When Harold Reynolds thinks of Tim Hudson, he thinks of the sinker. So I'm relatively certain, given the former's penchant for cutting edge research and narrative building that we'll hear plenty about that sinker headed into tonight's contest, before, during, and after the National Anthem probably.
In reality, however, it's Hudson's fine mix of quality pitches and the ability to sequence them appropriately that makes him such a difficult pitcher to get a bead on:
As you can see, Hudson uses four different pitches better than 10% of the time and all of them have excellent movement that typically offsets one of the other offerings. So it's not just the sinker that makes him effective, it's his ability to also cut the ball to make it move the opposite direction as well as throw a splitter when he's ahead in the count and needs a whiff.
The ground ball rates for Hudson are fairly pedestrian for a pitcher who throws as many sinkers as he does, just 53.1% this season, down from a career average of 58.1%. He's allowing a few more fly balls this year, which makes sense given his home park's ability to hold them better than his former home at Turner Field, but he's also given up a career high 20.9% LD rate -- a full 2.5 points higher than his career.
So how do you beat Tim Hudson? You wait for a hittable strike and then drive it into the big gaps at AT&T Park.
Now, it certainly helps if you like the ball in the lower half of the zone:
It's unlikely that Matt Adams, Oscar Taveras (who should start this game, Mr. Matheny: lefties put up a .331 wOBA against Hudson this year), and Kolten Wong are going to see those high fastballs they drove out of the ballpark on Sunday from Hudson -- he just doesn't work in that section of the zone much at all, and only really when he's got an advantage and has you set up for that pitch.
Looking at where Hudson is hurt by extra bases the most, we can see why he prefers to work down in the zone:
The next heat map illustrates why it's important for the Cardinals to employ good plate discipline this evening. Namely: If you wait for a ball in the strike zone, there's a better than 30% chance you're getting to first base safely:
The more you look, the more you like this matchup for the Cardinals. As I mentioned above, lefties tuned up Hudson this year almost as much as they tuned up Lance Lynn last year, and the Cardinals are loaded with left handed hitters who pack a lot of punch against right handed pitchers. Matt Holliday feasts on pitches in the lower half of the zone, as I pointed out on Saturday, and he should get a steady diet of those from Hudson.
There's also this nugget: In 70.1 innings in the second half of the season, opposing hitters hit .300/.340/.451 off of Hudson, good for a .348 wOBA. Basically, he's turning every hitter into Matt Holliday in the second half of 2014.
Although he doesn't walk many, patience will be key in tonight's matchup for Cardinal hitters. They should be looking for pitches they can handle in the strike zone and be ready to pounce all over them.
The next two games represent a chance for the Cardinals to put the Giants in a serious hole in this series before they get back to their ace, scheduled to go on full rest in Game 5 on Thursday.