I am writing this on March 19th, a day after Dakota Hudson seemingly won the 5th starting pitcher spot (although Brenden Schaeffer might rightly argue that he really won the #4 spot with Waino being the 5th starter on the Cardinals).
Dakota Hudson has looked quite good this spring, throwing 15 2/3 innings with just 12 hits and 4 walks allowed (1.02 WHIP) compared to 17 strikeouts (26.6% K rate, 4.25 K:BB). He has a 1.72 ERA as well, to go along with 23 of his 47 outs coming via a ground out (to just 7 fly outs). Opponents have hit just .203/.266/.237/.503 off of him this spring.
Now, when Dakota Hudson is on, that is what it will look like. Nobody, outside of maybe Hudson himself and his parents, believe he can keep up a .503 OPS against (nor the rest of those stats above, minus potentially the ground ball rate) over a full season of starts, but he could still be quite good.
What could his season look like? Well, my projection system sees a mixed bag for him.
Dakota Hudson's 2019 Projection:
30 starts, 170 innings pitched, 5.667 IP/GS
3.07 ERA, 3.65 FIP, 1.482 WHIP, 1.58 K:BB
9.582 H/9, 5.929 K/9, 3.759 BB/9, 0.265 HR/9
Keep in mind, over the last 5 years, these are the per 30 games started stats for starting pitchers in all of baseball.
My projections have Hudson right at league average in terms of games started and innings pitched, so the other comparison are easy. The projections have Hudson giving up a lot less runs, but if you look closer, that's largely a poor guess on ERA. His FIP is much more indicative of his projected higher than league average WHIP and lower than league average K:BB. His saving grace on my system is his low HR/9 totals - at about 24% of league average. If he allows 1/4 of the homers as his competition, he has a chance to keep his ERA close to his FIP of just over 3.5.
What can be pointed out to show that things CAN be better than that?!?
You know what else there is "to keep his ERA close to his FIP of just over 3.5"? Hudson's slider:
Or maybe what he did yesterday in his latest spring training start. (both courtesy of @cardinalsgifs) Seriously, though. Look at all those sliders that devastate the competition. If opponents can't figure out that slider, they're going to have trouble putting the ball in play against Hudson - who typically gets outs via the ground ball. Nobody expects Hudson to be like good Carlos Martinez - who from 2015-2017 struck out 23.7% of the batters he faced while having a GB% of 54.0% and only walking 8.4% of batters.
BUT - let's look at his numbers from this spring. When he's ON, he can be like good Carlos Martinez. That's not to say he will be all the time, or even put together a full season of it. However, this spring in just under 16 innings, he's struck out 26.6% of his competition, with a GB% of 53.5% and a BB rate of just 6.25%. The results look quite Carlos-like doesn't they?
The other thing he needs to do, from my perspective, is improve upon his ability to live on the edge of the zone rather than so far away from it. He did well in this regard, compared to league average, last year. However, I feel like if he can even better do that, then his K rate might be able to be slightly higher than expected in my projections.
How/If things go wrong:
If things go wrong, it's because Hudson isn't locating. Last year he walked 18 batters. He threw just 27 1/3 innings. His BB% was over 15%! League average is well below that.
Another thing is that his 4-seam fastball (rarely thrown) was typically located up in the zone or up out of the zone as it should be.
But his 2-seam fastball (sinker), which is the pitch he throws most often, I think is not nearly often enough down in the zone. He still got a good ground ball rate from them last year in relief, but I think he kept it up too often, personally.
Notice how many are out of the zone here, too - way out of the zone for too many. He needs to work on his control for what could be his most dominant pitch (it's over 4 mph faster than a league average sinker) and is his most dominant out pitch due to the ground balls he gets from it.