With Robb Nen hanging out at AT&T park, throwing out first pitches and reminding everyone what extreme dedication to the team looks like, it seemed like an obvious question to ask Game Seven starter Tim Hudson: Would you trade your arm for a ring? After all, any Giants fan remembers how Nen put everything he had left into the Giants’ 2002 run to the World Series — his career ended with surgery that winter.
Hudson didn’t hesitate one moment. “Absolutely. This point in my career, yeah. Who knows how many more innings I have left in this old arm. If I could trade what I have left for a title, damn right I would.”
At first glance, this isn’t a very FanGraphs-like quote. It’s the stuff of post-game writeups should Hudson grit out a championship performance. On the other hand, there’s just a little inside baseball hidden within the statement.
For one, despite being the oldest pitcher in the World Series, Hudson has enjoyed a postseason velocity boost on par with James Shields, who is seven years younger. So the oldest man to start a Game Seven has already been trying pretty hard this postseason.
The shape of Hudson’s cutter has also changed, suggesting he’s fine with it turning into more of a slider as the end of the season approaches. During the season, it averaged an inch of vertical movement by PITCHf/x. That’s already over four inches more drop than your average cutter, and more in line with an average slider. This postseason, Hudson’s cutter is dropping over an inch more according to BrooksBaseball. That’s fine for an old man, perhaps, but the Orioles banned the baby slider from their organization, and there’s a possibility it leads to velocity loss. No skin off Hudson’s elbow.
There’s also a chance that he’s throwing the splitter more. Back during the season, Hudson told us that he throws the changeup most of the time and saves his splitter for two-strike counts. It looked like the splitter averaged around 81-82 mph with more drop than the change, which sat around 84 — and this postseason, Hudson has been sitting much closer to the lower end of that velocity range with what classifications call his splitter. Some think the splitter puts more stress on your arm (more on that in The Hardball Times annual).
And though he’s not in the obvious pain that Nen was feeling, there is something going on with Hudson. Before his first start, he was asked about his hip — both of them have actually showed up on his injury reports this year. Hudson admitted he was working on some of the regular aches and pains (“Just some things with the trainer, I don’t want to go into a lot of details, but just a lot of stretching, lot of strengthening of some areas”) but then finished with a hint that maybe it’s a little worse than normal — “Medicine is a beautiful thing (laughter). I’ll leave it at that.”
In the end, though, Hudson is right about his age. In what might be the “post-PED” era, we’ve seen 17 pitchers start a game over the age of 40. They’ve averaged 390 innings over the rest of their careers. Considering he’s already under contract for next year and would be projected for about a win above replacement in 2016, he’d probably be leaving a one-year $10 million contract on the table on average, should he trade his arm for a ring.
You can tell that Tim Hudson is prepared to do what it takes to win Game Seven tonight. And even if he doesn’t have to Robb Nen his career to do it, it’s the sort of dedication that makes the World Series special. There is no doubt — these players will be trying their very hardest tonight.
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.