Tag: Trevor Hoffman

Hall of Fame Candidate Trevor Hoffman Has Odd Injury to Thank for Unique Career

SAN DIEGO — Closing is no day at the beach…but a day at the beach sure played an accidental role in developing one of the greatest closers in history.

Ah, the sands of time.

As Trevor Hoffman sweats out voting in his first year on the Hall of Fame ballotresults will be announced Wednesdaythere is no guaranteeing he will sail into Cooperstown this year on the strength of his legendary changeup.

You might think that 601 career saves, second only to Mariano Rivera on baseball’s all-time list, would make Hoffman a no-brainer, slam-dunk Hall of Famer. Eventually, surely, yes.

On the other hand, no pitcher who worked strictly as a reliever throughout his career has ever been a first-ballot electee.

The voting can work in strange ways.

Sort of like life itself.

The day after the 1994 players’ strike started, Hoffman and several friends with whom he grew up in Orange County headed to the ocean in Del Mar, a suburb of San Diego.

Playing beach volleyball, Hoffman, with just one full season in the majors at that point, lunged to return a shot that was dropping just over the net. As he landed, fully extended, he felt a sharp pain in his right shoulder.

Not long afterward that same day, Hoffman and his friends set down the volleyball and picked up a football. Playing catch in the ocean, Hoffman dove for a ball in what he thought was reasonably deep water. Instead, he landed on a sandbar. More searing pain.

“I hurt my shoulder twice, basically,” he said during a visit with B/R at Petco Park one morning last month. “Did a doozy on it.”

By that December, it wasn’t getting any better. So he saw doctors and started an injury rehabilitation program.

By 1995, when the strike finally ended and a shortened season started, a fastball that once sat at 95 mph and touched 96, 97, had shriveled to 91, 92. He would end up having surgery later to clean up some debris in his shoulder.

Yeah, for a fleeting instant, with a career hanging in the balance, you bet he beat himself up.

“The next day, when I could barely pick up my arm because it was so inflamed because of the trauma I had subjected it to, there was a lot of remorse,” Hoffman said.

“And then having to go through basically the rehabilitation without surgery just to get it up and going again, there was a lot of remorse that that wasn’t really what I should be doing. There was the realization that I should be working on improving, rather than trying to get better from a stupid incident.”

He was 26 when the players’ strike started.

And he hadn’t had time off in the summer since his school days.

How could a couple of hours of beach volleyball and throwing a football be a bad thing?

“And then when I realized my velocity was gone, that I didn’t touch the mid-90s after that, that was kind of a bummer,” Hoffman said.

Far more of a bummer, obviously, had he not perfected his devastating changeup and become the Padres’ closer even with an under-construction repertoire in 1995. San Diego traded Gene Harris to the Detroit Tigers on May 11 the previous year, clearing the way for Hoffman.

He already had developed a solid foundation for the changeup out of necessity in the Cincinnati organization in the early 1990s, when the Reds informed him that his days as a light-hitting middle infielder were over. They wanted him to come back the next spring as a pitcher.

From there, the Florida Marlins picked him in the expansion draft and then shipped him to the Padres in a blockbuster deal for Gary Sheffield in 1993.

Even with a fairly crisp fastball that had sparked his rapid ascent to the majors, a little slider, a curve and a basic changeup, Hoffman knew he was going to need more. And that was before his day at the beach.   

Now, in 1995, a previous conversation he had with a fellow reliever named Donnie Elliott came into focus. Elliott had shown Hoffman how he gripped a changeup, a lesson that clicked with the young, evolving closer as he tried to navigate his way through the sore shoulder.

Elliott pinched a particular seam on the horseshoe-shaped part of the stitching when he threw his changeup so that, instead of the pressure on the ball coming through the outside of his hand—the pinky finger and finger next to it—it came from the index finger and the thumb.

The idea made sense. He threw his fastball, slider and curve with that area of his hand already. Why would he use a different part of his hand to throw the changeup?

When he employed his index finger and thumb on the changeup, throwing with his fastball motion but using that part of his hand to choke off the velocity, things started to happen.

While the Padres were rebuilding in ’95 following a fire sale of the roster a few years before, providing cover for Hoffman (with low expectations for the team, there was more room for experimentation), another reliever named Doug Bochtler debuted and quickly moved into an eighth-inning role as Hoffman’s setup man.

As such, the two became catch partners during pregame warm-ups. The inquisitive Hoffman, his career appearing at a crossroads, asked Bochtler how he threw his changeup, an effective pitch the players had nicknamed “The Dreaded Letdown.”

“We were doing flat ground work, and he threw me a couple that weren’t very good,” said Bochtler, who this winter was named San Diego’s bullpen coach for 2016. “Then he threw a pitch that went right through my legs and I was like, ‘Holy crap!'”

