02 August 2011
An interesting question among Diamondbacks' fans is: How well has Daniel Hudson pitched this year? His ERA is a solid 3.81, but his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) is an excellent 2.96. Which is the more relevant number to evaluate how well Hudson has pitched this year? And who has been the better pitcher in 2011 - Daniel Hudson or Joe Saunders? Here are the key stats for the two players through August 1, 2011:
(fWAR = Wins Above Replacement from FanGraphs.com, rWAR = Wins Above Replacement from Baseball-Reference.com)
Although Saunders has a slightly better ERA, Hudson has a big lead in FIP and therefore a big lead in FanGraph's Win Above Replacement. The next question is - Which is a truer measure of how well the two pitchers have actually pitched, ERA or FIP? There is no straightforward answer, but it is instructive to examine what causes the discrepancy between the two measures, and see if there are any factors that can be attributed to the pitcher.
A big reason that Hudson's ERA is so much higher than his FIP is that his BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) of .315 is well above average (.295 in the NL) and much higher than that of Saunders (.266). In fact, two other starters on the Diamondbacks, Josh Collmenter (.238) and Ian Kennedy (.264) also have a very low BABIP this year. So what reasons can we find for Hudson's unusually high number? Is the defense playing poorly behind him? Is he giving up more hard hit balls than the other pitchers? Has he just been unlucky? Let's take a look at Hudson's BABIP in comparison to the rest of the team.
A factor that has a huge influence on BABIP is the type of batted ball - line drive, ground ball, or fly ball. Somewhat surprisingly, Hudson, Kennedy, and Saunders have remarkably similar numbers in their batted ball splits, all getting line drives slightly over 20% of the time, ground balls slightly over 40%, and fly balls around 37-38% of the time. But in each split, when the pitches are put in play, Hudson is more likely to give up a hit than his three teammates.
The largest difference is in the area of line drives, where Hudson's .777 rate is quite a bit higher than his teammates and the league average. Note that all four starters are doing well with fly balls to the outfield, where the usual group of Parra, Young, and Upton all have very good range. A look at the specific defensive lineups behind each pitcher provides no clues for Hudson's higher BABIP rates, since the defensive alignment has been fairly steady all year. Chris Young and Justin Upton have played CF and RF, respectively, in almost every game, and there has been no unusual defensive lineup behind any particular pitcher. So why is Hudson more likely to give up a hit than his teammates?
Rather than look at the batted ball types, let's take a look at how each pitcher does during different pitch counts. Not surprisingly, when pitchers get ahead in the count, their BABIP improves significantly. Here are the NL averages for BABIP on each pitch count in 2011:
2011 National League Averages
There is clearly a trend here for the National League as a whole. When there is a pitcher's count, all of the stats, including AVG and BABIP, go way down.
2011 National League Averages
Could this be the explanation for Hudson's higher BABIP? Is it because he is getting into too many hitters' counts? Unfortunately, no. Hudson has virtually the same amount of pitchers' counts as Kennedy, and much more than Saunders, yet still has a much higher BABIP than all of them.
|Pitcher||Batter Ahead||Even Count||Pitcher Ahead|
Let's take a closer look at how Hudson does in these different pitch count situations.
Here is something significantly different about Hudson's stats. When he has an 0-2 count on a batter, hitters are hitting an amazing .316 with a .407 BABIP on the next pitch. The NL average (see above table) for these cases is a .147 AVG and .274 BABIP. Summaring Hudson's stats when he's ahead or behind in the count, we get:
So batters are actually hitting 43 points higher (109 points of BABIP) against Hudson when they are ahead in the count than when they are behind. For the NL as a group, batters are hitting bat 97 points lower in these situations, with a 22 point lower BABIP.
So maybe this is a correctable problem for Hudson. While most pitchers rarely give up hits on 0-2 or 1-2 counts, Hudson has been getting hit hard. For whatever reason, Hudson is throwing hittable pitches on 0-2 and 1-2, while everyone else tries to waste one. So a possible solution to reducing Hudson's high BABIP is for him to be more careful when he is ahead in the count, maybe even wasting a pitch if necessary. He does fine on the more difficult pitch counts - it's the easy ones where he is getting hit. It's definitely someting to keep an eye on in tonight's matchup with the Giants.
Edit: Poster "theguyonthecouch" on dbbp.org pointed out that Hudson is throwing sliders 30% of the time on 0-2 pitches this year, compared to only 10% of the time last year. It could be that the 0-1 and 0-2 sliders are the problem.