Aug 23rd, 2009
How Good Has Hudson Been This Season?
Dan Hudson has been the buzz of the White Sox minor leagues since Gordon Beckham earned his promotion to the White Sox. He started the season in Low-A Kannapolis and is currently pitching for the AAA Charlotte Knights. He has pitched in four levels this season, a mostly unheard of feat. So the question this brings up is how does Hudson’s stellar 2009 stack up against previous pitching prospects in the White Sox system that had torrid campaigns?
Before comparing, let’s look at what Hudson has done in his first full professional season. Between the four levels he has a 14-5 record with a 2.26 ERA. He has struck out 154 in 139.1 innings and walked just 30. That’s good for a 9.95 K/9 and 1.94 BB/9. The impressive and encouraging part about Hudson’s numbers this year is that his numbers didn’t drop off from High-A to AA. In fact, Hudson finished his AA stint with 28 scoreless innings in a row. In just three starts with the Knights the numbers haven’t been as flashy, but he still has an ERA under 3 and it’s too early to make a significant judgment. Regardless, he has dominated this season like few have.
The first comparison to come to mind is Brandon McCarthy, who pitched well in three levels in 2004. McCarthy is the only other prospect in recent memory to do so. The others chosen to reference Hudson’s 2009 season are Jon Rauch from 2000, Gio Gonzalez from 2005 and Fautino De Los Santos from 2007. For a basic comparison, let’s look at K/9, BB/9 and ERA.
Hudson (Low-A, High-A, AA, AAA): 2.26 ERA, 9.9 K/9, 1.9 BB/9
Rauch (High-A, AA): 2.66 ERA, 10.1 K/9, 2.7 BB/9
McCarthy (Low-A, High-A, AA): 2.67 ERA, 10.6 K/9, 1.6 BB/9
Gonzalez (Low-A, High-A): 2.82 ERA, 11.2 K/9, 3.2 BB/9
De Los Santos (Low-A, High-A): 2.65 ERA, 11.3 K/9, 3.2 BB/9
Clearly, all five dominated. Each had an ERA under 3, each struck out more than a batter per inning and each had at least passable control. Hudson has the lowest ERA of the bunch, but also the lowest K rate. McCarthy’s superior strikeout to walk ratio probably makes him look like the best prospect of the bunch and his Major League success would support that relative to the others, but more on him later.
Taking a little bit deeper look at Hudson, moving up the levels so quickly has dented his stat line a bit. As you would expect, he has needed a few starts to adjust to a new level after promotion. After his first 5 starts with the Dash, the former Old Dominion righty had a 4.50 ERA and had walked 10 in 24 innings. His next 3 starts (which wound up being his last 3) he had a 2.14 ERA and walked just 3 in 21 innings. In Birmingham, two of Hudson’s first three starts were mediocre at best, but he only allowed 2 earned runs in his next 6 starts (38 IP). It appears he is dealing with the same thing in Charlotte. His first start was sub par, but his last two outings have been better. Needing time to adjust to a new level isn’t rare, but it’s worth mentioning since Hudson has had to go through this three times this season, which is extremely rare.
Getting back to McCarthy, Hudson’s stats before pitching for Charlotte are eerily similar to McCarthy’s from ‘04. At the same three levels, Hudson’s stats almost mirror McCarthy’s in strikeouts and walks. Hudson’s combined stats from Kannapolis, Winston-Salem and Birmingham: 2.19 ERA, 10.4 K/9, 1.8 BB/9. McCarthy’s again for reference: 2.67 ERA, 10.6 K/9, 1.6 BB/9. Impressively similar. It’s a good thing that of the four pitchers used in this comparison McCarthy is the closest statistically because to date he has had the most success as a Major League starter of the bunch. De Los Santos is trying to overcome injuries and has barely pitched since ‘07. Gonzalez is currently a “AAAA” pitcher that has seen his control issues really kill him in the Majors. Rauch has turned into a nice reliever after failing to make it as a starter, but after being named Minor League Player of the Year in 2000 by Baseball America and the Sporting News, expectations were higher for the tallest pitcher in MLB history. It’s worth noting that none of these four are currently with the Sox and all but Rauch were gone within a year.
So what does this mean for Hudson’s career outlook? Does this mean he’s destined to be the next Brandon McCarthy? No. All it really means is that Hudson is having the best season a White Sox minor league pitcher has had since McCarthy. The statistics make a strong argument for Major League success for Hudson, but even McCarthy has only been an average MLB starter when healthy. Of course, average starting pitchers have long careers and make lots of money so there’s nothing wrong with that.