The St. Louis Cardinals came into the season hopeful that the bullpen would be a bright spot. Seung-Hwan Oh posted fantastic numbers in his first season in the United States, including a strikeout rate that neared 33%. John Mozeliak signed Brett Cecil to a $30 million contract. Management expected Trevor Rosenthal to be a high leverage pitcher, but injuries limited him.
All three have struggled at times this season. Oh’s strikeout rate dropped over 10%, and hitters have taken him deep more often. The struggles have mostly come against lefties, who are hitting .329/.388/.615 this year, and he’s striking out under 20% of lefties. Last year, Oh dominated left handers, who hit under .200 and struck out a quarter of the time. Platoon splits are particularly problems for closers, who usually have the ninth inning regardless of match ups, as Adam Butler and Rusty Groppel noted on the Bird Law podcast.
Unlike Oh, Rosenthal’s peripherals look great. His strikeout rate is close to 40% and his walk rate is down. Opponents are hitting just .208 off him. His ERA is inflated because he isn’t stranding runners at the same rate he used to, and a ridiculously high .343 BABIP. There’s reason to be optimistic, however. His fielding independent pitching ERA (FIP) is 2.28, so there’s a good chance Rosenthal’s second half will be better than his first.
Enter Dakota Hudson
The Cardinals picked Hudson with the compensation pick awarded to them after Jason Heyward left for Chicago. He’s a large right handed starter, with good fastball velocity and a devastating off-speed pitch, from an SEC school. The Cardinals have fast tracked Hudson, who in his first professional season is dominating at an upper-level minor league affiliate.
Sound familiar? It should.
The Cardinals did the same with Michael Wacha in 2013. Like Hudson, the Cardinals selected Wacha out of the SEC (with a compensation pick, no less) and rode a major league ready change-up to the big leagues in his first full season.
For Hudson, it’s a slider, not a changeup like Wacha, that is his go-to pitch.
Hudson described it as “something that was taught to me by Wes Thigpin, one of our bullpen catchers at Mississippi State. Really I’ve just been refining it, trying to work on better command, trying to get depth in it sometimes, and use it more as a ground ball pitch.”
That’s a rather modest description of a pitch that has been called the best slider in the organization by Derrick Goold and a “hammer” by Baseball Prospectus.
Don’t take their word for it, though.
Could he help the bullpen?
This year, Hudson has done everything the Cardinals have asked him to as a starter. He transitioned from solely a strikeout pitcher to someone who can use a sinker to get outs early in counts. Last year, Hudson struck out 25% of batters he faced. This year, that’s down to 16.1%. But, he drastically decreased his walks, from 17.5% to 7.o%.
As Hudson nears a possible innings limit imposed by the organization, a move to the bullpen shouldn’t seem out of the question. A 140-170 innings limit seems likely, which would allow Hudson to move to the bullpen in August, after a few more starts in the minors.
“I was a bullpen pitcher my first two years of college and then some last year, so I have experience” said Hudson. “There’s just a difference in adrenaline when you come jogging out of the bullpen than when you’re starting a game.”
Most relievers feature one extraordinarily good pitch. For Rosenthal, it’s his fastball. For Cecil, his curve. Hudson has enough velocity, and a wipeout slider that would make a devastating weapon out of the bullpen.
The Cardinals have a need, and Dakota Hudson and his slider could be the solution.
Thanks for reading. The full audio of my talk with Hudson is below.