Tim Hudson is on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot for the second year, this year. Like last year when he received 5.2-percent of the vote, it will be a close-call to see if he will get the 5-percent of the vote needed to stay on the writer’s ballot again next season.
Determining whether Tim Hudson belongs in the Hall of Fame after a 17-year career as a starting pitcher depends primarily on one’s perspective on the Hall of Fame itself. For the camp of the Hall being a pantheon of the elite of the elite – the “Small Hall” contingent – then on the surface, no, Hudson wouldn’t garner serious consideration.
But, for those who see the Hall as museum that should celebrate the best of each generation of players – the Large Hall purveyors – then Hudson has a stronger case for inclusion.
For those who don’t have an opinion on the size of the Hall but are curious for the reasons why Hudson should or should not be a member, a good starting point is the Hall of Fame itself.
As for the Baseball Hall of Fame, it is truly the top 1-percent. Before this year’s election cycle, 1.17-percent of major league players that have appeared in a game have been elected into the Hall.
As a percentage of players, pitchers (as designated by the Hall of Fame) comprise 0.37-percent of players who have appeared in a game and make up 32-percent of players inducted.
Using bWAR, Hudson comprised 57.9 bWAR for his career – good for a tie for 212th all-time with Bobby Bonds and Chuck Finley – and just below John Olerud at 211. These four are sandwiched between two Hall of Famers above and four Hall of Famers below.
For pitchers, Hudson is tied with Finley and just above Frank Tanana. Those three are bookended between three Hall of Famers – Rube Waddell and Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown above and Whitey Ford below.
Just on Baseball Reference’s bWAR – which is being used here not as the end-all-be-all but for reference – Hudson ranks in the top 0.94-percent for all players. While the historical company he keeps is chock full of players whose own merits for Hall of Fame induction could be argued, his career statistics hobnob with numerous players who have been inducted.
Tim Hudson debuted with the Oakland A’s in 1999 after being drafted in the 6th round of the 1997 draft out of Auburn University. This was the second time Oakland drafted Hudson – also taking him in the 35th round out of Chattahoochee Valley Community College in 1994.
A native of East-Central Alabama, Hudson was a two-way player while at Auburn pitching and playing the outfield. During his senior season at Auburn, he was named the SEC Player of the Year, while also being honored as First Team All-SEC at two positions – the first player to honored with such awards. The just over 6-foot tall, wiry Hudson also received All-American honors in 1997.
Hudson’s time in Oakland was a six-year run of excellence. Joining fellow starting pitchers Barry Zito and Mark Mulder, the trio became known as the “Big Three” that from 2000 to 2004 appeared in a total of six All Star games, won a Cy Young Award (Zito in ’02), and had five top six Cy Young finishes (three by Hudson, including a 2nd place finish in 2000).
Although Hudson didn’t win a Cy Young Award in his career, he was arguably Oakland’s best pitcher during the Big Three era. During his six seasons with the Athletics, Hudson posted a .702 winning percentage – winning 92 games against 39 losses – with a 3.30 ERA and 1.222 WIP. Never an elite strike-out pitcher who was known for a fantastic sinker, he averaged 6.5 SO/9 while with Oakland which was the best of his career.
Although FanGraphs paints a different WAR picture than Baseball-Reference – Fangraphs has a career fWAR of 48.9 and varies on seasonal impact – both services agree that his 2001-2004 seasons were the best four-year stretch of his career.
Both his 2002 and 2003 seasons ended with an ERA below 3.00 with a career best 1.075 WHIP and ERA+ of 165 in 2003. With a heavy mix of breaking pitches throughout his career his HR/9 was typically well below league average, but again, his fantastic 2003 season lead the league in HR/9 at 0.4 across a career-best 240 innings pitched.
To further emphasis Hudson’s excellent while with the A’s between 1999 and 2004, he had the highest ground ball rate of any pitcher in baseball, per FanGraphs, while allowing the second fewest HR/9 in baseball behind Pedro Martinez.
As Oakland has done for the last 20 years, the team started off-loading salaries in order to maintain a below league average payroll - this was the Moneyball era, after all. When the A’s traded Hudson to Atlanta in December 2004 for pitchers Juan Cruz and Dan Meyer and outfielder Charles Thomas, it wasn’t the trade that was surprising as much as it was the return for Hudson.
