Previewing Your 2010 Minnesota Twins: Orlando Hudson

For a further explanation of that pretty graphic, I suggest you read this.  (Feel free to check out the new DiamondView for pitchers as well.)

Batter-diamondview-2b-hudson_medium_medium

It would be easy to say that Orlando Hudson represents the caliber of free agent that the Twins haven't been able to go after in the past, but that's not exactly true.  The fact is that Minnesota was always going after free agents of his caliber, but just like Joe Crede last year the Twins landed who they wanted by playing the waiting game.  It's a game that hasn't worked in years past, but this time things turned out differently because A) Hudson was probably asking for way too much money to begin with, B) the market was depreciated anyway and C) there were a fair number of decent middle infield options available on the free agent market and not a lot of jobs available.

At any rate, Hudson seemed to be the final piece to the infield puzzle.  With Danny Valencia waiting in the wings for the third base job, the only clear upgrade remaining in the infield was at second base.  Hudson is not only equipped to be an upgrade offensively and defensively over the combined output of Minnesota's 2009 second basemen, but he's also the number two hitter this team had been searching for since Luis Castillo and Jason Bartlett hit one-two in July of 2007.

Strengths

It would be easy enoug to say that as a whole Hudson is a strength, as he's a full-time and committed and established second baseman, but I feel that's glossing over what he brings to this team a little too lightly.

Strategically, as a switch-hitter Hudson gives the top of the lineup the option of stringing together four or five left-handed hitters against a right-handed pitcher, while versus southpaws he can hit right-handed and break up the Span-Mauer-Morneau(-Kubel) streak.  It's a tactical thing, but it is one more thing the opposition needs to plan for--late in games it can sometimes mean burning one more relief pitcher for the opposition.

Hudson is also another picky hitter, a guy who is willing to sit and wait for a pitch he likes.  Like Denard Span in front of him and Joe Mauer behind him, his selectivity at the plate means he only swings at 17.7% of pitches outside of the strike zone (although it's been around 20% the last two seasons, which is still better than average).  When he does swing, he has his most success against fastballs and changeups.

Traditionally he's a better left-handed hitter (batting against RHP), getting on base more often (.356 vs .323) and hitting for more power (.440 vs .404) than the other way around.  It should be noted that 2009 saw the reverse, where he actually had a higher on-base (slight) and slugging (significant) percentages from the right side.

Strong walk rates keep his on-base skills at a good level for a number two hitter.  Over the last four years he's reached base at a .363 clip.  Combined with his ability to hit his share of line drives, Hudson's BABIP should keep him a productive offensive player this season.

Finally, while I don't believe in clutch hitting as a skill, Hudson has demonstrated a sustained ability to get on base more often in high-leverage situations.  Going all the way back to 2004, from that year forward he has consistently posted higher on-base percentages in high-leverage situations, ending in this result (totals since 2002):

Low-Leverage OBP:  .334
Medium-Leverage OBP:  .357
High-Leverage OBP:  .389

Batting average and power fluctuate, but there it is:  a guy who really does seem to have a penchant for coming through in the clutch, even if it's not hitting home runs.  But hell, extending the game to get to Joe isn't a bad thing.

Defensively Hudson is much like Hunter in his last season or two in Minnesota (and his first two seasons in Los Angeles):  living on reputation.  That's not to say either of them are bad defenders, because they're not and for all intents and purposes they still field their positions well...but they're not Gold Glove winners.  (But dude, how is this a strength?)

What Hudson does bring to the field is consistency--he's a guy who will be able to go out and field his position for 140 games, and that means a lot.  While his glove may be waning he's still average at worst, and in all liklihood he'll be a touch better than that.  Having a player you can rely on at one position is always preferable to a rotation of players whose combined strengths do not make a whole.

Weaknesses

Power is once again an issue, but at the top of the lineup and from your second baseman this is more of a luxury than an expectation.

Where Hudson struggles the most as a hitter is as a right-handed hitter.  While rolling over on inside pitches and pretty much doing the same when going up the middle, if you pitch him away you're pretty much guaranteed a fly out.  For his career nearly 60% of his balls in play to right field are fly balls, including 76% in 2009.

On the bases Hudson isn't rated too highly.  He's a smart runner in taking extra bases, and even when stealing bases he's highly effective (22-of-26 the last three seasons) when he does go, but the truth is that for a toolsy second baseman he's never had a great deal of speed.

Historically Hudson has struggled a little bit versus cutters and splitters.  Per 100 pitches, he's 1.5 runs below average against the former and about 1.7 runs below average against the latter.

Expectations

Oracle

AB

Hits

2B

3B

HR

R

RBI

BB

SO

SB

CS

AVG

OBP

SLG

Bill James

550

154

33

4

10

71

61

59

96

7

3

.280

.353

.409

CHONE

518

138

29

4

8

63

50

49

92

5

2

.266

.333

.384

Marcel

491

139

30

5

10

65

55

56

88

7

2

.283

.357

.426

ZiPS

466

128

26

5

9

64

66

50

85

5

1

.275

.346

.410

That's not an overwhelmingly positive response from the oracles.  It's not really even underwhelmingly positive.  In fact, CHONE downright expects for Hudson's arms to fall off on June 13 (although playing time suggests the Twins will continue to pencil him in the lineup).

Hudson finished 2009 with a .774 OPS, and only Marcel expects him to barely top that.  32-year old middle infielders aren't the surest bets when it comes to production, so there's some understanding that some drop off is to be expected.  Still, I have to believe that his rough end to last season (.227/.330/.351 from August 21 to year's end) may have something to do with it.  It's certainly worth noting that the two systems that are based more on the player (Bill James and Marcel) are the two more optimistic systems.

What's His Role?

Hudson is expected to continue being a table setter for a very dangrous middle of the order.  Along with Denard the Twins should have plenty of chances to do some damage early in games (provided both stay healthy).  He'll also be expected to solidify the second base position.  If the Twins wanted a role player they would have stayed in-house, and because the team was already up against their budget limits before bringing in Orlando it's obivous how much faith they have in him.

One of the knocks on Hudson is that he does nothing exceptionally, but conversely the guy really doesn't do anything poorly.  He's a second baseman with some on-base skills, a decent glove and an ability to hit for average.  And really, it will be hard for him to not smash the total production from our second basemen last year:  .209/.302/.267 with two home runs.

Hudson's an exciting player, and he's a good player.  It's hard to ask for more.

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