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Starting Nine: Tim Hudson, a Very Good Brave

The fifth pitcher to win No. 200 with the Braves, Hudson was a franchise staple for nearly a decade

Cincinnati Reds v Atlanta Braves
Tim Hudson is one of 17 pitchers with at least 220 wins, 2,000 strikeouts, 3,000 innings and an ERA+ of 120 or better.

Lost among the focus on the controversial names that fell off the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot this week, is that Tim Hudson’s time is up too.

The former Braves right-hander received 12 votes among the 394 total ballots, a three-percent return that put him under the five percent needed to stay in contention for next year. Hudson barely made it to the 2022 vote, appearing on 5.2 percent of ballots a year ago.

While Cooperstown may not be in his future, Hudson should at least present an intriguing case once his candidacy falls into the hands of the Era Committees — and potentially with different understandings of what we think a starting pitcher’s HOF resume looks like going forward, but more on that later.

Spending nine years in Atlanta, Hudson won 113 of his 222 career games, while posting a .356 ERA and making one All-Star Game before things came to a gruesome conclusion with a second-ending injury in 2012. He was, in essence, a pitching bridge from the end of the Big Three to the rebuild that would eventually net a championship.

Hudson was, all in all, a Very Good Brave.

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1. No. 200, in style

On April 30, 2013, Hudson became the 110th pitcher to reach 200 wins, and the fifth to do so in a Braves uniform, following Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Phil Niekro ... but none of them reached that milestone quite like Hudson did. Along with dominating the Nationals — he didn’t allow a hit until the fifth inning and gave up three in all with over seven one-run innings with six strikeouts and two walks — Hudson equaled Washington’s offensive output in the Braves’ 8-1 win, going deep off Zach Duke in the fifth inning. He also hit double off Gio Gonzalez in the first, making him the only pitcher ever to homer and double in getting their 200th win. Cleveland’s Bob Lemon homered when he earned the milestone victory on Sept. 11, 1956, but Hudson has him beat with the two-base hit. “It was just one of those nights where things were lined up,” Hudson said that night. “The stars were aligned, and I guess it was meant to be.”

2. The post-Big Three staple

When Hudson arrived in Atlanta in December 2004 — coming over in a four-player deal with the A’s that included future Double-A Mississippi manager and newly hired Pirates Triple-A pitching coach Dan Meyer — the Big Three that defined the Braves for more than a decade was down to just Smoltz. In the winter of 2002, Glavine was the first to depart, leaving for the Mets, and Maddux made his exit after 2003, going back to the Cubs. While one era was ending, another was just beginning. When he left the Braves after 2013, Hudson did so with the highest fWAR (19.6), the most wins (113), starts (243) and innings (1,572), of any pitcher since the final year that Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz were together.

3. HOF company ... and part of future debates?

The resume includes four All-Star Game appearances, along with four top-six finishes in the Cy Young Award voting. While Hudson’s Baseball Reference page doesn’t include a lot of black ink — outside of 2000 when he led the American League with 20 wins and all of baseball with a .769 winning percentage — consistency is a major reason why he’s among the best of his generation. During a 17-year career that stretched from 1999 in Oakland to 2015 with the Giants, Hudson amassed a 48.9 fWAR that ranks 11th among all starters during that period. He’s second in innings (3,123 1/3), tied for seventh in strikeouts (2,078) and is sixth in ERA (3.50) among those with at least 2,000 innings pitched. He’s also one of 17 pitchers with at least 220 wins, 2,000 strikeouts, 3,000 innings and an ERA+ of 120 or better, and one of two on that list not in Cooperstown, joining Roger Clemens. With the belief that changes in the way starters are used, there’s a belief that we may never see another 300-game winner. So, if 200 becomes the new 300, will it help Hudson’s HOF case as time goes on? If you look at it from enough angles, you can make a case, but how he’s viewed in the future should be fascinating as what we deem as HOF-worthy for starting pitchers changes with time.

