It’s hard to believe this is Tim Hudson’s 9th season with the Braves. He is the veteran leader of the Braves’ staff, if not the entire team following the retirement of Chipper Jones. With Hudson’s season-ending ankle injury, how much does the loss hurt the Braves?
Hudson was outstanding the previous three seasons (2010-2012), posting an ERA+ of 122 (ERA adjusted for league and park 22 percent better than league average). But this season he posted an ERA+ of 97 in 131 1/3 innings pitched. Hudson never missed a ton of bats, even in his best seasons, so 6.5 strikeouts per 9 innings was nothing shocking nor concerning. And his walk rate and his homerun rate were pretty typical. A weaker infield defense with Chris Johnson at third and perhaps Uggla slowing with age probably has hurt him as much as anything else (even with the elite defender in Andrelton Simmons at shortstop). But the fact is Hudson has been something like league-average at run prevention.
Baseball Reference has Hudson as the Braves’ third-most valuable starter, behind Minor and Teheran. Fangraphs has him as the second-best starter behind Minor and just ahead of Teheran. He’s definitely helped to keep the Braves afloat, even if he hasn’t been an impact starter.
But the fact is he hasn’t been an impact starter. With Paul Maholm out, Alex Wood is basically taking his spot; at least that’s one way to look at it. And Brandon Beachy would take Hudson’s spot. We all know what Beachy is capable of. Before his injury last season, Beachy was one of the best starters in the league and it wasn’t a fluke. He misses bats (9.5 SO/9 in his career) and he has a respectable career walk rate (3.1 BB/9). There is always the risk that Beachy will not be nearly as effective or, if he is, that he won’t be able to go very deep into games. But with the Braves bullpen, as long as he can perform reasonably close to what he did the previous few seasons, he should come at least fairly close to making the impact that Hudson made. And the upside is that he’ll make significantly more of an impact and Beachy-over-Hudson will be a net plus.
I’m not arguing that losing Hudson was a good thing, of course. It would be better to have all of the options at the ready: Hudson, Beachy, Wood, Maholm. But the Braves have the depth that will allow them to play it safe and not get desperate for a starter at the deadline. Even if Beachy suffers setbacks, they have a guy like Cody Martin, a 23-year-old right-hander with 9.5 SO/9 and 3.9 BB/9 in Double-A and Triple-A this season.
It’s better to have a decent starter than to lose one. But the Braves have the depth to absorb the loss of Hudson, even if they can’t make a trade for a starter. If nothing else, it would be nice for them to trade for at least some depth in the rotation but focusing on the bullpen, particularly a left-handed arm, and the bench is probably a good idea. They are in a nice position to not have to make a panic move. As far as leadership, I’m sure Hudson will still fill that role in what could be his final year with the team, a team that is deep enough to make some noise in the playoffs.