“Can you do that again?” Bochtler asked.

“I think so,” Hoffman replied.

“So he throws it again, and I got leather on the next one,” Bochtler said. “I tipped it but still didn’t catch it. I said, ‘Wow, dude, that is legit.’ These are like the first Trevor Hoffman changeups he ever really threw.

“Looking back, I remember what it looked like. I asked, ‘Why are you fiddling around with that, anyway?’ He said, ‘Dude, I’m not always going to throw 95.’

“That was Trevor’s gig. He had the foresight, the preparation. It was crazy, man, to be there and, literally the first two of that Hall of Fame pitch, one of the best ever, I was on the receiving end of.

“Not that I caught them. But I was there to see them.”

Hoffman finished 1995 with 31 saves. At season’s end, he wound up having shoulder surgery to clean up his rotator cuff and labrum.

The next season, with Hoffman saving 42 games, the Padres won the NL West. He collected 37 more saves in 1997 and then led the majors with 53 in 1998 as the Padres won the NL pennant.

The legend was born, the signature pitch perfected.

Thanks in no small part to, yes, the beach, the volleyball, a football and, what the heck, for good measure, even the Wiffle ball he played in the backyard as a kid with his two brothers and their friends.

“It seems kind of silly to think about, but there were some fundamental things about throwing a Wiffle ball, trying to screw with the hitters in the backyard, whether it was my brothers or friends, that became a part of trying to learn the changeup with this new grip,” Hoffman said.

“Some of the things I was trying to do in the backyard I was trying to do with this pitch in somebody else’s backyard.”

The backyards became bigger, and more plush.

So did his changeup.

He doesn’t spend much time looking back now, of course. There’s no reason.

“You can always armchair it afterward,” he said. “What kind of career could I have had on the front end if I still had that velocity? Now does the changeup ever show up? Or do you just kind of roll throwing hard?

“I think I had to make that transition to becoming a pitcher sooner than I expected.”

In the end, despite the pain caused by that day at the beach, it certainly didn’t hurt him. Probably, in a twisted way, it helped.

“It was just stuff you did when you were a kid, man,” he said. “Here I am, I get to be in the best place in the world in August, when whether is perfect, I don’t have to worry about going to work [because of the strike]. Now I get to be a kid and a summer I haven’t had in 15 years.

“I made up for lost time pretty fast. Stupid.”

He grinned, and his eyes twinkled.

Hall of Fame careers are not produced on a cookie-cutter assembly line. This is a game for all shapes and sizes. He will be giving a speech in Cooperstown one day, and if there is any justice, it will be this July.

It is a classic story of taking what life gives you and turning it to your advantage. Make lemonade out of lemons, right?

“And I have a home now probably 100 yards from where it all happened,” Hoffman said, chuckling. “Poetic justice. I put up volleyball nets now.

“I’m laughing at fate, I guess. I don’t know. It was an unfortunate day.”

However, as things turned out, it was not such a bad career move.


Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball.

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Breaking Down the 2016 HOF Ballot Newcomers Headlined by Griffey, Hoffman

The sure thing is present on the ballot.

So are a couple of guys who will spark debates about who was better over the course of their storied careers. There is also a fan favorite with plenty of clips for his highlight reel among the first-timers appearing on Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame ballot.

Baseball’s Hall of Fame released its ballot for 2016 induction Monday, and 15 newcomers are on it along with holdovers such as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza, Curt Schilling and Tim Raines among others.

Ken Griffey Jr. is the no-brainer inductee among the first-time candidates. Closers Trevor Hoffman and Billy Wagner might not get in on their first try, but both have strong cases for eventual inclusion into the Hall. So does Jim Edmonds, who was not the great all-around player Griffey was but is certainly deserving of his share of votes to accompany his highlight-worthy catches.

Aside from those four ballot newcomers, the Hall of Fame included Garret Anderson, Brad Ausmus, Luis Castillo, David Eckstein, Troy Glaus, Mark Grudzielanek, Mike Hampton, Jason Kendall, Mike Lowell, Mike Sweeney and Randy Winn.

Some of those players ended their careers as very good major leaguers but not Hall of Fame-worthy ones. A decent number of them could fall off the ballot after one year because they won’t get the necessary five percent of the vote to remain in the running.

While chances are slim for many, Griffey could end up being a nearly unanimous pick. What might hold him back from 100 percent? That would be the second half of his career, which was good—he had a 117 OPS+ in his final 11 seasons—but far from great.

