Posted by Andy on January 12, 2011
He finishes as the all-time leader in saves and games finished as well as his run as the active leader in appearances as a pitcher.
Few people know that the Padres were actually Hoffman's third team. He was originally drafted by the Reds in 1989 (a few spots behind Kelly Stinnett in the year that Ben McDonald was taken first overall), and was then plucked off the vine by the Marlins in the 1992 expansion draft. In the middle of his first big league season, he was one of the youngsters shipped to the Padres in a trade that sent Gary Sheffield to Florida. Then, 16 years later, he signed with the Brewers as a free agent, spending his final 2 seasons in Milwaukee.
There is no doubt that Hoffman is one of the best closers of all time. The question of his candidacy for the Hall of Fame has, I think, more to do with how closers are valued overall.
Let's take a look at some of the numbers and have a vote.
For Trevor Hoffman in the Hall of Fame
- As already mentioned, he's the all-time leader in saves. Given that pitchers (especially closers) are used different now from how they were in the 1980s and earlier, this is a less-impressive record than some others, but it's still quite impressive.
- Hoffman is one of just 14 players with 1,000 games pitched, coming in at #9 overall. Again, this is somewhat tempered by the fact that he pitched fewer outs per game than most of the rest, but it's not his fault how he was used. (Incidentally, I did the math offline. Among the 14 guys with 1,000 games, Dennis Eckersley of course had the most IP per game at 3.07 since he was a starter for a large portion of his career. The next highest guys are Hoyt Wilhelm, Rich Gossage, and then Jose Mesa at 1.51 IP/game. Hoffman is the 4th lowest at 1.05 IP/game, followed by Jesse Orosco, Dan Plesac, and lastly Mike Stanton at 0.95 IP/game.)
- His Win Probability Added is 19th all-time since 1950 among pitchers, right between Juan Marichal and Sandy Koufax.
Against Trevor Hoffman in the Hall of Fame
- Before he's eligible for the Hall of Fame, there's a very good chance that he'll no longer be the all-time leader in saves, as Mariano Rivera is just 42 shy. Although, with Bill Wagner retiring, nobody else is anywhere close, with no other active pitching having even half of Hoffman's save total. Rivera is also quite likely to take over the lead in games finished.
- Rivera is already way ahead of Hoffman in WPA, ranking 6th all-time at 50.81 (compared to 34.35 for Hoffman.) In the comparison between Hoffman and Rivera, it's clear that Hoffman comes up well short, and I think this will be commonly accepted if Rivera pitches a couple more years and passes Hoffman in all the counting stats. This alone doesn't mean that Hoffman isn't also excellent (the Hall of Fame, after all, has more than one member...)
- Interestingly, Hoffman does fairly poorly in career WAR, coming in at 215th among pitchers, a bit behind Derek Lowe and Carlos Zambrano. Rivera, by comparison, is currently 69th all-time, a little behind Roy Halladay. I assume this is due mainly to the difference in their core numbers--whereas Hoffman has amassed more saves, Rivera's ERA+ is much better (141 for Hoffman vs all-time best 205 for Rivera.)
- Despite leading in saves, Hoffman only led his league in saves in two individual seasons (1998 and 2006). This suggests that perhaps he has the record more on longevity and not because he was usually the best closer in the league. (But to be fair, he had 7 other finishes in the top 3 in saves, and he might have had fewer save opportunities than other guys in many years.)
- Hoffman's post-season record is spotty, including a series-ending loss in the 1996 ALDS and a loss in Game 3 of the 1998 World Series. It's true that he allowed earned runs in only 3 of 12 post-season games, but as is often is the case with closers, when those runs were allowed, they really hurt his team.
So what do you think?