San Diego Padres

San Diego Padres: Is Trevor Hoffman Going to Retire?

josh klessCorrespondent IMay 17, 2008

There, I said it. I’m a die-hard Padres fan, having followed them as far back as I can remember, and I have no problem saying that Trevor Hoffman is done.

Unfortunately, most Padres fans are so blinded by loyalty and past performance (which explains why we have $20 million invested in Jim Edmonds and Brian Giles), that they refuse to let Hoffman call it quits.

Fans in major markets would be all over their star closer if he had submitted an end-of-season performance similar to Trevor’s. But in San Diego, he gets a standing ovation to start the season.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a nostalgic, and I appreciate the great seasons that Hoffman has had for the Pads. I appreciate his dedication to one team. In 16 years of service, all but 28 of his career games have been with the Padres. During his most dominant seasons, he was a sight to behold. Last year, though, was not fun to watch.

People argue that he saved 42 games last year, which was third most in the NL. Unfortunately, any hardcore fan knows that saves have become a very overrated statistic. Relief pitchers only come in for an inning, usually protecting fairly reasonable leads, so often a lot of these “saves” aren’t all that dramatic.

A perfect example of this argument is that the two players ahead of Hoffman in the saves category were Francisco Cordero and Jose Valverde, not exactly future Hall of Famers.

Furthermore, Hoffman posted a career low in strikeouts, one of the highest ERAs of his career, his second highest WHIP ever, five losses and seven blown saves.

Regardless of his numbers, to me the most important role a closer has is to save the game when it counts. Last year, the Padres had two games at the end of the season that required Hoffman to come in and get a save.

The first of these two games was against the Brewers at Milwaukee. Hoffman came into the top of the ninth to secure a 3-2 lead, a win would put the Padres in the playoffs. In what has become a typical Trevor outing, he struck out the first batter, gave up a double, then struck out the next batter. This left the tying run on second with two outs.

Hoffman has made a career out of thriving in these situations, and in years past I always felt confident that Hoffman would get the save. Watching this game on TV though, I came to the realization that not only was I not confident, I was openly expecting the next batter, Tony Gwynn Jr., to get that runner home.

Sure enough, Gwynn Jr. took a change-up from Hoffman and lined it to right field. The Brewers ended up winning the game in 11, and after that huge letdown the Pads came back the next day to lose.

Normally this wouldn’t be a huge deal, but in the crazy NL West these losses coincided with the ridiculous winning streak the Rockies were putting together. Sure enough, the two losses led to a one game matchup with Colorado to decide who was going to the playoffs.

The matchup against the Rockies was a worst-case scenario in my mind. Jake Peavy was going to start, which meant that if we did win, his schedule was going to be thrown off for the playoffs, not to mention he was not planning to be pitching again unless we were in the playoffs.

We were going to Colorado, a stadium where the Padres have not fared well in recent years (especially Hoffman), and we were playing the hottest team in the majors. The game went into extra innings and in the top of the 13th, the Pads put two runs on the board.

Hoffman came in with a two-run lead and a chance to redeem himself. As I watched on TV, I once again had that terrible sensation, as if I knew that Hoffman was going to blow it. Three consecutive extra base-hits and one questionable call at the plate later, and Trevor was once again the goat.

Fast forward to his first appearance this year:

No one had forgotten what happened at the end of last season—that Hoffman blew save opportunities in two of the Padres’ last three games when success in either would have nailed down a playoff berth.

And that was the point Tuesday night.

Do you think this refers to the boos and jeers he received? No. Fans in pretty much any other market would have been livid after such an affair, but not here in San Diego. Fans took an “it’s okay” approach to these games.

Apparently it was okay that we lost, at least we were in the running to make the playoffs. Me? I went on a tirade, telling anyone who would listen that it was time for Trevor to go.

The problem, of course, is that Trevor has no desire to leave the game and no desire to leave the Padres. The Padres are not going to let him go when his contract expires nor will they trade him. Either of those decisions would create an uprising in the stands and probably in the clubhouse.

But let’s look at this realistically. Hoffman turns 41 this year, his fastball is not really fast anymore, and his changeup (which is still a great pitch) was most effective when he had a good fastball. Unfortunately, with the loss of speed on his fastball, batters are sitting on his changeup.

Not only that, but Hoffman has become so reliant on his out pitch that he’s in essence almost become a “one pitch” pitcher. Don’t believe me? In that matchup against the Brewers he threw eight consecutive change ups, including the one he threw to Gwynn Jr. that scored the trying to run.

With that in mind, Padres fans need to get used to not seeing the shutdown reliever of years past, but rather a veteran pitcher getting by on smarts and determination. They also need to get used to seeing blown saves, a lot of two-out jams and fewer strikeouts.

This would be a huge issue if there was no one in place to take his spot, but that is not the case. Heath Bell is a promising candidate for the position, 30 years old, a big guy, a hard throwing strikeout pitcher. Sounds like an ideal candidate to me. What could be a better situation for him than learning the role from (arguably) the best reliever in baseball history?

My hope as a Padres fan is that Hoffman realizes he is at the end of his career and focuses on helping Bell develop into a top closer. Maybe at the end of the year he will gracefully step down to a lesser role or maybe even retire.

Padre fans need to realize that this is an ideal situation, unless they enjoyed watching him blow yet another save last Wednesday, in what has become typical fashion.

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