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A closer look at new Rays reliever Daniel Hudson

Going pitch-by-pitch through his repertoire

Pittsburgh Pirates v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

The Rays finally ended the Corey Dickerson saga with a trade to Pittsburgh. In return, the Rays received RHP Daniel Hudson and 2B Tristan Gray. Hudson presents an interesting case, as he has undergone Tommy John surgery twice. Kudos to him for even making it through the process once, let alone a second time.

According to statements from the Rays front office, Hudson isn’t guaranteed a spot on the opening day roster, but you’d have to assume that he will be there come March 29 given his guaranteed contract. So, what can he bring to the ‘pen?

He complements his 95-97 mph fastball with a change-up and a slider — a prototypical three-pitch guy. The Tommy John surgeries have played a part in his inability to pitch up to his potential, but he’s a very interesting piece.

Looking him up, the numbers that first hit you aren’t particularly good. In 2017, his walk rate sat at 4.82 BB/9, and his peripherals were right in line with his actual 4.38 ERA (FIP 4.34, xFIP 4.57). His BABIP was also right around league average at .313, but that’s not telling you the whole story. I’ll get back to that.

The Fastball

It’s rare to see Joey Votto strike out, isn’t it? When Hudson gets that fastball up, it looks good. However, it was absolutely hammered by the league last year.

Hudson leaned on it 54 percent of the time, and to be quite honest with you, despite the bad results, he should keep throwing it. The league hit .310 and slugged .575 against his fastball, but the BABIP against this one pitch was a very high .354, which is a mark likely to regress in his favor.

The fastball was also the pitch with the most obvious failures of command. Hudson gave up seven home runs on this pitch alone, and his walk rate was an astronomical 17.3%. That’s nearly a nine percent increase from 2016 to 2017. So what exactly happened?

Though he still throws hard, there was a slight drop in his average velocity. He averaged 96.4 mph on the heater in 2016, followed by 95.3 mph in 2017.

That slight difference could be the difference, and it appears his velocity improves through the year and he was back to 2016 levels in September. At the end of the day, he still throws hard and he had lots of bad luck last year. If he can continue pumping in fastballs and using it as a compliment to his other pitches, the results should improve.

The Change-Up

Daniel Hudson has an incredibly interesting change-up. The last time he had any success with it, however, was in 2015. Back then, hitters slashed .205/.225/.308 against his change-up.

This is probably why.

But since his days in Arizona, his change-up resulted in a slash of .341/.418/.560. His 2017 numbers improved that a bit, but put the numbers aside and just look at the pitch.

There is some unique arm-side run to this pitch — over 10 inches. It starts around the middle/inside of the plate, and it just zips right out and under the hands of a RHB. That’s nasty.

That exact type of run can work against him when it comes to LHB, however, when the location isn’t right... Look at this pitch to Anthony Rizzo.

The run on his change-up takes it under the hands of righty, but can open itself up to a lefty. The pitch shown here was very flat, and while it started inside, it ran over the heart of the plate.

And again we see the variable of luck. The change-up carried a .368 BABIP, and of course, one way or another, that’ll have to regress.

This is just another case of a pitch not living up to its potential, in my opinion. It’s not a matter of Hudson losing his change-up over time. There’s plenty there to work with, and the Rays were probably enticed by the movement.

Given that the Rays have a known love for change-ups, this might’ve been a huge selling point for the front office to finalize a deal for a player they’ve long sought after.

The Slider

This is the pitch that actually interests me the most.

The fun part about the slider is that Hudson throws two variations of it, not much unlike Chris Archer. One is a normal slider with a lot of movement on it, and the other is a harder slider that almost resembles a power cutter.

Hudson bumped up the use on slider by about 110 pitches in 2017, and it worked for him. The league hit .120/.165/.160 against it, and there’s plenty of reason to believe that success will continue. While the slider carried a .214 BABIP - and that’s a number unlikely to be sustained - you can put a lot of value on the quality of the pitch. It’s good, and will remain that way.

This one here can be confused for a cutter. Hudson probably has a tendency to tighten up his grip on his slider more often than not. Maybe it’s by design, maybe it isn’t. Either way, it works.

Now this one’s really good. There’s about a 5 mph difference here, and the break on it is crazy. I mean, Rosales sees this thing starting on the outside corner and it just drops so hard so quickly.

If Hudson is left to work with his slider(s) and fastball alone, he’s still in very good shape.

Final Thoughts

Hudson has the stuff to pitch in high-leverage situations. He has struggled recently, but the components of a shutdown reliever are there, and the Rays obviously believe they have something useful on their hands. There might even be more to uncover if Daniel Hudson finds comfort in adding a sinker as well.

Last season Hudson found health and made 71 relief appearances. If Hudson can maintain his velocity and pick better moments for his change-up, I think he’ll return to form.

The worst case scenario here is that either Hudson doesn’t make the roster, or he makes the roster, struggles, and is DFA’d. The Rays are only on the hook financially for 2018, and there’s practically little, if any, risk here.

But hey, the Rays have done better with worse.