Cruz had the best season of his career with Atlanta in 2004 out of Atlanta’s bullpen but the journeyman pitcher was a disaster with Oakland in 2005 putting up a bWAR of -1.0 with an EAR of 7.44 and WHIP of 1.837 in 28 games during 2005. Although Cruz did pitch 12 seasons in MLB, Oakland traded him to Arizona before the start of the 2006 season.
Meyer was the prize in the return for Oakland. The starting pitching prospect was the Braves 1st round pitch in 2002 and ascended from AA to the appear in two games with the big-league team in 2004. Coming into the 2005 season, MLB.com rated Meyer as the 33rd rated prospect in baseball with Baseball Prospectus hailing him as the 29th best prospect. Unfortunately for Meyer and Oakland, injuries and ineffectiveness curtailed Meyer’s career. In total, Meyer appeared in only 17 games across two season for Oakland before the A’s lost him on wavers to the then Florida Marlins. Although he was excellent for the Marlins as a reliever in 2009, his major league career ended in 2010.
Thomas was a rookie outfielder who took advantages of a late-June 2004 call-up to play his way into the line-up as the Braves everyday left fielder, flanking Andruw Jones and J.D. Drew. He posted above-average numbers for the Division-winning Braves slashing .288/.368/.445 with an fWAR of 2.0 in 267 plate appearances across 83 games. After his trade to Oakland, Thomas hit into abysmal luck, with a .132 BABIP resulting in a slash of .109/.255/.109, in what was the final 55 plate appearances in 30 games of his major league career.
Almost two decades later, the Hudson trade rates among the least productive of executive Billy Beane’s era in Oakland, with none of the players the Athletics acquired providing positive value for Oakland. The three combined for -3.0 bWAR during their respective tenures with the A’s.
What Atlanta got from Hudson during the nine season he played with the Braves was a pitcher who wasn’t quite as good as he had been with Oakland, but still a top-of-the-rotation starter to lead the Braves after the end of the team’s on Big Three (Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Greg Maddux).
For Atlanta, Hudson posted a .611 winning percentage with 113 wins against 72 losses. Starting all but one of the 244 games he pitched for the Braves, he logged 1573 inning with a 1.242 WHIP and a 3.56 ERA. His ERA+ was 115 with Atlanta, good, but not as good as his 136 ERA+ while with Oakland.
While with Atlanta, Hudson suffered through one sub-par season, in 2006. Prior to that 2006 season, Hudson was named to the USA team for the inaugural World Baseball Classic, which took place during MLB Spring Training. It is plausible that there could have been a correlation between the two.
In 2008, Hudson endured the first significant injury of his career, missing the last third of the 2008 season and most of the 2009 season due to Tommy John surgery on his elbow.
He rebounded in 2010 with what was his best season with Atlanta, making his only All Star team as a Braves and finishing 4th in the Cy Young Awards voting. For the season, he delivered 228.2 innings pitched across 34 starts with a 2.83 ERA, 138 ERA+ and 1.15 WHIP in route to winning the 2010 NL Comeback Player of the Year Award.
Hudson followed-up his sterling 2010 performance with an above average 2011 season yielding 3.0 bWAR and another solid campaign in 2012.
Hudson celebrated winning the 200th game of his career in April 2013. But his 2013 season - and his Braves career - was cut-short in late-July due to a season-ending broken ankle he suffered while covering first and having his leg stepped on by Eric Young, Jr. while in playing the New York Mets.
The Braves chose not to re-sign Hudson in the following off-season leading to him returning to the Bay-area of California by signing with the San Francisco Giants. His 2014 season saw him appear in his final All Star game while earning the only championship ring of he career, as the Giants defeated the Kansas City Royals in the World Series.
Hudson’s career wrapped up after a 2015 season that saw him log only 123.2 innings pitched in 24 games in the Giants rotation.
Hudson finished his career with 222 wins, a 3.49 ERA and a 1.239 WHIP across 482 games (479 as a starter) and 3126.2 innings. For his career, his ERA+ was 120 and averaged 8.5 SO/9. For his career, he out standing in having well below the MLB averages for all Batting Against metrics per Baseball Reference.
