Even in a free agent market where teams splurged like Kenny Powers at a Jet Ski dealership, the San Francisco Giants got some funny looks when they signed Tim Hudson to a two-year, $23 million deal. Thirty-eight years old and coming off a macabre, season-ending ankle injury suffered while covering first base in July, Hudson hardly seemed like a good bet for a multi-year contract.
Well, Hudson enters his Sunday showdown with Clayton Kershaw pitching like a man capable of unseating the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner. His park-and-league-adjusted ERA is 62 percent above average — seventh-best among qualified National League starters and his best career mark since 2003. The ankle’s just fine, apparently, and Hudson has stopped walking hitters to prove it.
The Giants’ unexpected ace has issued just three free passes in 54.1 innings pitched, or 0.5 per nine frames. That’s not just the best walk rate in the majors this season (David Price is a distant second, at 1.01 BB/9). It’s a level of stinginess that’s nearly unprecedented in major league history. Carlos Silva (0.43 BB/9 in 2005) is the only starter to post a lower single-season walk rate while pitching 50-plus innings. If you extend the pool to relief aces, Dennis Eckersley‘s 1989 (0.47 BB/9) and 1990 (0.49 BB/9) seasons top Hudson’s work thus far. That’s it. That’s the list.
Hudson certainly deserves credit for shaving his walk rate down to quark-like levels, boosting his rate of pitches located in the strike zone from 49.3% with the Braves last season to 53.2% in 2014. But don’t overlook the pitch-framing prowess of San Francisco backstop Buster Posey, either. With still, soft mitt work, Posey is ensuring that Hudson gets more calls on borderline pitches than any other starter in the game.
Umps are pretty darned good at calling strikes on pitches taken within the zone, ruling in the hurler’s favor 82.4% of the time in 2014. Hudson, however, has a 92% strike rate on pitches taken in the zone. That’s tops among qualified starters, narrowly beating out the likes of Kyle Lohse (91.9%), Zack Wheeler (91.2%), Dallas Keuchel (90.4%) and Johnny Cueto (90.1%). Hudson also benefited from Brian McCann‘s deft pitch-framing while with the Braves (Hudson’s in-zone called strike rate was 84.5% from 2008-13), but he’s hardly ever getting squeezed with Posey behind the plate for all seven of his starts.
Overall, Posey has the sixth-highest called strike rate on in-zone pitches (85.4%) among catchers. Giants starters Ryan Vogelsong (86.7%) and Matt Cain (85.7%) are also getting lots of calls thanks to their MVP-caliber battery mate. If Hudson does goes on to make strike-tossing history this season, give him a hand. Just don’t forget that Posey’s steady hand helped make it possible.