Hello, there. Here’s my latest in-depth report on individual Cardinal players for 2022, including a look at what the information may tell us about setting expectation levels for 2023.

NEXT UP: Right-handed pitcher Dakota Hudson.

OVERVIEW: Hudson broke into the majors with two promising seasons for the Cardinals in 2018 and 2019 before experiencing elbow problems and subsequent surgery that limited him to 16.2 total innings over 2020 and 2021. Hudson returned late in the ‘21 season and looked pretty good, but couldn’t find his control or his form in 2022.

Hudson’s inability to get ahead of the hitters and pound the strike zone were extremely detrimental to his progress. The Cardinals sent him to the bullpen for a time then demoted him to Triple A Memphis for a late-season stay that lasted three games and 21 innings.

Hudson pitched in 27 games, making 26 starts, and threw 139 and ⅔ innings overall. Hudson had an excellent ground-ball rate (53.6%) but couldn’t use that to his full advantage; among other flaws he sabotaged himself with a high walk rate. As a starter Hudson had a 4.54 ERA with a terrible 13.3% strikeout rate and a ballooning 10.3% walk rate.

Because of control issues, Hudson pitched fewer than five innings in 12 of his 26 starts and did not go deeper than five innings in 16 starts. The shortage of innings put a strain on the bullpen. After beginning June with three consecutive starts of seven innings, Hudson pitched beyond the fifth inning only four times in his final 14 starting assignments.

TROUBLING RANKINGS: A look at where Hudson fit among the 85 MLB starting pitchers that compiled 130 or more innings is quite revealing. Here you go:

7th best in ground–ball rate, 53.6%
57th in called-strike rate, 15.8%
70th among 85 starters in ERA, 4.54
70th in first-pitch strike percentage, 59.3
72nd with 1.0 WAR (FanGraphs.)
76th in batting average against, .274
81st in overall contact rate against, 83.6%
83rd in strikeout rate, 13.3%
83rd in walk rate, 10.13%.
84th in swinging-strike percentage, 7.2
84th in onbase percentage against, .357
85th in strikeout-walk ratio, 1.3
85th in contact rate on strikes, 92.2%

As you can see, that’s a problematic pitching profile for a starter.

HOT START: It’s easy to forget now, but Hudson opened the 2022 season with a 2.76 ERA in his first 11 starts and allowed a .221 batting average and .307 OPS. But underneath those good numbers was an opponent batting average of .243 on balls in play. That’s why he had a 4.22 fielding independent (FIP) ERA over those 11 starts which was more indicative of the quality of his work.

EXTENSIVE SLUMP: From June 12 until the end of the regular season, Hudson pitched in 16 games – 15 of which were starts – and had a 5.67 ERA with a 4.42 FIP. He only struck out 12 percent of batters faced and walked hitters at an alarming 10 percent clip. Batted-ball luck turned against Hudson during his final 16 appearances, with opponents hitting .342 on batted balls in play. Hudson did, however, turn in a dandy start against the Reds on Sept. 17, giving up one unearned in eight innings.

ONE GOOD THING: Because he’s a ground-ball machine, Hudson gave up only nine homers in 585 batters faced. He allowed 0.6 home runs per nine innings, which was tied for seventh-best among starters that pitched at least 130 innings.

A SECOND GOOD THING: Hudson tied for the MLB lead among pitchers by converting his ground-ball specialty into 25 opponent double plays.

WHEN HUDSON STARTED IN 2022 … The Cardinals were 13-13. That wasn’t terribly different than the team’s 17-15 record in Adam Wainwright’s 32 starts.

TROUBLE WITH THE SINKER: Even though Hudson got all of those ground balls, his sinker wasn’t as effective as we’d naturally assumed. Hudson threw it more often – 35.3 percent of the time – than any other pitch in 2022. But hitters belted the sinker for a .318 average and .418 slugging percentage. Opponents hit the sinker for 11 doubles and three homers and had an expected slugging percentage of .456. According to the Statcast metrics, the sinker was Hudson’s worst pitch in terms of vertical movement last season. That’s not what you want; the sinker is supposed to drop, drop, drop. But Hudson never found any real consistency with a sinkerball that didn’t sink very much.

