It’s time to talk about Trevor. Hoffman blew his 3rd save in 6 chances in this game. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the save statistic – these advanced stats confuse us all at times – but that’s not good. Hoffman saved 37 of 41 saves last season – what has changed?
The simple answer is that Hoffman is giving up a ton of home runs. Last season, Hoffman only gave up two home runs the whole year. With the two he gave up against the Pirates on Tuesday night, Hoffman’s 2010 home run total is already up to 5. Hoffman allowed three fly balls in that appearance, pushing his HR/FB total up to 20.8% – a ridiculously high number for a pitcher. For reference, Braden Looper led all starters with a roughly 15% HR/FB rate last season – and he was easily the worst in the league at preventing home runs.
There have been a few noticeable changes in some statistics pertaining to plate discipline, and all of them are disconcerting. First of all, Hoffman has been unable to draw swings on pitches out of the zone. Over the course of his career, hitters have chased 25% of his pitches out of the strike zone, and he had that exact mark in 2009. Now, hitters are only chasing 16% of these pitches. More alarming, though, is the ridiculously 5.4% swinging strike rate he’s inducing. Swinging strike rates correlate very highly with strikeouts, as might be expected. His 5.4% rate is roughly half of the reliever average.
There is, of course, still the question of why his performance has declined. The popular answer appears to be Hoffman’s lower changeup use. The changeup has been his most effective pitch for his career, and he’s used it quite often – 29% for his career, and his 29.9% changeup rate was 7th highest among relievers with at least 50 IP.
According to FanGraphs’ Pitch Values, both Hoffman’s fastball and changeup have been well above average since 2002. However, this season, both pitches have been below average. Hoffman clearly didn’t feel that the changeup was working on Tuesday, as he only used it 3 times in 20 non-intentional walk pitches.
In fact, overall, Hoffman’s changeup usage is down to 17.4%. The only way for Hoffman to be effective is to get his changeup working again – he has no other secondary pitch. He throws a slider 9% of the time and a curveball 3% of the time, and the slider is roughly average and the curveball is awful. For the Brewers’ sake, he better figure it out, and fast. Every loss in April is another one that the Brewers have to make up in August and September.