THE REDBIRD REVIEW

I’ve been stingy in my praise for Cardinals starting pitcher Dakota Hudson. I have reasons, and none are based on personal animosity.

My hesitancy has to do with the high home-run rate against him in recent starts. His standard ERA for the season (3.95) is lower than his more pertinent fielding independent ERA of 4.84. During his career Hudson has pitched really well at Busch Stadium (2.73 ERA) but is significantly more vulnerable (4.72 ERA) on the road. And he can’t pitch all of his games at Busch Stadium, right?

There are other underlying factors that point to potential trouble. But if Hudson can dodge that trouble by getting outs, limiting the damage and giving the Cardinals a legitimate chance to win – well, so what?

Hudson deserves credit for his work this month. Sure, this is all relative. It’s not easy to locate a STL starter who looks good, is reasonably consistent and can be counted on. It’s been a rough year for St. Louis starting pitchers, but Hudson is delivering positive results and should be commended for it. And that matters, despite my annoying “yeah, but” concerns.

If Hudson’s upturn gets flipped upside down and hitters knock him around, then I’ll write something that fits the changing profile. Performance reviews are based on the quality of the work. Good, mediocre or bad.

But here are the things to like about Hudson in his four starts since moving into the rotation this month:

1. The Cardinals are 4-0 in his August starts, which also matches his individual won/loss record. Including an earlier start this summer, the team is 5-0 when Hudson starts a game.

2. This month Hudson has a 3.75 ERA in 24 innings. In the 14 games started by other Cardinal pitchers, their collective ERA is 6.08, and the team’s record is 4-10. OK, this is the part where I casually drop in Dak’s fielding independent ERA in August 5.64. But I digress. His average game score in August, 55, is above the league average for starting pitchers.

3. Hudson has been effective against LH batters this month (.664 OPS) and held RH hitters to a .216 average and .293 OBP. The only issue is the .486 slugging percentage and three homers that right-handed batters have against him this month. Hudson’s overall homers-allowed rate for August is 1.9 HR per nine innings. That’s a concern going forward.

4. Hudson’s overall strikeout rate for the season is flat (17.2 percent) but he’s had more punch in August. In Sunday’s 7-3 win over the Mets, Hudson struck out 31.8 percent of his batters faced. And in his win over the Twins on Aug. 2, Hudson struck out 28% of batters faced.

5. Hudson’s slider is sharper this season. That’s important because he uses it a lot. In 2023 when Hudson finishes an at-bat with the slider, he has an expected batting average of .187 and an expected slugging percentage of .358. Hudson has a 42.4 percent strikeout rate with the slider – and a 44.8 swinging-strike rate to go with it. That’s certainly something to build on.

6. His spin rate has increased in 2023. That’s a plus for his stuff.

7. The hard-hit rate against Hudson was well over 40 percent up until August; this month it’s 36.8 percent. At least he’s improving in that area.

8. Through July, Hudson had a ground-ball rate of 40.4 percent. In his four August starts the GB rate is 60%.

9. In his four August starts Hudson has a walk rate of 7.2 percent. That’s a drop from his 2022 walk rate of 10.5%.

10. Say this for Hudson: if Cardinals management is using the remainder of the regular season to audition starting pitchers who already are part of the organization – Hudson, Zack Thompson, Matthew Liberatore and newcomer Drew Rom – then Dak is responding to the challenge. I honestly don’t know if Hudson can keep this up – I’m skeptical – but so far he’s done a nice job with his August reset.

Hudson is getting a load of ground balls, notching more strikeouts and swing/whiffs and reducing walks. Let’s see how he does in his next scheduled start, later this week at Philadelphia. It will be his most difficult test so far – on the road against a Phillies team that’s 42-25 and averaging 5.1 runs per game since June 3.

BIRD BYTES

Cardinals catchers Willson Contreras and Andrew Knizner combined for another strong performance offensively during the team’s 3-4 homestand against the A’s and Mets. Combined they went 9 for 23 (.391) with six walks. a .533 OBP and .478 slug for a 1.012 OPS.

Since the All-Star break, St. Louis catchers collectively rank 2nd in the majors in batting average (.347), 2nd in OPS (.995), first in onbase percentage (.424), and 4th in slugging (.570). And with a 174 wRC+ since the break, Cards catchers are 74 percent above league average offensively – the best of any catching group in the majors.

In his last eight games Cards first baseman Paul Goldschmidt is batting .344 with a .432 onbase percentage and a .594 slug. He has two doubles, two homers and six RBI over that time.

Good luck to rookie lefty Drew Rom, who starts for the Cardinals Monday night at Pittsburgh. Rom was acquired in the Aug. 1 trade that sent Jack Flaherty to the Orioles. Rom had a 5.34 ERA for Baltimore’s Triple A affiliate before the trade. That’s bad on the surface but his fielding independent ERA was lower at 4.21. In his two starts for Triple A Memphis, Rom allowed two hits and an unearned run in 11 innings – with an eye-opening strikeout rate of 43.9 percent.

