P.O.T.D.: Trevor Hoffman

Could M's have Trev head giveaway in '06? (MLB)

Recent reports have the M's taking a shot at San Diego closer Trevor Hoffman. Interesting enough, but does it make sense?

Q: No way. TREVOR HOFFMAN? How is HE on the market?

A:
Who knows? Maybe San Diego is making a desperate last-minute bid to keep its cap out of the Hall of Fame?

Yes way. Hoffman wants $8-9m per season for three years, ages 38, 39, and 40; the Padres opened at $5m per, for two years. Hoffman countered by stomping downstairs and cleaning out his locker with a Zamboni. He's on the market. And the M's are quoted as being interested in His Changeliness.

Q: Has he been one of the best ever?

A:
He has, yes.

Hoffman's 436 saves are more than anyone who ever pitched, except for one man, that being Lee Smith. Hoffman is 42 behind Smith and will probably pass Smith to become the alltime saves leader.

Coincidentally, the 1976-1997 Mariners ballclubs also totalled 436 saves, and Dr. D has 436 lifetime situps. Well, that's what we heard. 436 of anything is a lot, much less 436 "closer wins" in official National League baseball games.

A Baseball Prospectus study showed that only a small handful of relief aces have ever had as many All-Star seasons as Hoffman has had. He's tossed out MagiCloser seasons like Rick the Peanut Man feeding hungry lower-bowl customers. Hoffman could toss a 35-save season behind his back while chatting up a kid in the front row.

Hoffman's career 146 ERA+ compares favorably with greats such as Troy Percival (150), Lee Smith (132), John Wetteland (148) and Bruce Sutter (136). However, Mariano Rivera's career 196 ERA+ and Billy Wagner's 180+ do put into perspective the fact that Hoffman isn't really the Dominator the way some other overwhelming relief aces are.

It's not like a giant picture of Hoffman would send the citizens of Tokyo wild-eyed into screaming mobs, but he has been consistently automatic.

Q: Is he still one of the best ever?

A:
He is, yes.

For two good years now, Hoffman has been back from shoulder surgery to post sparkling 8+ strikeout rates and 1+ walk rates. If he goes more than 3 days without a save, he gets the DT's and starts shaking like a Mexican carburetor. And Hoff's teammates look up to him as much as they ever did.

That said, he's tricking people a little more than he used to. His pitches have lost just a bit of crispness. But he still has a located fastball and thirteen different changeups.

When Hoffman misses, he misses up in the zone, tater tots, and he always gives up lotsa fly balls. But that's peachy with Safeco Field. We asked it.

Q: Will he be one of the best ever in 2006-2007?

A:
He will probably be one of the better closers, and he is still rock-solid, but to be totally fair about it, he is drifting into the "guts and guile" phase of his career.

Hoffman will be 38 next year; that's like half of a century or something. His demand for AC/DC accompaniment is starting to feel awkwardly Madonnalike at this point; Hoff and the M's may go to the Irish step dancers on the dugout when he comes in for the stompdown.

How do relief aces do in their late 30's? Generally, not too well.

There have been plenty of closers who were fine at 37-38, like Tug McGraw, Dan Plesac, Dennis Eckersley, and Goose Gossage. John Franco pitched until he was 44.

But most closers step on a rake at 37 or 38, fall backwards and they do not get up. Examples include Todd Worrell, Rollie Fingers, Rick Aguilera, Jeff Reardon … John Wetteland retired long before 37, as did many great closers.

Basically you can figure on relief aces to be done by 37-38, just like with starting pitchers.

Q: Do you expect Hoffman to age unusually well, like a John Franco type?

A:
He probably will, yes.

Other closers are done early because they throw 95 miles per hour, and when they get older, and throttle down to 92, they're hittable. Trevor Hoffman throws changeups and baffles hitters, and he can do that for a long time. We don't imagine he'll lose the ability to throw 75 mph before he turns forty.

Also, Hoffman has already pitched well at 37. That in itself puts him in a different category from Wetteland, Reardon, and Co.

As well, Hoffman's peripherals in 2004 and 2005 were as solid and steady as the M's concession totals. He is indeed "a relatively safe pick," as Ron Shandler said about him last year.

Q: Do the Padres believe in him? What do they think, having seen him every day?

A:
The Padres – who of course know Hoffman better than anyone – see him as an elite closer in 2006. Alan Drooz of the San Diego Union-Tribune captured the situation on September 1, 2005:

SignonSanDiego.com

Hoffman is still a premier closer, but he's clearly on the downside. He turns 38 in mid-October. When he once posted ERAs as low as 1.47 and 2.13, he's at 3.43 this year and in danger of finishing with his highest ERA in 10 years. He's got a 1-5 record, and virtually all of those losses have come when he's brought into a tie game or a nonsave situation.

Various Padres often refer to Hoffman as "lights out" but, really, it's been a couple years since that was true. He gets hit regularly and gets by more on guile and his killer changeup than good stuff.

Facing those realities, it might be in the Padres' best interest to let Hoffman and Giles walk, take that money and retool the team to better fit Petco Park.


Q: What is the value of a closer, really?

A:
Dr. D hates the "closer" myth.

But baseball players buy into it, and the perception becomes the reality. Hey, if the players honestly believed that wearing crazy rainbow wigs would make them play better, we'd send them Priority Mail. For all we know, one day the players might start believing that wearing their caps inside-out produces rallies. Whatever keeps it real for you, dog.

The way a ballplayer's tortured mind works -- for the M's to know, in the 7th inning of a close game, that Trevor Hoffman will be swaggering in to AC/DC, gives their ballclub "toughness." That's just the reality of modern baseball. The 2001 M's cozied into their groove on the security blanket that Sasaki, Rhodes, and Nelson were ready to cash in the leads night after night.

More seriously, sabermetricians also are learning that the Big Three and Closer have huge impacts in the postseason. The fact is, Hoffman would be an attempt to get a little closer to a World Series run.

Don't sweat it. Hoffman would make the M's better. More importantly, he would make them think they were good. Hoffman can bring it, bab-eh.

Q: Enough with the incoherent ramblings. Should we root for the M's to get Hoffman or not? A: Would we rather see $8m spent on Trevor Hoffman than see $5m flushed down the toilet on a lefty closer with a torn rotator cuff? Is that a trick question?

If you are even considering signing Eddie Guardado, then the extra $3m on Hoffman is as no-brainly as putting Jose Lopez at second base. You wouldn't even see the blur my hand move as I signed the contract.

But! Would Dr. D even consider spending $8m on Trevor Hoffman if that meant only one SP ace instead of two? Of course not. There just isn't any way that you can make 55 innings at $8m stack up to 200 innings at $10m. The M's couldn't be Forrest Gump enough to go Hoffman instead of Kevin Millwood. Could they?

I can't answer you, sorry. Because with the M's fuzzy math, we never know what we're sacrificing if we say "yes" to the latest $5m proposal. It's like your wife asks you, "do I look fat in this?" Some decisions can't be taken back, and some decisions change the cost associated with other decisions.

If Hoffman comes at the expense of a Kenji Johjima, then that's more than I'm willing to spend on a closer myth or an inside-out caps myth or any other security blanket. Give the job to Sherrill and gimme my 90-RBI catcher, Gumby.

If Hoffman would not come at the expense of a rotation ace or a Kenji Johjima or a lefty thumper, we'd love to have him.

Somethin' tells us we've answered our own question. Pass the cost savings, Chuck.

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