After dominating the Nationals in the first game of their current series, the Braves' Tim Hudson now has a 2.37 ERA, sixth best in all of baseball. And yet, that number somehow underestimates Hudson's incredible season.
From game to game, Hudson has been perhaps the majors' most consistent pitcher. In 16 starts, Hudson has given up three or fewer runs in 15. (And even the one other game was hardly a disaster, as he gave up four runs in seven innings to the White Sox.) Hudson has also gone six or more innings in 14 of his 16 starts. Hudson was pulled from one of the two "short" starts after four innings because of a long rain delay, so that one hardly counts; the other "short" start was 5 2/3 innings.
In other words, Hudson has not had a bad start all year.
Many stat-savvy folks are confused by Hudson's stellar season. The sources of their confusion are Hudson's unimpressive peripheral statistics. For instance, Hudson ranks only 72nd out of 108 qualified starters in walk rate (3.39 BB/9). Even worse, Hudson has the sixth-worst strikeout rate of all qualified starters (only 4.32 K/9). If you looked at just these stats, you might think that Hudson is a mediocre -- or even bad -- pitcher who has gotten very, very lucky.
You'd be wrong, though. There is a reason that Hudson has been so successful, and it has to do with his ability to consistently induce weak ground balls. On the season, more than two-thirds of the balls hit off of Hudson have been on the ground (67.8 percent, to be precise). To give you some perspective, only one other pitcher (Cleveland's Justin Masterson) has gotten more than 60 percent ground balls* this year.
To give you even more perspective, Hudson's current ground ball rate would be the highest since FanGraphs started recording batted-ball types in 2002*. So if he keeps this up -- and he's showing no signs of slowing -- this will be a historic season.
* Hudson's teammate, Derek Lowe, is third in baseball with a 59.7 percent ground-ball rate (before Tuesday's start) in 2010. Lowe also holds the current record for highest ground ball rate: 67.0 percent in 2006.
How has Hudson achieved such a ridiculous ground ball rate? Through consistency, of course. Hudson's lowest ground-ball rate in a start this year was 50 percent. The league average is around 45 or 46 percent. In fact, Hudson has had only one start in which he has gotten fewer than 58.8 percent ground balls. One! For perspective, a pitcher with a 58.8 percent ground ball rate would rank fourth in baseball this year. And Hudson has matched or exceeded that figure in 15 of his 16 starts!
Given all that, it's no wonder that Hudson leads the majors in double plays induced (15, tied with Ricky Romero). Or that his home runs allowed rate is very low (0.68 HR/9).
All of this is to say: Tim Hudson has not been lucky this year. He's been consistently excellent, and shows no signs of letting up. I love the new, fancy statistics, but some players just can't be measured accurately by things like FIP and tERA. I won't let a foolish consistency dupe me into disregarding Hudson's fantastic season, and I hope you won't either.