4. His finest work in a Braves uniform

Hudson threw seven shutouts in his career, and two complete-game one-hitters. He struck out 10 or more 12 times, including a career-high 13 on Aug. 28, 2010, against the Marlins. But per Game Score, Hudson was never better with the Braves than he was on May 2, 2008, in shutting down the Reds. The righty gave up three hits over nine scoreless innings, striking out 10 with no walks over 111 pitches. He retired 11 straight during that outing until Cincinnati’s Edwin Encarnacion ended that with a leadoff single in the eighth. Since the Braves’ move to Atlanta in 1966, Hudson’s Game Score of 91 is bested by just seven other starts of nine or more innings with 10-plus Ks, and there’s been just one other start that strong since 2001 (Mike Foltynewicz on June 1, 2018, vs. the Nationals).

5. The quote machine

Few players were as bankable of a quote as Hudson, who could break down his own performance or offer a thoughtful perspective on the state of the game. He was also pretty damn funny. It was never better than after a June 17, 2013, when Freddie Freeman hit a walk-off home run for a 2-1 win over the Mets. Hudson, who threw seven innings that night, summed up Freeman’s heroics thusly: “He’s awesome, man. Just like a Little Leaguer out there, the way he’s playing. He’s like the Little Leaguer that shaves already. He’s Kelly from ‘Bad News Bears,’ riding up on his motorcycle and smoking heaters. That’s Freddie right now.”

6. The jokester

To be fair, Hudson was kind of provoked when he shoved poop into the finger holes of Adam LaRoche’s backup first base glove. It was retaliation for LaRoche cutting the crotch off everyone’s sliding shorts. But Hudson does have a history as a prankster. He once hid in Eddie Perez’s closet wearing the costume from Scream, and when the catcher — who was being followed by a camera for what he thought was a piece on life on the road — pulled back his mirrored closet door, Hudson burst out to an expletive-filled reaction from Perez. Hudson recounted to me that when then-rookie Jeff Francoeur appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 2005 along with the headline “The Natural,” Hudson took the bat Francoeur used for batting practice and wrote “Wonder Boy” on it.

7. Letter to Braves fans

You’ll want to break out a Kleenex for this one. After Hudson signed with the Giants in 2013, he penned a lengthy thank you letter to Braves fans for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. A product of Braves Country — he grew up in Phenix City, Ala., and attended both his hometown’s Chattahoochee Valley Community College and Auburn — wearing an Atlanta uniform for nine years wasn’t something he had taken lightly. “A childhood dream was realized,” Hudson wrote. “I grew up a Braves fan just a few hours south of Atlanta, and it was hard for me to believe that I was going to actually play for the Atlanta Braves and legendary manager Bobby Cox.” The future Braves HOFer, who was inducted in 2018 continued. “But one thing that I learned is this — once a Braves fan, always a Braves fan. No matter what. And as a player, that means more than you could understand.”

8. Tiger through and through

Auburn player. Auburn coach. Auburn grad. In December, Hudson graduated from the school he left in 1997 when he was taken by the A’s in the sixth round of the draft. He earned a degree in interdisciplinary studies with an emphasis on health promotion and philanthropy studies. His goal was to graduate before his daughter Kennedie, who is a junior. “I didn’t realize it was going to take 20-plus years,” Hudson told Auburn Tigers.com. “I should probably be a rocket scientist by now as much time as it’s taken me.” Hudson is entering his third year on the Auburn baseball coaching staff. While his first year was limited to 18 games due to the pandemic, he guided a staff that struck out 10 or more in a record 14 games to start the season, and in 2021, had the second most strikeouts in the SEC with 418.

9. For your viewing pleasure ...

If you close your eyes, can probably play it frame-by-frame in your head. Joe Simpson and Hudson standing out in front of a palatial 700-plus acre estate alongside a lake, the two riding together on an all-terrain vehicle through the woods, and a cameo from grill-working cousin Bubba. Of course, we’re talking about what would become a rain-delay programming fixture: At Home with Tim Hudson. Sorry, (not really) for the visual ear-worm. “