Closers are overrated. Think about it: saves are a made up stat and all closers really are are the best reliever on their respective teams. Can you name a team who used their best reliever consistently in the 8th inning? Yeah, neither can I. And I think we’d all agree that Brad Ziegler was Arizona’s best reliever in 2015. So why remove him from the closer’s role? I don’t have a good answer, but he doesn’t necessarily have the typical “closer’s profile” and the team has been active seeking another alternative. Can Daniel Hudson be that guy?

In a press conference Monday, Dave Stewart and Tony LaRussa were outspoken that they may choose to add depth to the bullpen rather than part with prospects to acquire a closer. They also opined that Ziegler has done a good job in that role and that they don’t need to move him from it. But GM-speak should be taken with a healthy dose of sodium – they may just not wish to sound eager to add pieces on the day after the season ended. Why sound desperate immediately? Kevin Towers frequently said too much and this crew has been a little less obvious in their comments, but needs are needs and the team might be best served to put Ziegler back in a “fireman” role where he can come in frequently and roll a much-needed ground ball double play. That would be helpful, but it would also leave a hole in the 9th.

It’s worth noting that Daniel Hudson has closer stuff. The team sounded 100% sure that he will be retained through what is sure to be an intriguing arbitration process. But they sound 100% unsure what role he’ll fill in 2016. He could continue coming out of the bullpen or make the move back to the rotation where he’d prefer to pitch. If he continues to relieve, he could possibly see a more prominent role by moving to the closer’s spot. And if he did, it’s worth considering how he might stack up.

So let’s think about what a “closer” looks like. Strikeouts are good, walks are bad. Ground balls are good, home runs are bad. Big velocity is common, so are swings-and-misses. So with these characteristics in mind, let’s compare Daniel Hudson to every closer with at least 25 saves in 2015. I know, I know, saves are fictional, but let’s just try it.

Strikeouts and Walks

Screen Shot 2015-10-05 at 6.34.54 PM

So Hudson, even with his 9.4 K/9, is pretty much run-of-the-mill for closers. The data is skewed significantly when compared to all pitchers, but most elite closers are the game’s biggest strikeout artists. And strikeouts are vital when protecting a lead because the ball is never in play. They don’t go down the line for doubles or leave the park as home runs. He’s a bit above average in terms of walks as he walked a bit above 3 batters per nine (3.22 BB/9). We’ve seen that change as the season has worn on, however. In August and September, he walked far fewer batters, which may bode well heading into 2016. Then again, it could be a sample size thing.

Ground Balls and Homers

Screen Shot 2015-10-05 at 6.45.31 PMCalling Hudson “homer-prone” would be a disservice to him and would be far too kind to Addison Reed. But he was above average in allowing the long-ball compared to this group. And in terms of grounders, he was merely average at best. He clumped in with two other guys in the graph above. Those guys were Francisco Rodriguez of the Brewers and Santiago Casilla of the Giants. Those aren’t elite closers by any means and might give us a small window into who Hudson might be in the 9th innings.

Velocity and Whiffs

Screen Shot 2015-10-05 at 6.57.48 PM

There’s no denying that Hudson has serious heat. When his fastball hit 100mph at Coors in September, everyone took notice. And better yet, he didn’t seem to lose the control. And as we can see here, he’s ahead of pack in terms of fastball velocity. When it comes to swings and misses, however, he’s a bit below where you’d expect. Hudson’s right around average in that department, and that obviously factors heavily into his K/9 above. It’s clear that after returning from two Tommy John surgeries, Hudson has found another gear. That big velocity allows his changeup to play up and it’s his best secondary. The slider hasn’t returned to form, however, and that’s kept him from dominating righties. With his elbow growing healthier, it wouldn’t be a shock to see the slider take a step forward.

When It’s All Said and Done

When the notion of Hudson being the team’s closer was brought up on The Pool Shot before the season began, I scoffed. No one had seen Hudson in a MLB contest at that time and the thought of inserting him in the 9th inning seemed absurd. But as the season progressed, so has our evaluation. If he pitches like he did in 2015, Hudson would appear to be an average MLB closer. Should his command and his slider improve just a little, he could move into another category.

