Once again, the Atlanta Braves will rely on Tim Hudson to serve as the anchor of the rotation in 2013. Hudson enters Spring Training as the only pitcher older than 30 years old in the rotation. With all the youth on staff, the Braves lean on Hudson to bring a consistent performance on the mound and a steady presence in the clubhouse. A big storyline for Hudson this season will be his future in Atlanta. The Braves exercised their club option on the 37-year-old this offseason but doesn’t guarantee anything past this year. Will that be in the back of his mind this season?
2012 Recap: Hudson won at least 15 games for the third year in a row in 2012 and finished with a 16-7 record and 3.62 ERA in 179 innings. Discounting his injury plagued 2008 and 2009 regular seasons, he’s accomplished that feat four years in a row. In a year that saw major turnover in the Braves’ rotation – Brandon Beachy injury, acquisition of Paul Maholm and late insertion of Kris Medlen to the staff – Hudson went about his business.
2013 Outlook: That’s what the Braves hope for out of Hudson in 2013. Questions still surround the starting rotation. Does Medlen evolve into a true ace? Will Mike Minor continue his late season emergence? Does Julio Teheran live up to the hype as the fifth starter? How does Beachy return from injury? Therefore, a solid season from Hudson will be vital for Braves success in 2013. At some point age comes into play for a pitcher. While Hudson continues to be an effective MLB pitcher, he has shown the signs of slowing down the last three years. His ERA has rose each year from 2010 (2.83) to 2012 (3.62) and his total innings pitched have dropped (228.2 to 179). It’s reasonable to believe that will continue this year. Nevertheless, his walks and home runs given up have dropped the last three years and still has won at least 15 games. The combination of those factors lead me to believe Hudson has enough in the tank to have a successful season. I expect he’ll finish with an ERA around 3.90. I also think he finds a way to win 15 games again this year based on his track record and the potential of a potent Braves lineup.
The real question is what would a season like that do for the future of Hudson in Atlanta. Much of that will depend on the answers to the above questions about the rest of the rotation. Another determining factor will likely be if the Braves win the division and how Hudson performs against the Washington Nationals. Last season Hudson was awful in three starts against the Nationals (0-2 7.71 ERA). How he performs against them and other top teams in the league may play into the mind of general manager Frank Wren. My gut says that Hudson will be back with the team in 2014. Maholm will also be a free agent at the end of this year, and I could easily see Hudson signing for a “home-town discount.” Either way, the Braves will have a decision to make following this season, and all eyes will be on his performance in 2013.