Riding his sinker, cutter and split-finger, his career ground ball rate of 56.6-percent was well above the 43-percent MLB average. He added 29.8 WPA and 284 WE24 (base-out runs saved) during his career.
Historically, Hudson’s ranks 77th all time in career bWAR, 76th in Wins, 74th in Win-Loss Percentage, 65th in Games Started. Several of his adjusted-rated stats are more positive, as he ranks 33rd in Situational Wins Saved, 35th in base-out runs saved (REW), 43rd in WPA, and 51st in Adjusted Pitching Runs.
Further, using Baseball Reference’s Hall of Fame Career Standards, Hudson slots at 71 for pitchers, with a 42 rating. That ties him with Hall of Famers Jim Bunning, Don Drysdale, Catfish Hunter and Amos Rusie. For reference, Braves Hall of Famer John Smoltz has a 44 rating, good for 64th in their ranking.
Hudson lost almost a season and a half to injury and while that time was in his post-peak career, those additional numbers would have bumped him up in the counting stats. For example, winning just 18 additional games would have propelled him to a tie with Frank Tanana for 58th all-time, up from 76th. It’s impossible to know exactly how an additional 40 starts would have impacted Hudson’s career stats, but in a vacuum, it would have incrementally helped his case.
As David Schoenfield wrote in 2013 after Hudson won his 200th game, Hudson’s career was worthy of Hall of Fame consideration, but noted that winning 240 games might be a key discussion point for his chances.
Hudson appeared in the post-season in seven seasons of his career - with appearances with all three teams for whom he played. Although his playoff numbers were similar to his regular season career numbers - a 3.69 ERA during 75.2 innings pitched with a 1.282 WHIP - only his 2014 Giants team reached a league championship series.
In seven ALDS and NLDS series, Hudson earned 8.6-percent cWPA (that includes an ugly -4.5 in the 2002 ALDS against the Minnesota Twins). His lone NLCS and World Series appearances were poor - with his World Series performance posting a -18.3-percent cWPA - a number so poor it pulled is career cWPA into the negative.
Hudson’s first few seasons – the best of his career – overlapped with the final years of the steroids era. This transitional state of the game also saw starting pitcher usage evolve significantly between 1999 and 2015. Perhaps, as Hudson and his contemporaries’ careers are viewed in context with this new era of starting pitcher versus those of past generations, Hudson’s accomplishments on the field will be viewed through a different lens.
Known for being a tenacious competitor on the field, and a jovial teammate, Hudson won’t be voted into the Hall this year – that is certainty. If he does stick on the ballet after 2022, he would still have eight years for voters to consider his career in a different context. But for the writer’s to vote him in, it would require a historical increase in voting. And, unfortunately for Hudson, there is a real chance he might not get the 5-percent needed to stay on the ballet next season.
For the Veteran Committees, Hudson will likely garner consideration, but other equal-or-better starting pitchers would likely merit consideration before Hudson.
Using a similar 20-year or less era bracket that the Hall of Fame uses for its Modern Baseball and Golden Days eras, there will likely to be an era set that covers the bulk of Hudson’s peak career – running through 2010.
Amongst the group of pitchers who are officially no longer active - and whose careers overlapped Hudson’s by starting in or before 2000 and retiring after 2000 - the starting pitching candidates not yet in the Hall of Fame who had (or could argue had) a better career than Hudson include Curt Schilling, Kevin Browne, David Cone, Andy Pettitte, Mark Buehrle, Bret Saberhagen and Chuck Finley.
While several of those pitchers only barely overlapped with Hudson at the beginning of his career, the list of active pitchers behind Hudson aren’t close to catching him in terms of bWAR. Felix Hernandez at 50.2bWAR and Chris Sale at 46.5 bWAR are the closest coming into the 2022 season.
Whether or not Tim Hudson finds his way to Cooperstown, NY as an inductee likely only happens if his career is framed with those whose career started after 2000. If so, he becomes a more attractive, but likely still a borderline candidate.
Hudson, a 2018 inductee into the Braves Hall of Fame, is likely a player who will be noted as among the best to ever play the game and not make the Hall of Fame, even if he does lay claim to being amongst the top 1-percent to play it.