And that’s a pretty lucrative proposition. It would help the team by freeing up Ziegler to shutdown opponents in earlier innings, especially high-leverage situations in the 7th and 8th. It would surely be easier to find another 7th inning guy on the market than a closer. And if the team is looking for a closer, they need to be of a far higher pedigree than what Ziegler of Hudson can be already. It makes no sense to acquire a middle-of-the-road closer when they have Ziegler on board and the data above indicates Hudson could fill that role adequately.

So the solution is either go big, or stay home with what you have. And the comment about adding depth starts to make a whole lot of sense. I’ve long advocated for moving Rubby De La Rosa to the bullpen where he can provide some length, Andrew Chafin isn’t going anywhere, Ziegler and Hudson are also obviously in the fold. Adding another arm or two isn’t out of the question. But those arms need to either support Hudson and Ziegler or be good enough to push them back and pitch at a very high level, because while the internal options aren’t elite, they’re still pretty darn good.


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12 Responses to Can Daniel Hudson Be The 2016 Closer?

  1. Jeff says:

    I defiantly agree with you about how the save is a made up stat leading to closers being more or less overrated. I mean lets face it, relievers are more or less an anomaly with great relievers seeming to come out of the woodwork every year (bracho) and elite relievers seeing there careers suddenly come to a screeching halt (valverde). In the grand scheme of a season, any idividual reliever typically will play a small role in the over all shape of a pitching staff. So why wouldn’t it make the most sense to have the best arm on your team have a much larger impact on your pitching situation by moving him into a starters role? The main difference between Hudson and the rest of these big armed closers is that he actually does have legitimate starting experience. I realize that if you extend him out, the velocity will drop slightly, however he would still be almost certainly above average and with the fastball movement he generates along with his plus secondary he legitimately has ace potential that we saw glimpses of before he got hurt. The fact is, aces don’t grow on trees and they are the most sought after commodity in baseball. Few guys even have that potential.If the dbacks potentially have one hiding up there sleeve, they would be crazy not to play it now with that being the final piece the team needs to be a legitimate force in the NL.

    • Jeff Wiser says:

      I think this is why predicting Huddy’s role is so hard. Look – is he good enough to push Archie Bradley, Chase Anderson or Robbie Ray from the rotation? If the answer is an easy yes, then you make him a starter. But I’m not sure you can say it’s an easy yes. If anything, it’s a maybe yes. Take all of his peripherals down a notch due to starting, recall that you can only throw him for about 2/3 of a season at most due to his lack of innings in 2015 and note that you’ll now need to add another reliever unless you swap Bradley/Anderson/Ray into the ‘pen (where they might struggle). Is it worth the risk? Maybe, but if you’re the team, you’d better be pretty damn sure that it’s going to work, because these roles are hard to change mid-season.

      And that’s why I think there’s a 70/30 chance he sticks in the bullpen. A big part of building a winner is properly analyzing and mitigating risk. This is a risk they don’t have to take. They’re in a position to spend, have a few pieces left to trade and have candidates already who can fill the latter half of the rotation.

      And now that I said that, I’m sure he’ll be named a starter 🙂

      • Dave-Phoenix says:

        With Hudson being only in his first full year of recovery from not one, but two Tommy John surgeries, one has to think there is more upside.

        As far as moving any of the other young, hard throwing arms into the bullpen, I like this idea. Better to use these guys in your bullpen then keep them in AAA as starters.

        It is not that hard to transition from bullpen to starter, if the need arises. The first start is usually 5 innings, and 85 pitches. From there innings and pitch counts increase as you have more success. Its been done many times in MLB.

        As far a Hudson as a starter, you are correct that he will probably have his innings limited to 180 or less and won’t be able to start the whole season.

        There is also more risk of re-injury for Hudson as a starter. That “has” to be a factor.

  2. Jeff says:

    Even if he is limited to 180 innings, that would almost lead the team this year. Plus if you look at how they handled Corbin going fron pitching 208 innings to 0 to 85. It is realistic to think that a jump from hudsons 65 innings to 150-180 innings is realistic. Especially since the dbacks have the luxury of having so many damn pitchers. A spot start by a guy to give him a weeks rest here and there is totally forsee able. And I do firmly believe his stuff even when taken down a notch is better than anyone else on the team for the simple fact of all the movement that is on his fastball due to his slinging arm delivery. Plus if he were in a starting scenario he would most likely pitch with this movement down in the zone to induce a higher gb% rather than try and blow it by guys up in the zone like he does late in the games when you are talking about needing the strikeout. My point is I think all the peripherals on a pitcher change depending on his role.
    My ideal 2016 rotation is:
    And then put a guy like Rubby who already has the mentality of a reliever into one of those late inning roles where his stuff could probably even be better than huddys (like 100+ mph)

    • Dave-Phoenix says:

      I said 180 or less. I meant “a lot less” 🙂

      180 was Matt Harvey level. I don’t think Hudson will reach that.

