Wednesday, May 1, 2013
Tim Hudson building Hall of Fame case
By David Schoenfield
In Tim Hudson's major league debut, Tony Phillips was his second baseman, Olmedo Saenz played third base and Tim Raines played left field. Hudson doesn't seem like he's that old, but that was back in 1999 in a game at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, which means he has been doing this baseball thing for a bit of time now.
Hudson pitched five innings and struck out 11 Padres, leaving with a no-decision.
"He's got outstanding stuff," Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane said after that game. "He needs to learn the league, learn pitch selection and get better with experience. He's an athlete and has the opportunity to be an outstanding pitcher in this league for a long time."
Beane was right about that one.
He also went 1-for-1 at the plate with a walk. The man always could hit. He earned his first win five days later over the Los Angeles Dodgers, earning a beer shower from his teammates. "Who knows where Hudson goes from here? For now, he's a show worth seeing, a slender right-hander who can throw three pitches for strikes," wrote Gary Peterson in the Contra Costa Times.
Tim Hudson not only had a homer to celebrate against Washington, but his 200th career victory, too.
Fourteen years later, Hudson is still going strong -- strong enough that there's an outside shot he's heading to the Hall of Fame. As Beane said on that June night so many years ago, Hudson is an athlete. He was a star two-way player at Auburn and that athleticism has helped him adapt through the years as his stuff has changed and his velocity has dropped. It has helped him to recover quickly from Tommy John surgery in 2008. It has helped to overcome his status as a short right-hander (he's listed at 6-foot-1, but that article written after his first start said he was 5-11, which he may reach in his spikes). It has helped him to remain a solid, underrated starter at the age of 37, a key reason for Atlanta's success in recent seasons.
Hudson beat the Nationals 8-1 on Tuesday night to earn his 200th career win and did so in style, taking a no-hitter into the fifth while pitching seven brilliant innings, doubling off the wall in left-center to start a two-run rally in the second and then hitting on opposite-field home run off Zach Duke -- and off Bryce Harper's glove -- in the fifth inning for his third career homer. That's a night worthy of another beer shower.
"It was a fun game," Hudson said. "Obviously, it's kind of surreal. No one expects to hit a home run."
For the Braves, it was their fifth victory in five games against the Nationals. For Hudson, it was one of the defining moments of his career, as he became the third active pitcher to reach 200 wins (joining Andy Pettitte and Roy Halladay) and the 110th pitcher reach 200.
As for that Hall of Fame thing, we can start here, with the highest winning percentages since 1901 for pitchers with 200 wins:
1. Whitey Ford (236-106, .690)
2. Pedro Martinez (219-100, .687)
3. Lefty Grove (300-141, .680)
4. Christy Mathewson (373-188, .665)
5. Roy Halladay (201-103, .661)
6. Roger Clemens (354-184, .658)
7. TIM HUDSON (200-105, .656) 8. Mordecai Brown (239-130, .648)
9. Randy Johnson (303-166, .646)
10. Pete Alexander (373-208, .642)
The next three guys are Mike Mussina, Jim Palmer and Andy Pettitte. OK, this is all pretty impressive company, and while winning percentage is obviously team-dependent to a certain extent and Hudson has played on two successful franchises in Oakland and Atlanta, it's certainly not insignificant. It's at least a starting point to put Hudson in a Hall of Fame discussion if he continues pitching well for another three or four years and gets into the 240-win range.
His career ERA of 3.43 may not blow you away, but remember that he pitched much of his career in the middle of the high-octane PED-era. His park- and league-adjusted ERA+ of 125 is tied with Palmer and John Smoltz at 20th among the 89 pitchers since 1901 to win 200 games. That's a better adjusted ERA than Juan Marichal, Bob Feller, Don Drysdale, Warren Spahn, Bert Blyleven, Tom Glavine, Gaylord Perry and Steve Carlton, to name a few big names.
The point: The guy can pitch. Sure, the ERA will eventually rise a few ticks and the winning percentage will likely drop a few points as he ages. Some would argue that Hudson has never been the best pitcher in his league, which is a fair statement. But a lot of Hall of Fame pitchers were never the best in their league and Hudson has been one of the best -- seven times in the top 10 in ERA, seven times in the top 10 in WAR (with a best of 7.5 in 2003, ranking third among AL pitchers), seven times in wins and six times in innings. His career WAR of 54.4 is 77th all-time.
He's not there yet, which is OK. That means hopefully we'll get to continue watching the guy with the great sinker for a few more years. Have a beer with your shower, Tim.