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Dakota Hudson Is Throwing the Wrong Fastball

Despite being a career sinkerballer, Dakota Hudson’s best fastball isn’t his sinker.

MLB: Washington Nationals at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Le-USA TODAY Sports

What is the first word that comes to mind when you think of Dakota Hudson? For many of you that word might be some kind of value judgement like “bad” or perhaps simply “not good” but for me it isn’t. For me, the word is “sinkerballer”. That’s what Hudson was in college and in the minor leagues and it’s what he has been with the St. Louis Cardinals.

It may come as a surprise to you, then, to learn that Dakota Hudson’s best fastball isn’t actually his sinker; it’s his four-seamer. At face value, this may sound dumb. After all, Dakota Hudson is a ground ball getting sinkerballler through and through. What I intend to argue is that he shouldn’t be and that a fastball switch may help him become more than what he is right now, namely a fringe major league depth arm.


It would be tough to make this argument if Dakota Hudson’s sinker has gotten better results throughout his career, wouldn’t it? So let me start with the results both for this season and for Hudson’s career.

This season Dakota Hudson has thrown 207 sinkers. The results? A .401 wOBA and .418 xwOBA. Not great.

Now compare that to the righty’s four-seamer, which has been thrown 107 times this season to the tune of a .200 wOBA and .316 xwOBA. That’s a lot better.

It’s important to mind the sample size though. 107 pitches, and even 207 pitches, isn’t all that much really so while Hudson’s four-seamer is playing better this year, it’s more important to look at the long term results too.

Dakota Hudson Career Fastball Results

Pitch Pitches Thrown wOBA xwOBA Home Runs Avg EV (mph)
Pitch Pitches Thrown wOBA xwOBA Home Runs Avg EV (mph)
Sinker 2907 0.357 0.372 19 90.1
Four-Seamer 1113 0.248 0.303 1 87.3

When I first saw these results I was pretty shocked. After all, I’ve always thought of Hudson as a sinkerballer and I’d never really considered whether or not he should be a sinkerballer. Yet the sample here lends considerable weight to the idea that Hudson’s four-seamer is better than his sinker.

There are a lot of numbers that stand out from this table but the one I want to focus on is the home runs. Hitters simply seem unable to square up Hudson’s four-seamer and that’s definitely not the case with his sinker.

Really the only positive with Hudson’s sinker is that it gets more ground balls. And that’s always been his identity as a pitcher. Hudson’s sinker typically posts ground ball rates above 60%, though this year, the pitch has “only” kept the ball on the ground at a 56.5% rate. That stands in contrast to Hudson’s four-seamer which typically hovers around a 50% ground ball rate.

It’s better to have results than it is to have ground balls, though, so while ground balls may be a legitimate point in favor of the sinker, it shouldn’t hold much sway considering how much worse the pitch has been when compared to Hudson’s four-seamer.

There’s something else I want to point out about the results too. Like most pitchers who throw both fastballs, Hudson has mostly used his sinker against same sided batters and his four-seamer against opposite handed batters. That’s because sinkers tend to see a stronger platoon effect than their straighter fastball counterpart.

Hudson has thrown 77.4% (862) of his four-seamers to left-handed hitters and against lefties the pitch has generated a .260 wOBA and a .307 xwOBA. Those are strong numbers, but, as you would expect, the pitch actually performs better when Hudson has the platoon advantage. Against righties Hudson’s four-seamer has allowed just a .188 wOBA and .281 xwOBA (with a sample size of 251 pitches).

This is a pitch that can be effectively thrown regardless of platoon advantage and can get outs against both left-handed and right-handed hitters. The same can’t be said of Hudson’s sinker. The 28-year-old has thrown 61.2% of his career sinkers to right-handed hitters and those hitters have put up a .323 wOBA and .344 xwOBA. That’s not terrible. In fact, it’s pretty average for a sinker.

The real problem comes when Hudson throws the pitch to left-handed hitters. Those hitters have put up a .412 wOBA and .419 xwOBA against the pitch.

It’s a pitch that really shouldn’t be thrown against lefties at all, yet even though Hudson has dialed back it’s usage against lefties, it’s still thrown over 25% of the time in situations when Hudson doesn’t have the platoon advantage.

This year, left-handed batters are actually faring worse than right-handed batters against Hudson’s sinker but we’re not exactly dealing with a large sample size. I’ll take the career trend and the prevailing pitching logic over a small sample size blip.

Hudson really shouldn’t be throwing any sinkers when he doesn’t have the platoon advantage and he surely should be throwing more four-seamers than sinkers overall. In fact, I would love to see his usage of the two pitches completely flip at a minimum. So, instead of him throwing 39.8% sinkers and 20.6% four-seamers, I would love to see him throw about 40% four-seamers and 20% sinkers. And even then, that’s probably too much fastball usage overall.

So really I want to see Hudson change his sinker from being his featured pitch to being more of a tertiary offering.

