What To Do With Trevor Hoffman

Tim YoungCorrespondent IMay 4, 2010

Why am I even writing an article here?  Let’s be honest with ourselves.  That picture of Trevor Hoffman is more entertaining than any words I could put on paper.  I could write anything here, and nobody would even notice.  But, like a Playboy magazine, we have to at least pretend to give you some content, right? 

So what should you do with Trevor Hoffman if he’s on your fantasy team?  He’s already blown 4 saves, and his ERA is extremely high.  Should he still be a closer?  Should you drop him and pick up his replacement?  Does he have any trade value?  Is he done?

To answer those questions, we have to dig deeper and try to figure out what is actually wrong with him, if anything.  Using TexasLeaguers.com’s pitch f/x data, along with some of fangraphs’ more advanced metrics, I was able to do some comparisons between this year and 2009.

Let’s start with the obvious.  His fastball is nearly a junk pitch.  It clocks in the mid 80s, and any major league hitter can hit an 85 mph fastball over the fence.  But this is nothing new.  Last season, Hoffman played great for the Brewers with the same fastball.  He can get away with the fastball because his changeup is 15mph slower than the fastball.

It is, however, alarming how much he’s throwing the fastball.  In 2009, he threw it 47% of the time, while throwing his changeup 34% of the time.  This year, he’s throwing his fastball nearly 65% of the time, while only 24% of his pitches have been changeups.  This is a problem.

When asked why he’s not using the pitch as much, Trevor told reporters, “Today, it was pretty much a tied ball game after two pitches. I felt like in that situation, getting ahead 0-1 and continuing to expand with the fastball (was the right approach), and the ball was not down and away.

“I'm pigeon-holing myself into situations where the hitter can be a little more patient. He doesn't have to offer at (the changeup). I'm pitching behind in the count. You do that in the big leagues, the numbers will indicate that. It's more of an 'out' pitch than a 'getting back in the count' pitch. That's the dynamic of that pitch.”

He goes on to discuss whether he should be throwing the changeup, even if he is behind in counts, "I think a well-located fastball is a lot better pitch than ones out over the plate. Obviously, I'm missing there and they're hitting them pretty hard. It's a function of not throwing quality strikes.”

Trevor, as he should, seems to be hitting the nail on the head here.  Throughout his career, he’s thrown the fastball to get ahead in the count, and then he uses the change to finish a batter off.  When he gets behind in counts, he uses the fastball to try to recover.  Hoffman has 594 reasons to think that this strategy works.

By the way, Hoffman just stopped by to say, “Heloooooo, ladies.”

So since the problem doesn’t seem to be solely pitch selection, it’s safe to say that he’s having control issues.  He’s been throwing the fastball right over the plate, and hitters have been unloading on it.  And if he’s not delivering a meatball, he’s missing the plate altogether, and getting behind in counts, forcing him to use the fastball even more.

So, if he can regain the control of his fastball, he should be fixed, right?  Not necessarily.

There appear to be issues with his changeup as well.  It seems to be tailing a bit wildly.  Take a look at the movement of his pitches, specifically the changups in purple, for a similar time period in 2009. 

2009 Link

Now compare that to this season.

2010 Link

In 2009, the movement on his changeup plotted in a very nice cluster.  This year, however, there are a lot more outliers.  So, not only is he having trouble locating his fastball, but he’s having trouble locating his changeup.  You know, when he actually has a chance to throw it.

Hoffman is a pitcher who has made his career on consistency.  Not just with his control, but with his delivery.  If his fastball looks identical to a hitter as his changeup, he’s going to generate some pretty ugly swings.  He hasn’t been able to do that yet this year, but is it time to give up on him?

If he is on your fantasy team, you should definitely put him on your bench.  But I would wait a couple weeks before actually dropping him.  You’re not going to find a very viable closer on waivers, and there’s still a good chance that Hoffman will turn things around.  See, Hoffman asked the Brewers to let him do his own thing in Spring Training, and didn’t appear in a spring game until a few weeks into March. 

There’s a very good chance that he’s still working out the offseason kinks.  His pitches have looked better over the last few outings, and he’s been able to get ahead in counts more often.  Saturday night, he pitched a 1-2-3, 11-pitch inning against the Padres to pick up the Save.  Although he only threw 3 changeups, the ones he threw were absolutely nasty.  It looks like he’s improving, so keep an eye on him.

If he completes his next save opportunity, insert him back into your lineup.  If he blows it, then you can start to think about dropping him.  But it’s not time to freak out, just yet.