The first 11 campaigns of Griffey’s 22-year career were nothing short of spectacular. He was an All-Star in 10 of those 11 years, missing out only during his rookie season of 1989. He led the American League in home runs four times and hit 398 total. He won the league’s MVP once and finished in the top 10 six other times. He also won 10 consecutive Gold Gloves and seven Silver Slugger awards. 

More intangible things tell us that Griffey helped change the way baseball marketed itself to the general public. His memorable “Griffey In ’96” Nike advertising campaign, which featured him in his signature backward Seattle Mariners cap, was the stuff of marketing legend.

And there was his line of baseball video games for Nintendo, the first of which sold more than one million copies, and his unforgettable guest appearance on The Simpsons’ “Homer at the Bat” episode in 1992.

Those things should not be discounted when considering Griffey’s impact on the sport and especially on an entire generation of baseball fans.

Griffey’s numbers speak for themselves, but he meant more than just his on-field exploits during his prime. His deserving status as a first-ballot Hall of Famer is an easy call.

Hoffman is considered one of the best closers to ever pitch a ninth inning. His 601 saves, 2.87 ERA and 141 ERA+ speak to how effective he was. He also had nine seasons of at least 40 saves.

Hoffman will almost certainly get into the Hall of Fame eventually, but a few things are working against his getting in on the first ballot. First, he was not very good when the stage was at its biggest, as he blew two of his six career playoff save opportunities, had a loss in another game and blew the save and took the loss in a Game 163 loss to the Colorado Rockies in 2007.

Second, Baseball Writers’ Association of America voters typically have a more difficult time evaluating relievers more than any other position. Hoffman knows that will make things tough.

“There’s going to be that group [of voters] that won’t vote for somebody in their first year,” Hoffman told MLB.com’s Barry Bloom in a recent interview. “Is that going to be indicative of where the vote goes after that? I don’t know. Then there’s another group that doesn’t know how to handle relief pitchers. There are no guarantees.”

A third thing stifling Hoffman’s first-ballot chances is Wagner’s presence. He was the more dominant closer, though he did not have the counting stats Hoffman accumulated—most notably saves. Wagner had 422. 

Despite trailing Hoffman by 179 saves, Wagner had a better ERA (2.31), a lower opponents’ slash line (.187/.262/.296 against Hoffman’s .211/.267/.342) and a higher strikeout rate per nine innings (11.9 against Hoffman’s 9.4). Wagner also had a better end to his career, posting a 1.43 ERA, 275 ERA+ and 13.5 strikeouts per nine in his final season.

This gives Wagner a strong case for Hall of Fame election, though he is highly unlikely to make it on the first ballot. Working against him, aside from his status as a reliever, is that Wagner had similar results to Hoffman in the postseason with his 10.03 ERA in 11.2 innings.

Edmonds is the second-best position player of the newcomers. Some voters like longevity; others look at a player’s prime seasons as a better gauge of his greatness, and Edmonds appeals in both categories, for the most part.

In the five seasons from 2000 to 2004, Edmonds was truly great. Aside from being an elite defensive center fielder, he had a .298/.410/.593 slash line, a 1.003 OPS, 181 home runs and 157 OPS+. He also averaged 6.4 wins above replacement, per Baseball-Reference.com, and 6.8 WAR, according to FanGraphs, per season during that span.

That is a small sample of campaigns, but from 1995 through 2005, Edmonds ranks third in FanGraphs’ WAR behind Bonds and Alex Rodriguez with 58.8. That makes Edmonds’ Hall of Fame case quite impressive, though his chances at inclusion after one year on the ballot still seem slim as increasing votes for some of the holdovers and the 10-player voting limit may hold down his total.

This ballot is loaded with Hall of Fame-worthy talent, but the performance-enhancing drug issue still clouds the voting and probably will not allow for more than Griffey and maybe Piazza this time around. However, of the first-timers on this ballot, the aforementioned four players have the strongest cases.

Now we wait to see how the voting pool swings when results are announced January 6.


All quotes, unless otherwise specified, have been acquired first-hand by Anthony Witrado. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.

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Trevor Hoffman Dishes on Pepsi MAX Field of Dreams Game and Today’s Closers

It’s been almost three years since Trevor Hoffman last flung one of his trademark changeups over the plate. The longtime closer hung up his spikes following the 2010 season with 18 years of big league service and a then-record 601 career saves under his belt.

And nobody ever saw him again…

Well, OK, maybe not.

Hoffman may be retired from baseball, but Mark Clements of MLB.com caught up with him last year and found a guy who’s keeping plenty busy as a member of the San Diego Padres front office and as a TV analyst.

For my part, I know that Hoffman is still talking. I got a chance to chat with him over the phone on Tuesday by virtue of Hoffman’s involvement in the Pepsi MAX Field of Dreams Game, which will go down later this month on May 18 at Frontier Field in Rochester, New York.

