By Erik Hahmann
Seeing Hudson go in for Tommy John surgery was troubling to his fantasy owners, and to the Braves. But the elbow replacement surgery carries strong recovery rates. In seven starts after returning from Tommy John last season, Hudson showed signs of a healthy recovery, posting an impressive 3.47 xFIP (a stat which strips out the effects of bad luck, defense, bullpen support, aberrant HR/FB rates, and other factors).
Hudson was ranked in the one-star group, with names like Carl Pavano, Gil Meche and rookie Brian Matusz, all of whom Hudson could easily outperform this season. Continuing his late-season dominance from last year, Hudson was dominant this spring, putting up a 1.35 ERA while striking out 17 batters and walking just 3 in 20 IP. While you must take spring training stats with a grain of salt, they can be instructive for young players, and especially for players trying to prove themselves after an injury. According to Braves catcher Brian McCann: “He look[ed] great. He’s putting his pitches right where he wants them. He’s definitely ready for the season.”
The 11-win total should be easily reachable now that the Braves have added more firepower in the forms of Jason Heyward and Troy Glaus to an already talented lineup. The defense behind Hudson as improved as well, with Heyward in right field, Melky Cabrera (career 4.0 UZR in LF) seeing time in left, and Garret Anderson (-16.5 UZR last season) no longer on the roster.
Hudson’s 2010 debut was an impressive one: 7 innings, 2 runs, 3 hits and no walks. A couple of caveats apply. First, he was facing the Giants, who have only one elite hitter in their entire lineup in Pablo Sandoval. Second, Hudson only struck out two batters in his inaugural 2010 start. Still, his best indicator of success, aside from his pinpoint, no-walk control, was his impressive groundball rate: Fourteen of the 21 outs Hudson rang up Friday against San Francisco came via groundballs. That’s a great sign for a pitcher who’s thrived on worm-burners his whole career.
Hudson’s probably owned in even the shallowest leagues, and his value spiked after his opening start, such that targeting him in trade now doesn’t make much sense. But if you already own him, resist the temptation to sell high. Unless someone bowls you over with an offer, hang onto Hudson and give him a chance to put up a big season.