I will provide a counter argument. If Hudson features his sinker and uses his four-seamer more lightly, hitters are more likely to be ready for his sinker than his four-seamer. Increasing the usage of any pitch likely means risking it’s effectiveness a little bit so throwing more four-seamers would likely mean that Hudson’s four-seamer won’t be as effective as it has been.

That’s not a huge concern for me since the gulf between the two pitches is wide, but it is something I wanted to mention. That also why I’m not advocating for Hudson to stop throwing his sinker completely. it should may be more effective with less usage and can also offer the hitter a different look to help keep him off the four-seam.

Pitch Characteristics

This article wouldn’t be complete without a discussion of why Hudson’s sinker has been more effective than his four-seamer. The stats tell the story but it’s the underlying pitch metrics that can really help us understand that story.

Hudson’s sinker is more or less the same as it’s always been, with one exception. The pitch has always had above average sink and is sitting at 10% above average this season among sinkers thrown at a similar velocity. The pitch doesn’t move as well in the other direction, though, sitting at 13% less run than average. The extra sink helps it get beat into the ground but it doesn’t run enough to miss bats or get off the barrel. Pair that with just 92.2 mph velocity and it’s clear why the pitch hasn’t been successful.

Let’s take a look at Hudson’s four-seamer now. The pitch has the same velocity problem as it’s actually thrown a bit slower at 91.8 mph, but while it doesn’t have overwhelming velocity it has atypical shape and that’s really what makes it more effective.

The pitch has an extra 6.6 inches of drop than the average four-seamer at that velocity and it has less run than average by almost 3 inches. Put into percentages, it has 42% more drop and 47% less run. Overall, that’s 22.4 inches of drop and just 3.2 inches of run.

That pitch should sound similar to another four-seam fastball thrown by a different Cardinals pitcher that I’ve written about in the past. That’s because Hudson cuts his four-seamer and the pitch has the same cut/sink shape as Andre Pallante’s four-seamer.

There are a few ways to tell that Hudson is cutting his fastball. The first is the eye test.

This pitch to Randy Arozarena was absolutely grooved down the middle but you can see the cut on it.

The second reason has to do with spin direction. This is what Hudson’s spin directions looks like upon release. Focus on the red bar that indicates his four-seamer.

As you can see, the average spin direction of Hudson’s four-seamer upon release is 1:00.

The next graph I’ll show it spin direction when the ball crosses the plate. For pitches with arm side run, you would expect to see their respective bars to the arm side. Let’s use Hudson’s four-seamer as an example. If the pitch had typical movment, you would expect to see the spin direction shift down towards 1:30 or 2:00.

That’s not what happens.

Now the spin direction is 12:45, which indicates the cutting action. And as you can see in the graph above, those red bars shifted upwards, closer to 12:00, instead of shifting down or even not moving at all. As an aside, I would love to see Hudson cut the ball even more and move from his current 0:15 deviation to more of a 0:30 or 0:45 deviation or more, but at least he’s still cutting the ball.

The other giveaway when looking at spin is the spin efficiency. Generally, pitchers that cut their fastballs have a low rate of active spin. That’s true with Hudson as the active spin on his four-seamer is just 75%.

Typically it’s the fastballs with near-perfect spin efficiency that get the carrying action that causes them to miss bats. Pitchers that can’t do that can help themselves by cutting their fastballs to give them atypical shape since it’s the fastballs with typical velocity and typical shape that generally struggle the most.

This explains how Hudson’s four-seamer has had such good results despite limited velocity. It seems to be this atypical shape that has helped him limit hard contact whereas Hudson’s sinker, with more plain shape, has been prone to getting hit hard throughout his career.

The final piece of the puzzle is velocity, of course, and I can’t end this section without discussing it. In Hudson’s first taste of the majors in 2018, his fastballs averaged 96 mph while coming out of the bullpen. The following year, Hudson averaged over 93.5 mph on his fastballs while pitching out of the rotation.

His velocity slipped down to 93 mph the following year in 2020 and then down to 92 mph in 2021, where it has been hovering since. Hudson’s sinker was more viable when he threw harder, even if it still wasn’t a great pitch, but now that he doesn’t have much velocity to speak of, it’s better for him to rely on the pitch with atypical shape.


Let’s tie everything together now. I’m looking to see Hudson flip his four-seam and sinker usage at a minimum and stop throwing opposite handed sinkers completely. He’s been a middling pitcher at best when featuring his sinker but there’s the potential for more if he starts throwing his other fastball more.

I also want to see Hudson’s velocity tick back up closer to his 2019 and 2020 levels. How possible that is, I have no idea.

I’m not trying to argue for an increased role for Hudson in any way, I’m simply stating that he’s a pitcher who could improve with some pitch mix tweaks. I will say that I’m not too confident in Hudson changing what’s basically been his identity as a pitcher since at least his college days but I think he would be better off for it.

His four-seamer has better (read: “more atypical”) shape and has gotten much better results throughout his career. Throwing more four-seamers at the expense of his sinker would likely make him a more viable major league pitcher and adding velocity would increase his abilities even further.

Thanks for reading, VEB. Have a great Sunday.