Naturally, Hoffman said he’s “excited” to go have “a little bit of fun” in the game, which will feature him and his fellow National League legends, American League legends and a pair of consumer contestants—Johnny Perotti of Rochester and Stephen Katchmark of Washington, D.C.

However, Hoffman also said he’s humbled at the thought that he’s about to be sharing a field with so many baseball titans. The NL team also features guys like Mike Schmidt, Johnny Bench and Ozzie Smith, and the AL team features guys like Rickey Henderson, Reggie Jackson and Frank Thomas.

“I surely don’t look at myself in that category,” said Hoffman, referring to the legends he’ll be rubbing shoulders with. “I’m very humbled about being a part of it.”

Since Hoffman is due to appear on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time in 2016, just three years from now, I couldn’t help but ask him if being considered a “legend” alongside Hall of Famers bodes well for his chances.

“Any little bit of luck or any little bit of favor I can get towards something like that would be awesome,” said Hoffman. But then he drifted into real-talk territory:

“I know how revered guys are in this game and what they’ve done. Playing a specialty role, being a closer, you’re not quite sure what that ticket needs to be to get punched. I know Mariano Rivera is still going. I think we know he’s a surefire Hall of Famer. But some of the other guys like myself, we’ll see what happens. I hope it does happen.”

So Hoffman’s not about to start writing his speech just yet.

…But between you and me: Yeah, this is going to happen.

Closers tend to be treated like chopped liver by the Hall of Fame voters, but they’ve been pretty good about letting the great ones in. Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage and Bruce Sutter are all in Cooperstown. It’s beyond safe to assume that the guy who ranks second on the all-time saves list is going to get in as well.

So will, as Hoffman was quick to note, Mariano Rivera when his time comes. That won’t be for a while longer, though, as the New York Yankees great is still going strong at the age of 43. Rivera has 11 saves in his first 13 appearances with a 2.19 ERA this year. You’d never know the guy suffered a major knee injury just a year ago.

Hoffman still digs Rivera’s pitching as much as he ever has.

“He’s still getting it done as good as anybody in the game today,” said Hoffman of his longtime contemporary. “He does it with one pitch. He does it with location. He does it with a lot of class. He does it with a lot of respect for his opponent and the game.”

But Hoffman enjoys some of the new guys too, particularly the one guy whom we all enjoy: Craig Kimbrel.

Said Hoffman of the Atlanta Braves closer:

“His stuff is pretty electric. There’s not a lot of fanfare around him either. I like the way he goes about his business. His stuff is off the charts. He locates his fastball at the bottom of the zone as good as anybody, and he’s got a change-of-direction breaking ball.”

Hoffman also sounded off on his appreciation for Kimbrel in a recent interview with MLB.com’s Barry M. Bloom, saying he could be good for a long time if he sticks in the closer role.

But that’s the tricky part these days. Hoffman brought up a very good point in talking to Bloom about how it’s harder for dominant closers to stick as closers. It’s too tempting for teams to see if dominant closers might be capable of being dominant starters.

The St. Louis Cardinals did it with Adam Wainwright a few years back and were rewarded. The Texas Rangers, however, did it last year with Neftali Feliz and were punished. The Cincinnati Reds toyed with making Aroldis Chapman a starter this spring before pulling the plug on the experiment. The same thing happened with Jonathan Papelbon and the Red Sox before the 2007 season.

Are teams risking too much when they try to turn closers into starters, or are they doing the best thing for the organization?

Hoffman can see both sides of the argument. As far as where teams are coming from, he understands the thought process:

“I certainly understand from an organizational standpoint the feeling, the need for a guy that can throw 200 innings for you and be dominant, and the correlation with the guy at the back end of the bullpen that’s also been dominant.

“You always want to find that frontline starter. And when you have guys like Feliz and Chapman that have that lights-out stuff, there’s always that desire to try and see if they can do it in the rotation.”

However, the admittedly “biased” Hoffman is also skeptical of how making a stud closer into a starter makes for a case of “weakening another area that was so under control.”

He doesn’t think that turning a closer into a starter impacts only the closer role. He noted that it impacts the whole bullpen:

“I understand how important shortening a game is. We’ve gotten into specialty roles where we’re not only talking closers. We’re talking specialty setup guys, and we’re talking about that link from the starter to the back end of your bullpen.

“When you start changing pitchers, the other team’s not really going to get a feel what they’re going up against. A guy comes back and goes, ‘Yeah he’s got a pretty good changeup and he’s locating his fastball down and away.’ But you’re not going to see him, you’re going to get somebody else in the game. It doesn’t allow that familiarity from the hitter’s standpoint to take over.”

