Is Daniel Hudson a particularly good, young, or durable pitcher who’s an ideal fit for Yankee Stadium? Well, not really. Should he still be a legitimate option for the Yankees in free agency? Yes, and for one reason only. Here’s the Yankees projected bullpen for 2017:
Closer: Dellin Betances
Setup Man: Tyler Clippard
Everyone Else: Lost in Scranton, probably
As Joe Girardi so aptly summarized earlier this offseason, the two names above are the only guarantees for the Yankees’ bullpen next season. The rest of the Yankees’ bullpen from last season are either on waivers, in free agency, in the minors, on the disabled list, in purgatory (Jacob Lindgren is…somewhere), on World Series teams, or in whatever vague role Adam Warren occupies. The Bronx Bombers, who had become a hallmark for elite bullpens, have about a quarter of their bullpen filled at this point, with the rest of the spots currently up for grabs in spring training.
2016 Statistics: 60.1 IP, 5.22 ERA, 8.65 K/9, 3.28 BB/9, 3.81 FIP, 0.6 fWAR
Age on Opening Day 2017: 30
So, yes, Daniel Hudson isn’t necessarily the best, most exciting, or upside-laden free agent of all time, but the Yankees should consider taking a flier on him. You may know Hudson’s inspiring story from Jeff Passan’s excellent book, The Arm, but if not, let me rehash it far less eloquently.
Hudson was a top prospect-turned-burgeoning ace (and excellent hitter, with a .277/.309/.369 batting line in 2011) for the Diamondbacks from 2010 to 2011, throwing 317.1 innings of 3.18 ERA ball and accruing 6.8 fWAR over essentially one and a half seasons. Alas, 2012 got off to a brutal start because of a torn UCL in his elbow which required Tommy John Surgery. He missed all of 2012, and midway through 2013 re-tore the same ligament in his first rehab start. Two consecutive Tommy John surgeries are incredibly rare, and a full return from that type of injury/horrible luck is virtually unprecedented.
The fact that Hudson is even back on the diamond as a legitimate option for teams is a small miracle, but he’s done more than just survive in the major leagues. After more than two years removed from the game, Hudson returned in 2014 in the bullpen before pitching a full season in 2015 to the tune of a 3.86 ERA and 9.44 K/9. His performance took a step back last season, with a 5.22 ERA over 60.1 innings, but there’s still some upside left in the 29-year-old’s arm.
Hudson’s twice surgically repaired elbow can still run it up to the high-nineties with a plus fastball, which he complements with an effective slider and changeup pairing. The righty isn’t able to generate a ton of groundballs, but home runs shouldn’t be a huge concern as he managed to keep the dingers under control in the bandbox that is Chase Field. Yankee Stadium isn’t much more spacious, but Hudson’s unlikely to go Anthony Swarzak on us.
As Passan noted in his free agent tracker, Hudson’s poor performances last year were all clustered together—in one 9 2⁄3 innings stretch in midseason, he allowed 31 runs on 33 hits. In the 50 2⁄3 innings outside that, he had a 1.60 ERA with terrific peripherals. That dismal stretch shouldn’t be ignored, but it helps put his full-season numbers into perspective.
Hudson can also rack up strikeouts with ease, and he had a 8.65 K/9 last season. While there are reasons to be concerned about the unsightly ERA he posted last season, he suffered from poor luck with a .331 BABIP and 61.7% left on base rate. Couple that with a Diamondbacks defense that is about as bad as nine Evan Gattises, and there’s reason to be optimistic about 2017. Hudson has a good fastball and usable secondary pitches—plus plenty of strikeouts and a reasonable walk rate—so it’s worth taking a chance on him.
While the elbow may not hold up and his poor performance from last season may continue, The Arm’s star won’t cost much and is a better bet to pitch well than other options in the Yankees’ bullpen.