Pushing this back to the top, given today’s events.
Trevor Hoffman had a fantastic year in 2009. He managed to maneuver his 85 MPH fastball and legendary changeup into a 37 save season with a tremendous 1.83 ERA and 2.63 FIP. In 2010, we’ve seen the polar opposite. Hoffman has already given up 6 home runs in only 12 appearances – he allowed two all of last season. Hoffman has already blown 4 saves – as many as he blew last year. His ERA sits at 12.00, and his FIP is at 9.92 – nearly 4 times what it was last season. At the age of 42, Hoffman is at the age where we must wonder if his recent struggles mean his career has reached its end.
That possibility has frequently reared its ugly head this year, most notably when Hoffman blew two saves as part of the Brewers’ second series of the year against St. Louis. Early in the season, these struggles could easily and swiftly be explained away by sample size and poor luck. However, as the season has progressed, it has been harder and harder to explain away. His fastball looks like a beach ball to major league hitters. He can’t throw the changeup for a strike. When the ball is in the zone, it’s almost invariably hit hard. Against Atlanta on Wednesday, all of those problems were apparent. He walked two batters to open the inning and then allowed four straight fly balls, three of which were deep in the outfield. Two of them went for extra bases. The fastball isn’t enough to keep hitters honest any more, and the changeup isn’t reliably located enough to make it a weapon. That’s why none of his pitches have been plus pitches this year. Compare this to last year, using FanGraphs’ pitch type values:
Last year, we note that both his fastball and changeup were well above average pitches. It’s important to note that the pitch type values are only based on pitches which end the at-bat – that is, if Hoffman were to throw three changeups and get a batter down 1-2, and then strike him out on the fastball, the credit for the strikeout goes solely to the fastball. Also, a line drive out is treated the same as a strike out – this only looks at results, not batted ball data.
This suggests that in 2009 the changeup was consistently a strike for Hoffman, allowing the fastball, misnomer that may be, to catch hitters off balance. That appears to have left him this season, allowing the hitters to take the changeup and hit the fastball . The data bears this out. Hoffman threw 257 changeups last season, of which 156 (61%) were strikes and 117 (46%) were non-contact strikes. Hoffman has thrown 66 changeups this season, of which only 33 (50%) have gone for strikes.
Hoffman built the back end of his legendary career on spotting the changeup and using his command to compensate for the loss of his fastball velocity. Without that command, the rest of Hoffman’s stuff simply can’t get outs against major league competition, and that’s exactly what we’ve seen this year. Hoffman simply looks outmatched at every turn, and it wasn’t the same last year. Everything that I see leads me to conclude that Trevor Hoffman is no longer a major league player, and the Brewers would be well served to see him off the team.
As this is a blog with a focus on sabermetrics, it must be noted that we’re looking at small sample sizes. However, everything I look at beyond his surface numbers simply points more and more toward Hoffman’s productive career being over – his age, his sudden drop in command, and the way hitters appear to approaching their plate appearances against him now. Trevor Hoffman is no longer an asset to the Milwaukee Brewers, and the team would be best served by his retirement.