When it comes to the actual decision-making process of turning a closer into a starter, Hoffman indicated teams really have no choice but to take calculated risks based on what they know about the versatility of the pitcher in question.

For example, the Rangers knew that Feliz had started before in the minors. Ditto Chapman and the Reds. Hoffman’s beloved Padres are still wrestling over what should be done with hard-throwing right-hander Andrew Cashner, who made 48 of his 54 minor league appearances as a starter.

As for himself, Hoffman never started a game at the major league level. All 1,035 of his appearances came in relief. But had he come along in today’s MLB, it’s possible he may have been asked to start.

After all, Hoffman was used as a starter in the minor leagues after he was converted from a position player to a pitcher by the Reds, who drafted him in the 11th round of the 1989 draft, in the early 1990s.

“They realized, ‘This kid needs to develop some pitches. He needs to get innings,'” said Hoffman.

And how did he take to starting?

“For the short period of time that I did get to do it, I enjoyed the routine of it,” said Hoffman. “I enjoyed every fifth day. I enjoyed the bullpen session. I enjoyed a lot of factors of being a starter.”

So imagine, if you will, Trevor Hoffman as a starting pitcher. Had things worked out a certain way, that’s how he could have made his living in the big leagues.

But it just doesn’t sound right, does it? Imagining Hoffman as a starter rather than as a closer is like imagining Paul McCartney as a member of KISS or Hulk Hogan reciting Shakespeare.

The man himself admitted that, while he would have been receptive to the idea of being a starter in the major leagues if the Padres had pitched it to him early in his career, closing seemed to be what he was cut out for.

“Being able to be the closer really seemed to fit my personality,” said Hoffman, adding that he would have foreseen a “pretty good amount of success out of the pen” had he been asked to become a starter early in his career.

And he would have been right, of course. Hoffman may have been able to make it as a starter, but it’s hard to imagine him carving out a spot as one of the game’s all-time greats like he did as a closer.

“It worked out. I’m glad I didn’t have to answer that question,” he said.

So are we, Trevor. So are we.


Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com. Quotes obtained firsthand.


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San Diego Padres: Hell’s Bells and Heath Bell

Whenever true baseball fans discuss the San Diego Padres, they attribute many things to the team from America’s Finest City.

It could be the fact that they have never won the World Series. It could be their ballpark and how its mere size could host the entire Wild Animal Park. Some people will eagerly point to Tony Gwynn, Mr. Padre himself. Cynics will recall the old brown uniforms and how the Friars couldn’t have looked more ridiculous in hot pink or if they all took the field in San Diego Chicken costumes.

One thing that has not been connected to the Padres has been that disease that befalls many franchises at some point, which is an overwhelming need for a closer.

In fact, you’d have to hire an archaeologist to dig for any evidence that the Padres were ever in need of one. 

There was Rollie Fingers featuring his handlebar mustache, Goose Gossage with his Fu Manchu, Craig Lefferts and his mad dash from the bullpen, Cy Young award winner Mark Davis, cigarette smoking Rod Beck, Trevor Hoffman and Hell’s Bells and finally, Hoffman’s direct descendant, “Blow me away” Heath Bell.

Whatever the baseball fan may or may not list concerning the woes of the San Diego Padres, an issue with the closer has never been one of them. It’s a mechanism that’s been as automatic as the sun setting in the West or tourists flocking to Pacific Beach. Although I will not bother with the stats here, there is little doubt that San Diego ranks near the top for converted save opportunities over its history.

Enter Heath Bell, heir apparent to legend and all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman.

Now in his fifth year with the Padres, Bell needed to wait until the tender age of 31 and Trevor Hoffman’s virtual dismissal from the Padres to flex his muscle and pump his mid-90s heat past baffled hitters in late innings. Through it all, Heath Bell never complained, raining numerous accolades on his now retired predecessor.

When his chance finally arrived in 2009, Heath Bell ran with it.

He is the direct opposite of Trevor: Whereas Bell throws a heavy fastball, Hoffman’s would have had trouble cracking a windshield. Hoffman’s out pitch would be the change-up, no doubt his ticket to Cooperstown when five years will have passed. Bell gets batters with heat or his curve. Fans marveled at Hoffman’s physique, whereas Bell at times resembles a float at Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade.

What both players do have in common is a 41-game save streak, tops in franchise history.

Bell’s streak came to an end last night at Petco, courtesy of a two-run throwing error by third baseman Chase Headley, who threw away Heath Bell’s shot at history.

If there is one thing that might trump Heath Bell’s ability, then it is his character. The undisputed leader of the Padres’ bullpen (dubbed the “Penitentiary”), Bell showed a tremendous amount of class following the game, citing the two batters he’d walked earlier in the inning as the key for the streak buster rather than Headley’s obvious spike of the baseball.