      But if he follow’s Corbin’s schedule and does a full season, even at 5 innings per start, he would reach 150 innings…

      As far as the rotation for 2016, I don’t think the D-Backs will get a high-dollar pitcher. I believe they will continue to think long term and try “grow” TOR pitchers, and in 2016, simply ensure that all five starters are as high a quality as they can get. They may get a “medium-priced” pitcher or two to accomplish that.

      If you upgrade the spots held by Anderson, Hellickson, and RLDR, and if Corbin and Ray improve, you could realistically add 15-20 more wins next year. 15-20 wins added will make you a contender…

      • Jeff says:

        I do agree with this assessment and logic although I do believe that the team will aquire a Corbin level pitcher or above simply do to the fact that standing pat with ample resources and funding like they have is easier said than done for a guy like Stewart who has expectations placed upon his team from the higher ups. I guess it comes down to after all the hype you have placed in the guys on your team, how much faith do you REALLY have in them.
        Plus part of me just really wants to see what Rubby could do in the pen after seeing him flash 98 mph several times after he was already deep into a game. Bets on 101?102? 103?

        • Dave-Phoenix says:

          After the Touki trade, the D-Backs are under pressure to use that so-called “payroll flexibility”.

          The question is whether they go after someone that will cost them that #13 pick or not.

          Rubby is also someone I’m intrigued by. There were a few starts where he was amazing, going deep into games and giving up one run or less. But with his stuff, there is real possibility in the bullpen. I also think he would hit 100 if pitching out of the pen. And with good secondary pitches…. Hmmmmm….

          • Jeff says:

            Especially following the tuki trade!even though gosselin is showing some degree of promise. However just like everything, baseball is a business, and what better way to sell season tickets and put butts in the seats than a shiny new pitcher come Christmas time. Ruby could be flat out scary out of the pen!I just don’t think he has the mental composure to be a consistent big league starter

  3. Jeff says:

    If ray was our 4th starter, we would be in pretty damn good shape to make a serious run at the division 🙂

  4. rye says:

    My problem with Hudson being anointed “the closer” is he hasn’t pitched well (putting it mildly) in the 9th. SSS? Could be but he certainly didn’t grab the reigns saving 4 in 6 opportunities. I think he does have closer stuff and if he decides to hone his craft in that direction could be one of the best.

    One of the issues I have with him being allowed another chance to start is that I’d like the team to have as few questions regarding the rotation entering next spring as possible. I’d like the team to have a distinct and definitive plan for the starting pitching staff. No more “thrown it against the wall and see if it sticks” stuff like this year. Hudson will be surrounded with question marks. That said, if there’s a rotation spot open to competition come spring, I’m certainly OK with Hudson competing for it. But given his innings limitation coupled with the fact that 2016 will most likely be his last season with the team, he’ll need to blow away the competition (Bradley, Anderson, RDLR, Godley, Chacin, Shipley(?)) to be chosen. He’ll also need to accept peacefully, in a year before hitting free-agency, his role in the bullpen if he’s not chosen as a rotation guy.

  5. Jim says:

    Jeff Wiser, excellent, thoughtful post. Also excellent comments by others. I’ve been frustrated throughout the year by (a) a general failure to recognize BZ’s value and (b) constant mentioning him as trade bait. If he had closed all year, and if we had not tried AR a second time, we might well have broken even. We have a pretty darn good bullpen; I, personally, like RDLR as a reliever based on his problems against left handed batters. I like Huddy as a reliever, but his versatility is the point of the
    original post. With an effective slider, he becomes a dominant reliever and a very viable starter. I know BZ is not a strike-out closer, but he sure is effective. Reminds me a bit of Mariano Rivera. The batter knew what was coming; he just couldn’t hit it.

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