In my first two columns I took a look at two of the premiere young hitters in baseball: Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder. Today I am going to focus on the Brewers new closer and the game's all-time leader in saves, Trevor Hoffman.
Hoffman comes to the Brewers after spending the last 16 years in San Diego. The six-time All Star has saved a total of 554 games and has stated he would like to get to 600 before ending his career.
The Brewers have had a revolving door for the closer role in the last few years. Dan Kolb, Derrick Turnbow, Francisco Cordero, Eric Gagne, and Salomon Torres have all closed ball games in the past five years for the Crew.
Hoffman looks to add stability to the role despite having an off-year in 2008. Hoffman finished with 30 saves and an ERA of 3.77. Those were the worst totals for Hoffman in playing a whole season since 1995. He was then given a low-ball offer by the Padres for 2009 and decided to test free agency.
People are questioning just how effective a 41-year old closer could be, but everyone needs to remember that Hoffman's out pitch is his changeup. As long as he is able to throw his fastball with decent velocity, the changeup will remain a devastating weapon for Hoffman, and lock up many victories for the Brewers in 2009.
As big of a role as Hoffman will serve as the Brewers' closer, it won't be his most important role for the team. His value will lie in serving as a mentor for many of the Brewers young pitchers, most notably Carlos Villanueva. The two are eerily similar pitchers. Neither has overpowering fastballs, but they both rely on their changeups and location for success. If I were Brewers manager Ken Macha, I would tell Villanueva to stay in Hoffman's back pocket all season long. It can only benefit both the Brewers and Villanueva long-term for his interaction with Hoffman.
Hoffman will need to adjust to no longer being in pitcher-friendly Petco Park. It will also be a major adjustment in April and early May pitching in a dome and in several cold weather cities. It is imperative that Hoffman get off to a good start in order to ease the minds of fans and the organization after the rocky start to last season by Eric Gagne.
Although the Brewers had a rough offseason losing both CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets, Trevor Hoffman's addition to the club can only be seen in a positive light. He will be motivated not only in pursuit of inching closer to 600 saves, but also prove he his worth the potential $7.5 million he could earn from the Brewers.
I expect Hoffman to revert back to his career norms and have an ERA under 3.00 and notch at least 35 saves for the team. He may not have a lot left in his Hall of Fame right arm, but there's enough there for one last run of greatness.
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