It’s hard not to root for a guy like Heath Bell.

A San Diego county native, Bell ironically made his debut against the Padres, pitching two innings with three strikeouts for the New York Mets in 2004, seven years after he’d been drafted. In 2006, he would get his big break when the Mets traded him to the Padres where he would become their setup man in the eighth inning before Hoffman would close games out.

As guys like Adrian Gonzalez and Ozzie Smith before him can attest, being a star in San Diego ultimately has the predictability of what happens to a target when Seal Team Six breaks into your house.

With Heath Bell making a whopping $7.5 million this season, his continued employment in San Diego beyond the season is as likely as the city of San Diego purchasing snowplows for weather related emergencies.

No matter which way the ball bounces, San Diego is fortunate to have a player like Heath Bell; a leader, a tremendous athlete and a class act.

The city will certainly be a worse place without him.  

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Milwaukee Brewers: John Axford and The Cursed Closers Of Brewers Past

John Axford had an impressive debut season in 2010 when he filled in for Trevor Hoffman as the Milwaukee Brewers closer.

Equally impressive was his mustache which rivaled the infamous beard of Brian Wilson and revived memories of renowned Brewers closer and former Cy Young Award winner, Rollie Fingers.

Axford went 24-3 in save opportunities and compiled 76 K in only 58 innings for a 11.65 K/9—good for fourth best amongst closers. He maintained a 2.60 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in that time.

His performance was one of the few bright spots in the Brewers season and a relief considering the struggles of one of baseball’s all-time greatest relievers.

Now John Axford has become the primary closer for the Milwaukee Brewers entering the 2011 season. 

The promotion might seem like a glorious achievement for the longtime minor leaguer, but in reality, inheriting the Brewers closer role has been something of a curse over the last 10 years.

In fact, you might say it is career suicide as the majority of pitchers to have recorded a save for the team since 2001 have gone on to either immediately retire or suffer severe drop offs in performance.

There might be no such thing as curses in the real world, but in the superstitious sport of baseball they are most definitely real and this particular curse began with Curtis Leskanic.

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Trevor Hoffman: On the Meaning of Saves and 601 Quality Appearances

When Trevor Hoffman announced his retirement yesterday, immediate talk about his Hall of Fame candidacy, his 601 saves, and his reputation as a great Padre surfaced. I do consider him worthy of the hall of fame as he, along with Mariano Rivera and Billy Wagner, were the most effective closers who did it for the longest time. But it seems as if they’re a dying breed.

As Trevor Hoffman joins Billy Wagner in riding off into the sunset, the MLB is arguably down to just one great, longtime closer.

Closers are something you find. Something managers create. Saves happen by accident. You don’t try for them; in fact you try not to have them. If your team is winning by three, you want to make it four. That’s just how baseball works, the goal is to spend nine innings making a win as likely as possible until it either happens or doesn’t.

An articles on Yahoo! Sports states, “Hoffman almost always got the toughest outs in a baseball game—the final three.” I assume most of those outs were tough. He was pitching against major league hitters. You cannot quantify how much tougher the ninth inning made those outs.

In fact, of his 601 saves some were probably pretty tough and some were undoubtedly very easy. Sure, he was in situations in which one bad pitch would lose the game for his team. But he also probably often had a cushion of two or three runs.

Let’s consider all those occasions where the final three outs are easier than the first three. Say your starter had to work just a little harder in the first inning to retire Victorino-Polanco-Utley than your closer did when he faced Ruiz-Valdez-Dobbs.

The idea that the closer you are to the end of the game, the more difficult the outs become is dubious. Why would there be extra pressure, aside from the fact that everyone in baseball attaches extra importance to it? It depends on the situation itself, so we have to be careful with the importance we attach to saves. I would still rather have vintage Billy Wagner or Mariano Rivera on the mound in a tough situation than vintage Hoffman.

Is there any real different in pitching with a one-run lead in the ninth inning versus pitching with the same lead in the eighth? Or the fourth? Can we measure things like clutch performance? Like guts? Grit? Heart? We cannot measure them save for counting up the number of times a broadcaster says something like, “man that guy has heart, what a gutsy effort.”

I once read an article suggesting that managers use their best reliever in the first tight situation in a game. For instance, the Yankees might be gridlocked 2-2 with the Red Sox in the sixth inning. Say Boston is up to bat and there are two men on and one out, the starter is pooped, the writers (it was in a collection of essays called Baseball Between the Numbers) suggested Mariano Rivera enter the game in this rough situation as he is the one most able to escape the situation.

