Despite having similar statistics as last season, Dakota Hudson has changed significantly, and has seen some better batted ball results. The right hander has compiled a 3.32 ERA with a 4.79 FIP and 4.48 xFIP in 19 innings so far this season after posting a 3.35 ERA with a 4.93 FIP and 4.55 xFIP in 2019. However, despite these similar numbers, Hudson has taken a much different approach on the mound.
The 25-year-old has thrown significantly less sinkers this season. Last season, the sinker was his primary pitch and it made up 48.7% of all his pitches. However, just 31.5% of Hudson’s pitches so far have been sinkers. He has made up the difference by increasing his curveball percentage from 10% in 2019 to 23.8% this season, as well as by increasing his four seam percentage from 13% last season to 19.4% in 2020.
One consequence of this is a decreased groundball rate. Last season, Hudson posted a 56.9% groundball rate, but this season that rate has dropped to 51%. However, this change has also allowed the right-hander to increase his strike out rate a bit (7.01 K/9 in 2019, 7.58 K/9 in 2020) as well as throw his most effective pitch more often. Hudson’s curveball has allowed just a .092 wOBA and .158 xwOBA so far this season as the pitch has become his primary put away option. Additionally, Hudson’s four seam fastball has generated good results (.134 wOBA), although it may experience some regression .344 xwOBA.
Last season, the sinker was Hudson’s worst pitch according to the results that it allowed. Therefore, it seems to be a solid decision to throw the pitch less. However, interestingly, Hudson’s sinker was only slightly better than his curveball last season. However, since his curveball has become his best pitch so far in the season, it makes sense that he would throw it more.
This arsenal adjustment may prevent Hudson from generating as many groundballs as he usually does. However, it also comes with an increase in whiffs and swings on pitches out of the zone. For instance, the chase rate against Hudson has increased from 24.9% last season to 32.7% so far this season. Additionally, Hudson is generating a career high swing rate (48.0%) despite throwing the lowest amount of pitches in the strike zone in his career (46.2%). For a pitcher that has struggled to avoid walks and limit his pitch count, this is an important development. Likely as a result of these numbers, Hudson has decreased his walk rate from 4.43 hitters per nine innings to just 3.32 hitters per nine. This is a solid change from Hudson that goes well with his increased strikeout rate. Additionally, Hudson has been able to work more efficiently as he has seen his pitches per inning pitched drop from 16.5 last season to 14.4 this season.
These changes have helped Hudson address some of his biggest problems, and if he can maintain this trend, then it should have a solid effect on his season numbers. However, it is still early and it is difficult to make judgements on a 19 innings sample size. Therefore, these numbers should be taken with a grain of salt. However, this is an encouraging adjustment from Hudson as he looks improve in his second ‘full’ season in the MLB.