the increased spin rate and usage of the pitch, it seems that there was a conscious effort to improve the pitch and throw it more. Due to the small sample size, this may not actually be the case, but either way, Hudson’s curveball has been extremely effective in his first two starts. If he can continue to throw the pitch the same way, then he could have a new weapon this season. This will certainly be something to watch when Hudson takes the mound, to see if this change is simply a matter of a small sample size, or an actual improvement.