COMMENTARY | As the Atlanta Braves prepare for their first spring training in over 20 years without Chipper Jones, there will be a sudden need for leadership from veteran players in the clubhouse.
That will be especially true for the Braves starting rotation as it will feature four guys under the age of 31 to start the season. The old guy of the group will be 37-year-old Tim Hudson, and he'll turn 38 in July. He's 15 years older than potential fifth starter Julio Teheran.
The veteran Hudson is more than equipped to lead a clubhouse and has always been known as a guy of high character. But will he be able to lead a staff despite not being viewed as the ace?
For the most part many expect Kris Medlen to assume the role as the number one starter after a brilliant second half performance in 2012, and if Brandon Beachy comes back healthy he could take over that role.
Another thing to keep in mind is that Hudson is in a contract year and will need to prove that he's still an effective pitcher if he wants his career to continue. He'll be making $9 million this season, which easily makes him the highest paid pitcher on the roster.
Over the past three years Hudson has proved to be a valuable asset making at least 28 starts in each of those seasons and tossing at least 179 innings -- he missed the first month of the 2012 season. But his numbers have decreased each of the past three seasons going from a 2.83 ERA in 2010 to 3.22 in 2011 and dropping again in 2012 to 3.62.
Even with that decline he's managed to win at least 16 games each of the past three years and if he can just repeat his totals from 2012, I think the Braves front office and fans will be pleased with that performance.
But the biggest challenge for Hudson in 2013 will be helping the youngsters around him grow and mature, eventually allowing them to take over as the veterans of the pitching staff.
Every great rotation needs that assortment of veterans and young arms. With Hudson and Paul Maholm being the only guys 30 or older, it will be up to them to set an example on the mound and in the clubhouse for guys like Medlen, Mike Minor and, especially, Teheran.
A lot of young pitchers come up with great arms and think they can strike out every batter they face. Hudson is a great example of what it takes to become an actual pitcher in baseball.
When Hudson broke into the major leagues, he had a strikeout rate of 8.7 per nine innings during his age 23 season, and 7.5 in his first full season with the Oakland Athletics the following year. Since 2004 his strikeout rate has hung around the 5.5 range, proving that he learned other ways to get hitters out.
A lot of the guys in the Braves 2013 rotation are similar pitchers, not always relying on the strikeout but understanding a groundball can have the same effect. This is something that will ultimately benefit a young pitcher like Teheran who may be capable of striking the side each time he takes the mound, but it might be more beneficial for him to use his pitches wisely.
Although the Braves have one of the best bullpens in the league, that bullpen has also been known to tire down the stretch due to overuse because starters aren't able to go deep in games.
Hudson's work ethic, great clubhouse character and passion for winning will go a long this season in helping the Braves young pitching staff grow to be one of the best groups in baseball.
Jake Mastroianni has written for several websites pertaining to the Braves and baseball in general. He also has experience working in media relations for minor league baseball, as well as at the collegiate level.
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