Last night was, to put it charitably, an evening the memory with which I would prefer to swiftly dispense. So I will.
Instead I’d like to focus on the early returns of a different Oakland Athletic, a Georgia boy who came back home in his late 20s after a sterling run in the Bay Area, having been acquired for a reasonably hefty sum. A few months after acquiring him in the offseason, the Braves signed him to a four-year, $47 million extension, ensuring he’d remain in Atlanta long past his rental contract. A two-time All-Star who’d twice finished in the top four for the Cy Young voting, it’s fair to say that expectations were high.
They were not immediately met.
Tim Hudson’s first season went well enough, but his first start gave a good flavor of what we got: on April 7, 2005, facing the Florida Marlins, Huddy went five innings, gave up six hits, and miraculously only gave up the one run on a solo homer despite yielding four walks and getting just two strikeouts. His ERA was 1.80; his FIP was 7.22.
He kept up the tightwire act for a month. But then, on April 29, it didn’t quite work. Six innings, nine hits, six earned runs. Two starts later, he gave up 10 hits and seven earned in just 3 2/3, and two starts after that, he gave up four earned on eight hits and five (!) walks in six innings, and the term “Episode” was born, eventually to be added to the Braves Journal Glossary.
He ended the year with a 3.52 ERA but a foreboding 4.33 FIP. And then, in 2006, he sucked. He led the majors in starts with 35, and his 218 1/3 innings pitched were good for ninth in the NL, but his 4.86 ERA, 92 ERA+, 5.8 K/9, and 3.3 BB/9 were all pretty similar to the numbers that John Thomson recorded as a crappy fourth starter. Remember him?
The 2005 version of Tim Hudson was a pretty cromulent starter, a three-win guy by rWAR whose fWAR was a win and a half worse due to the FIP disparity. The 2006 version was a mediocre innings-eater (whose fWAR was a win better than his rWAR, because his FIP was pretty similar but he threw 26 more innings).
But neither guy was the “ace” we hoped we might be getting, and he appeared to be aging like he drank out of the wrong Grail.
But then, a miracle happened: he cut his walk rate and his homer rate, and pitched effectively for the next six seasons, finally earning another All-Star nod and top-four Cy Young finish in 2010, his sixth season as a Brave. He is now a deserving member of the Braves Hall of Fame, and far better remembered for the wonderful totality of his Braves career, rather than for its erratic and worrisome beginning.
Matt Olson is going to be in Atlanta a good, long while. The Braves placed a major bet on him for very good reason: he has a long, established track record of excellent play. He’s a terrific ballplayer on both sides of the ball; he’s got pretty much every tool other than foot speed.
He is clearly slumping terribly on both offense and defense, but as the fantasy writer Ron Shandler puts it, “Once you display a skill, you own it.” Matt Olson is the guy who put up the numbers on the back of his baseball card. The Braves are playing the long game. We should do the same.