What this would do is, a) make it easier for your team to avoid giving up more runs and burying yourself, b) give the Yankees more of a chance to win by keeping the game close longer so they can potentially bury their opponent, and c) limit the chance that the Yankees wind up having to face Boston’s best reliever in the later innings. I wonder how many games were lost when Kyle Farnsworth or Luis Vizcaino were tasked with escaping sixth- and seventh-inning jams.

In short, it could be beneficial to use your best pitcher when you need him most. I wonder how many save opportunities squeaked away because a mediocre reliever gave up a slim lead in the sixth. This especially makes sense for teams with good offenses.

The one hitch in this plan is that the ceremonious quality of the closer’s role would be stripped of him. There’s no glamour in the tough outs of the sixth inning. That’s the dirty work. Fewer flashbulbs are going off then. There’s something special about being a few outs away from a win. It’s like the game is entirely in your hands if you’re on the mound at that time.

So what does Trevor Hoffman have 601 of, if saves are a silly statistic? Well, he has 601 not-terrible ninth innings. Which is more not-terrible innings than many pitchers have in their careers. He has retired 3268 batters, all the while allowing relatively few runs to score. He owes this to the dominance he showed in his prime and impressive control. He owes it to a very good fastball-changeup combination.

I will remember Trevor Hoffman as one of the best relief pitchers of his generation. The silliness of his role aside, I cannot deny an impressive pitching performance (or about a thousand of them). It’s the ceremonious nature of the role that adds to his reputation. How many Padre fans remember Hoffman standing on the mound while their team won a game. How about when they made their way to the 1998 World Series?

As the closers of the past fifteen years prepare to make their runs at Cooperstown, I wonder which number will stand out the most in five years. 601 or something else?

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Why "Hells Bells" Will Always Be > Than "Enter Sandman"

When you play for the Bronx Bombers, or the Cubbies, or even the Christmas Sox, you get treated a certain way: You’re a baseball god.

When you play for a team like the San Diego Padres, well, you’re a nice complement to the palm trees and blue skies surrounding the baseball diamond. (When they win a World Series, I’ll change that mentality, I promise.)

So for a Padre player to grasp the attention of not only San Diego fans, but also Major League Baseball fans around the globe, you truly have to be something special.

Trevor Hoffman, my idol, was that man.

Those who have followed Hoffy’s career know that he was drafted as a shortstop. To think that there was a shortstop in college that successfully transitioned from middle infield to closer in the majors is a rarity. To say that same player went on to become the all-time saves leader in Major League Baseball is truly sensational.  

In 1998, when I was PIPing the TV with Sesame Street on the left and Padre games on the right (I was eight years old, and Big Bird was the man), I had no idea the magnitude of Trevor Hoffman’s 53 saves that year. It was the most saves he had in a season, complemented by the lowest ERA (1.48) he had in one year’s work.

That year the Pads made it to the World Series against the winningest Yankee team of all time (114-48). I will never forgive Scott Brosius for that series…I had tickets to Game 5.

Little did I know that after ’98, Trevor would go on to save over 40 games seven out of his next eight years (not including the 2003 season, when he was hurt). Are you kidding me with that statistic?

Off the field, Trevor was a joy to be around. Everyone who met Trevor and wanted an autograph got one. You heard it from one of Trevor’s best friends, teammate Brad Ausmus, that it was the type of man Hoffman was off the field that made him a memorable teammate and friend. He treated teammates like family, and strangers like friends.

I know this to be true because I was fortunate enough to meet and interview Trevor at my high school (Cathedral Catholic) when I was just 16 years old. Standing in my P.E. clothes with my adolescent frame, I got to hold a mic to the all-time saves leader…only the mic didn’t work. We did the entire interview with the mic off.

Most players would’ve left. Trevor stayed and answered the same questions a second time. He even mimicked my question when I asked him, “What is going through your mind in a 2-1 game in the pen in the top of the ninth?” Hoffman repeated my question, doing a memorable Howard Cosell impression, saying I sounded a lot like the ex-ABC broadcaster. What a moment that was.

As for Trevor’s career highlights, he gave baseball fans 18 wonderful seasons. During that stint, he achieved 601 saves, a 2.87 career ERA and got a whole lot of Padre fans to demonstrate air guitar when he jogged out of the pen. It was truly an honor to watch such a class act night in and night out.  

If there was one thing I could tell Trevor today, I would tell him this: Head down to Heath Bell’s place and tell him kindly that he’s rekindling his relationship with the eighth inning. Why? Because you’re coming back for another date with the ninth inning in San Diego.

Do it for the fans, Hoffy. Everyone wants to see you back in SD. Think about it, No. 51—think about it.

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Trevor Hoffman Retires

Instead of hanging on for one more season, Major League Baseball’s all-time saves leader has decided to retire.