A loss of velocity may be a factor. In his last healthy season (2019) Hudson’s sinker came in at an average of 93.5 mph. Last season that dropped to 91.9 mph. In 2019, Hudson’s four-seam fastball averaged 94 mph … this past season, the average on his four-seam fell to 91.4 mph. That’s discouraging.

The good news? Hudson had a terrific slider in 2022, and for the most part his pitches (except the sinker) had good movement vertically and horizontally.

WHERE DOES HE FIT IN 2023? Presuming that everybody is healthy and that no roster changes are made, the Cardinals will go into spring training with a presumptive five-man rotation of Miles Mikolas, Jordan Montgomery, Adam Wainwright, Jack Flaherty and Steven Matz. But the Cardinals almost certainly will have to tap into their reserve rotation depth along the way, and that group potentially includes Hudson, Matthew Liberatore, Andrew Pallante, Zack Thompson and Drew VerHagen. Unless the Cardinals suffer a series of injuries that devastate their rotation, Hudson will have to earn a spot in the rotation. And his substandard strikeout and walk rates are unacceptable going forward.

Here’s the Cardinals’ record in 2022 in games started by their primary rotation membetrs

THE BILL JAMES STARTING PITCHING RANKINGS: Bill has his own formula for assessing pitchers and came up with a rankings system, listing them from best to worst.

At the conclusion of the 2022 season, here’s where each Cardinal ranked according to James. It gives an idea of how many of their starters, including Hudson, have to bounce back, stay healthy, and do much better:

Miles Mikolas, 37

Jordan Montgomery, 41

Adam Wainwright, 48

Dakota Hudson, 139

Steven Matz, 176

Jack Flaherty, 182

CONCLUSION: Hudson has talent and is still only 28 years old. His total of 389 career MLB innings indicates Hudson still has time to develop and improve, and some pitchers need extra time to sharpen up after undergoing Tommy John elbow surgery and don’t fully get over it until their second year back from the procedure. That said, when a healthy Hudson pitched in 2018 and 2019, he had a low 17.7% strikeout rate with a horrendous 12% walk rate. So the wildness that we saw in 2022 wasn’t anything new; Hudson lacked control before injuring the elbow. And his velocity drop is concerning.

Perhaps new pitching coach Dusty Blake can find a way to fix Hudson, because the Cardinals may need the tall right-hander to fill a rotation role for at least part of 2023.

Other thoughts:

1) Hudson could be a trade piece because there is still a place for ground-ball pitchers in the bigs.

2) How do we know if Hudson can be an effective reliever? In his Cardinal career he’s only worked 34 and ⅔ innings out of the bullpen. The good news: a 2.60 ERA as a reliever, with a .202 batting average against him. The bad news: when used as a reliever by the Cards, Hudson has struck out only 5.5 hitters per nine innings – and walked 5.2 hitters per nine. Ugh. That 2.60 ERA is misleading; take the defense out of it and he has an expected FIP of 5.00 in his brief time of bullpen service.

3) How will Hudson adapt to the pitch clock? He’ll have 15 seconds to deliver a pitch when the bases are empty … and 19 seconds to throw his next pitch with runners on base. In his three starts for Triple A Memphis last season the pitch clock didn’t seem to bug him … and may have helped him. Hudson had a 3.00 ERA in 21 innings at Memphis. And while his walk rate was too high (9.2%) his strikeout rate was a respectable 22 percent. He was facing minor-league hitters, but Hudson appeared to be in better form. Speeding up between pitches – and eliminating the dawdling – may be better for him.

4) Somehow, some way, Hudson must improve his sinker in 2023 to become more than just an arm. If he isn’t feeling the urgency to do that – or if he can’t do that – how does Hudson possibly reinvent himself when he struggles to find the plate and strike hitters out? The sinker can get him out of a lot of jams … but not if he’s elevating the pitch or missing location.

HUDSON’S GRADE FOR 2022: I’ll go with a “D” …

Thanks for reading …


Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app.

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All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball Net and Spotrac.

Bernie Miklasz
Bernie Miklasz

For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.

While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.