MLBPro100 #2: After April Adjustment, Hultzen Gets Back To Dominating

On April 10, Danny Hultzen was searching for some answers.

Hultzen, the (expensive) prize of the 2023 free agency season, was sitting at his locker, fresh off a 7-3 shellacking at the hands of the San Francisco Giants. His line in that start: 4.1 IP, 5 H, 6 R (all earned), 4 K, 2 BB. 

His 2023 line to that point (3 GS): 0-2, 5.87 ERA, 15.1 IP, 17 H, 10 R, 3 HR, 20 K, 4 BB

Hultzen had questions. Even worse, he had doubts.

“I was kind of wondering why I moved,” said Hultzen.

Then, he added, “But it was a just a thought. It went away.”

Hultzen left Seattle, the only organization he had ever known, for a 5-year, $170m contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers last offseason. Moving to Chavez Ravine, historically known as a haven for pitchers, seemed a perfect fit for the 33-year-old. At the time, insiders speculated the Mariners let him go for three reasons:

1) Budget concerns (which, as you see this offseason, seems to fit the narrative), and

2) Age + cost.

3) Young arms pushing for spots.

It is entirely within the logical bounds for the M’s to be hesitant to lock up Hultzen for a deal that will take him through his age-37 season. Only thirteen pitchers at least 33 years old started more than twenty games in 2023.

Getting success from aging starters is even more difficult. That is the perception, though there seems to be some proof in that pudding: Out of those 13 pitchers, only seven of those registered ERA+ above 100.

Add in what Hultzen’s camp was seeking, and from Seattle’s point-of-view, it made sense to let their favorite son go. They did not want to go through what Oakland was living with Stephen Strasburg, who went 3-14 in ‘23, and has three years and $54m remaining on his deal.

Hultzen’s fate in Seattle was sealed. The nail in the coffin came later in the offseason, when the Mariners acquired young lefty Gary Griffith from Tampa.

Spot replaced.

Now, in a San Francisco locker room, those doubts nagged at Hultzen. He had to field those questions at the end of last season, and in Spring Training. He dismissed them immediately; it did not fit his resume, which included a third-place finish in the Cy Young race in 2022, and three straight awards prior to that. It also did not fit his narrative: He is a tank. He is third all-time in innings pitched, 32 innings behind Clayton Kershaw and 12 behind  Zack Greinke. 

Those two threw full, complete seasons in 2012. Hultzen threw just 34 innings that year.

There were questions as to whether the era of good times were over. He wasn’t just great from 2019 until now. He was otherworldly. He led the league in wins twice, ERA twice, innings pitched twice, WHIP twice, and WAR three times.

Before 2019, though…well, he was fine. The WHIP has always been solid, but the strikeouts were just okay. He was inconsistent with the homers. He was a mid-rotation guy, but nothing more.

On that night in San Francisco, those doubts crept in. He didn’t feel different…but his fastball did struggle, even failing to register to hit 90 on four occasions. 

So, how did he respond to all of that?

“Hit the film,” he said.

That night?

“As soon as I was in the clubhouse,” he said. “Nothing changed. Why would it? Three starts don’t make a season.”

That is absolutely true. His following start was April 16, against a Cubs team that was 3-11 at the time.

His line: 7.2 IP, 0 H, 9 K, 2 BB

He faced one batter over the minimum, and threw 70 strikes out of 106 pitches. When asked what changed for that start, Hultzen shrugged.

“I threw better,” he said.

On April 21st, he got the Cubs again, this time in Chicago. He threw well again (5.1 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 6 K, 3 BB), and won again. Then he got the Pirates (6 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 5 K, 1 BB). Then he pitched well the Phillies (6 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 4 K, 1 IP). And he kept pitching well. He won seven straight decisions.

In fact, since April 10th, this was Hultzen’s line:

30 GS, 188.1 IP, 141 H, 46 ER, 202 K, 29 BB, 12 HR; 18-2, 2.20 ERA (2.46 FIP)

Hultzen was the best pitcher on the planet after those three starts. His beginning was much ado about nothing.

And now, he seems to be entering unchartered territory. He had, by rudimentary research, the best season a 33-year-old has ever had. Only a handful of pitchers have had seasons looking anything remotely like that after 33. But he has given all indication that he is prepared to blaze new ground. Signing with LA was clearly the right choice, as evidenced by his 9-1, 2.06, 0.84 marks at Dodger Stadium.

It’s clear that, at least in the eyes of those who follow the league and voted, that Hultzen is the best pitcher in the game. And that is worthy of being #2 on this list. How long he holds on to that is up to him, it appears. 

He is Hultzen The Greybeard.

2025 MLBPro Prediction: In my opinion, Hultzen is in a much better position to retain his spot than Gary Copeland. Dodger Stadium probably has the biggest role in that, outside of Hultzen’s own ability. Of course, if Copeland were to end up in, say, Colorado, then all bets are off.

I’m guessing he goes down, but stays top ten. For sake of a range, I’ll say 4-9.

Some Vote Notes: I am only privy to what the Keepers of the Vote give me. Here is what I do know, and this is what I find interesting:

  • Hultzen had ZERO votes for #1 player.
  • Ten different players got votes for #2.
  • From what I was told, one player got a vote at #1, then didn’t receive a single vote at #2.

The vote at #3 should be interesting.

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