Trevor Hoffman told MLB.com’s Barry Bloom that he has officially retired. Hoffman pitched 18 seasons with the Florida Marlins, San Diego Padres and Milwaukee Brewers. He finished his career with a 2.87 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and 9.4 K’s/9 in 1,089.1 innings.

There are a lot of things that we can talk about when it comes to Hoffman. We can talk about his Bugs Bunny changeup, how he was the National League version of Mariano Rivera or we can talk about how he blew games in some big spots like in the 1998 World Series or in the play-in game against the Colorado Rockies in 2007.

What I want to talk about, for the purposes of this post, is whether or not Hoffman should be in the Hall of Fame. Look, the reality is, Hoffman will get into the Hall most likely on the first ballot. But my question isis he any different than when Lee Smith retired?

I know Hall of Fame debates have been beaten to death over the last couple of weeks, but I also think they are very interesting and some are very valid debates. Lee vs. Hoffman, I believe is one of them.

Like Hoffman, when Lee retired, he was the all-time saves leader in Major League Baseball. I feel like people are holding that record in higher regard now that Hoffman holds it and when Smith retired as the all-time saves leader, it was kind of dismissed.

Not only did both of them hold the saves record when they retired, but their stats are very similar. Take a look…

While Hoffman had the better stats overall, they weren’t so much better than Lee’s where someone would think they aren’t comparable. I think the biggest difference between Hoffman and Lee is the perception people have them.

Lee’s reputation got hurt at the end of his career because he played on five teams in his last five years and really became a ham n’ egger. Hoffman only played on three teams in 18 seasons and was solid all the way up to his 17th season.

2011 was Lee’s ninth year on the ballot and he received 45.3 percent of the vote. In five years, Hoffman will be eligible for the the HOF for the first time, and I am guessing Hoffman does a lot better than 45.3 percent of the vote.

As we have pointed out on this site before, HOF voting has a lot to do with perception. Perception sometimes plays a bigger role than stats.

The perception is Hoffman is a first ballot HOF’er and Lee is not even worthy to get in. That shouldn’t be the case. Hoffman had a great career, but so did Lee.

They both should be recognized for it.

You can follow The Ghost of Moonlight Graham on Twitter @ theghostofmlg

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Mariano Rivera: With Hoffman Gone, Can He Become The All-Time Save Leader

After 18 years in the major leagues, all-times saves leader Trevor Hoffman has decided to retire from baseball with 601 saves.  Long-time New York Yankee closer Mariano Rivera is 2nd all-time with 559 saves.  With Hoffman retiring and Rivera re-signing with the Yankees for two more years, is it possible that “The Sandman” will be able to surpass Hoffman and be the all-time saves leader?

To beat Hoffman, Rivera would have to rack up 43 saves over the course of the next two years (assuming he does not re-sign after his new contract). Many people think Rivera has lost his magic, and he will not be able to surpass Hoffman.

Although Rivera dropped 11 saves from the 2009 season to the 2010 season, he still ended up having 33 saves in 2010.  At that rate, he would have more than enough saves after two years to not only surpass Hoffman, but to set a new standard for anyone who has enough saves to even think of breaking it.

Rivera’s devastating cutter has baffled hitters for over 15 years now, and no one has been able to figure it out.  Even though people say he has lost his touch, at the age of 41 he still racked up 33 saves last season with the same pitch he’s been pitching since he came up with the Yankees in ’95.

Even though Rivera does not have as many regular season saves as Hoffman, Rivera’s postseason numbers are infinitely superior. Rivera has five World Series rings to Hoffman’s zero, and many of the Yankees victories in the World Series have come courtesy of No. 42. 

Another statistic that catches ones eye is the difference in ERA; Rivera has a ridiculous 0.71 to Hoffman’s 3.46.  Rivera’s 42 postseason saves don’t show up on the all-time list, but his dominance when it comes to winning a big game really shows why some consider him better than Hoffman, whose pitching in October has much to be desired.

He will not surpass him this upcoming season, but I think that before the last time Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” echoes through a dark, Bronx night, Mariano Rivera will be the new all-time saves leader in Major League Baseball.


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Trevor Hoffman Retires: Power Ranking the 10 Best Closers in MLB History

The major league closer is a position that is hard to fill for many teams. Pitchers are often given opportunities to be the guy in the late innings, but rarely do we find closers that can truly be considered “dominant.”

Trevor Hoffman has to be considered in discussions of the best closer of all time. His 601 career saves rank first all time, and his 1,035 games pitched are an attribute to his longevity.

As we honor the spectacular career one of baseball’s all time greats, let’s take a look at the elite list of dominating closers that Hoffman finds himself in.

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