On Friday night against the Pirates, Braves right-hander Tim Hudson will make his first attempt at earning career win number 200. While I have no use for pitcher wins and losses as a measure of value, this is still a relevant career benchmark. It also raises the question of whether Hudson is cobbling together a case for the Hall of Fame.
In addition to being on the brink of 200 victories, the 37-year-old right-hander also boasts a .657 career winning percentage (21st all-time), a 126 ERA+ (61st all-time) and 1,814 strikeouts (92nd all-time). On a broader level, Jay Jaffe's JAWS system, which compares players to the established hall-of-fame norms at their respective positions/roles, paints the following picture for Hudson as things presently stand:
JAWS, which compares players based on wins above replacement (WAR), sees Hudson as having some work to do when it comes to passing muster with the BBWAA. As for the other measures you see, Baseball-Reference has a very helpful explanation of all of them. For quick-and-dirty purposes: "Black Ink" is a measure of how a player fared in terms of leading his league in certain statistical categories in a given season; "Gray Ink" is a measure of his seasonal top-10 rankings in those same categories; "Hall of Fame Monitor" assesses how likely a player is to make it to the Hall (it's not a statement of merit); and "Hall of Fame Standards" looks a player's career numbers relative to a hall-of-fame average of 50.
All of this adds up to a sensible conclusion -- that Hudson isn't there yet. On a rate basis, Hudson has a strong case (in terms of ERA+, for instance, Hudson is wedged in between John Smoltz and Tom Seaver, among others). However, he needs to add to his counting stats.
Hudson's best chance will come via the "career value" path. After all, it's unlikely that a 37-year-old is going to drastically improve his peak indicators. And those peak indicators (no Cy Youngs, merely three All-Star appearances, for instance) leave something to be desired when it comes to the high standards of the Hall. But Hudson has indeed been remarkably consistent over his career. To put a finer point on it, only once, in 2006, has Hudson logged a seasonal ERA+ worse than 110. He'll reach 200 wins, of course, and 2,000 strikeouts should come in 2014.
One of the keys for Hudson will be sustaining his rate value (i.e., his run-prevention numbers) while continuing to climb the innings list. At present, Hudson ranks 190th on the all-time innings list with 2,700 1/3 frames to his credit. On that front, Bob Lemon (himself a dubious choice for Cooperstown) probably represents the low end for hall-of-fame innings, with 2,850. That's certainly within reach, should Hudson choose to continue pitching beyond this season. Hudson could also get to 3,000 innings late 2014 and something in the range of 3,250 would likely place him in the top 100 all-time (Andy Pettitte and Roy Halladay are the only active pitchers ahead of Hudson on the innings list).
As for the prospect of getting there, the underlying indicators say Hudson can. He's a Tommy John-surgery veteran and underwent a back operation in 2012. However, eight times and as recently as 2011 Hudson has eclipsed 200 innings in a season. As well, there's nothing in his profile to suggest eminent collapse. Hudson's BABIP, groundball rate (always a strength of his), strand rate, HR/fly-ball percentage, K% and BB% are all in line with his established career norms.
There are also his velocity trends, which you can glimpse here, courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net:
(FA-fastball; SI-sinker; FC-cutter; CU-curve; CH-changeup; FS-splitter)
Above, you see what can be termed a "soft" downward trend, which isn't unusual for a pitcher in his mid- to late-30s. How's Hudson adjusted to these inevitable changes? Again, Brooks Baseball ...
As you can see, Hudson has responded to a loss in fastball velocity by leaning more on his curve -- and doing so at the expense of that diminished fastball. While the direction of causality is impossible to determine, it's worth noting that his curve velo has improved at the same time. That's a sign that Hudson has evolved. No surprise, then, that Hudson has logged a 3.38 ERA since turning 35.
It all suggests that Hudson can continue pitching at a high level. So, given health and willingness, he'll remain employed, he'll reach those usage benchmarks, and he'll prevent too much decline in terms of his Hall-worthy ERA+.
It should be noted that Hudson is eligible for free agency following the 2013 season. The Alabama native is comfortable playing in Atlanta, and the Braves, who are obviously in contending mode, would presumably have interest in bringing him back. Since the Braves are so well poised for the future, such an arrangement would probably help Hudson's win total. If he pitches through his age-40 season, then something like 230 to 240 career wins seems eminently possible. That would be enough, given Hudson's other strengths and well regarded character.
So, hours from what may be Hudson's 200th career win, does he have a hall-of-fame dossier? No. But Hudson, should he choose to keep going, is on track to get there, probably by the end of 2015 or so.