Going into the season Rom was graded as the Orioles’ No. 29 prospect by FanGraphs and he was Baltimore’s 16th rated prospect at the time of the trade. FanGraphs listed Rom at No. 36 among 57 prospects traded at the deadline. “Spot starter with low-90s fastball, sweeper slider, above-average command, funky delivery,’’ wrote FanGraphs prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen.

I look forward to seeing Rom’s “funky delivery” against the Pirates. Since the trade deadline, the Pirates are batting .195 with a .299 slugging percentage against lefty pitchers. That includes only three home runs in 164 at-bats vs. LHP.

Keith Law (The Athletic) wasn’t impressed with STL’s addition of Rom. Here’s what Law wrote after the Flaherty trade, and keep in mind that the stats he cited were from Rom’s work in Baltimore’s system.

“Lefty Drew Rom has close to a year in Triple A now with a 5.09 ERA,” Law said. “He works with an arsenal of fringy stuff, sitting 90-92 mph this year without great spin or movement on either of his breaking balls, so he has to try to induce chases and work outside of the strike zone.

“That approach has particularly hurt him this year with the automated system in Triple A, as he’s walked 11.5 percent of batters, the worst rate of his career to date. I just don’t see how he can be a starter with the current quality of his pitches, but he could be a solid reliever whose slider makes him particularly effective against left-handed batters.”

It’s interesting to see the Cardinals promote a young starting pitcher that was developed by another organization, Baltimore. The Cardinals didn’t promote a starter that they drafted and have tried to develop.  I’m referring to guys like Michael McGreevy, Gordon Graceffo and Connor Thomas. As I’ve said many times: the Cardinals have done a remarkably poor job of developing young pitching, and that finally caught up to them in a terrible way in 2023. That said, prospect Tink Hence, currently at Double A Springfield, has a chance to be special.

This heads up from USA Today’s Bob Nightengale: “The Cardinals will pursue at least three starting pitchers in trades and free agency, president John Mozeliak said, with Julio Urias of the Dodgers, Blake Snell of the Padres and Aaron Nola of the Phillies sitting atop their wish list.”

I wonder how many of the coveted free-agent starters will want to sign with the Cardinals if the Cardinals don’t submit the best financial offer. These dudes will have appealing options. Do they want to pitch for the young manager Oli Marmol? Do they want to pitch for pitching coach Dusty Blake? How much will these pitchers be concerned over Marmol and the coaching staff letting the team’s defensive collapse in 2023? Pitchers want the support of a good defense.

R.J. Anderson (CBS Sports) put Adam Wainwright on his list of the most disappointing players in each of the six MLB divisions.

“Wainwright, who decided to return rather than retire last fall alongside Yadier Molina and Albert Pujols, needed five wins this season to clear the 200 mark for his career,” Anderson wrote. “It says a lot that he’s still two short of that round number despite having made 15 starts. For the sake of posterity, we’ll note that he’s toting around an (8.48) ERA and a (1.41) strikeout-to-walk ratio. Wainwright’s season will go down as a sad end to an otherwise happy career.”

Though he chose Wainwright as having the most disappointing season among NL Central players, Anderson cited other NL disappointments in Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson, Brewers shortstop Willy Adames and Cubs starting pitcher Jameson Taillon.

ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel put the Cardinals at No. 22 among the 30 MLB organizations in his updated farm-system rankings. Previously, the St. Louis farm system was ranked 19th by FanGraphs, 21st by Baseball America and 22nd by MLB Pipeline. In the new-look rankings here’s how ESPN rated the four other NL Central systems: Cubs 2nd, Pirates 3rd, Brewers 5th and Reds 12th.

“The Cards have recently graduated potentially or already impactful talents in the past year in Jordan Walker, Nolan Gorman, Matthew Liberatore, Brendan Donovan, Ivan Herrera, Zack Thompson, Andre Pallante, Lars Nootbaar and Alec Burleson,” McDaniel wrote. “St. Louis now has another wave in the upper minors led by Masyn Winn and Tink Hence, but it’s hard to be a top-tier system after losing that much talent.”

Going into the three-game road series at Pittsburgh the Cardinals trail the fourth-place Pirates by a half-game in the NL Central. The Pirates are 5-2 against the Cardinals this season. Related note: in 2022 the Cardinals beat up on the Pirates, Cubs and Reds to go 38-19 against those three division rivals. That’s a winning percentage of .667. This season is much different; the Cardinals are 10-17 against the Pirates, Cubs and Reds for a .370 winning percentage.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

Bernie hosts an opinionated sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. on Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. You can stream it live or access the show podcast on 590thefan.com or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.

Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz

For weekly Cards talk, listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast with Will Leitch and Miklasz via 590thefan.com or through your preferred podcast platform. Follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.

All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, StatHead, Baseball Savant, Fielding Bible and Baseball Prospectus unless otherwise noted.

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.