March 4, 2003

That shoe fits pretty well on the other foot (Hells Bells Part 2)

As you know, one of my favorite things to do on this blog is to take an article written by someone else and dissect it, adding my own comments along the way.

Well, now that I have a somewhat sizable audience and an archive with months and months worth of columns, it was bound to happen sooner or later: Someone has dissected one of my columns and added their own comments!

Don't worry, it isn't a Phil Rogers-style bashing or anything like that. In fact, the person that did it is Vinay Kumar, who is a good friend of mine and an owner in both of my Diamond-Mind leagues.

Nevertheless, I wrote an entry about Trevor Hoffman last week and Vinay, who is a San Diego resident and Padres fan, had some interesting things to add to what I said about Hoffman.

If you haven't read my entry about Hoffman or if you want to re-read it, click on the link below:

February 26, 2003: "Hells Bells"

It is a little tricky quoting someone that is actually quoting me, so what I will do in this instance is make Vinay's words italicized and make my words from the original entry italicized, indented AND in a different font (Courier).

For example:

Hello, my name is Vinay.

Hello, my name is Aaron.

See how that works? The stuff he said in his email is in italics and the stuff I originally said in my entry is indented and looks like it was printed with a typewriter.

Here we go...

Hey Aaron-

I just read your blog entry on Trevor Hoffman, and had some thoughts:

"By the way, if you've never seen/heard Hoffman make his entrance in San Diego, you're missing out."

Oh, yeah. It's awesome. As much as I love baseball, I'd always said the atmosphere at a baseball game couldn't match college football. Until '98. The crowd at Padre games that October was amazing, and it was louder and just as raucous (without getting as dirty) as the crowds at Cal-Stanfurd football games (which makes sense -- there were ~65K of us piled into the Q, and we were all rooting for the same team). And it was never louder than when Trevor Hoffman entered the games. I don't know if I'll ever be a part of something like that in sports again.

In 1999, the Padres ran a commercial for tickets. It just played Trevor Hoffman's entrance into game 3 of the '98 WS (never mind that he blew that save). The crowd was going wild, everybody was shaking their pennants in unison (like the Homer Hankies that you probably remember so fondly), the scoreboard showed its signature "IT'S TREVOR TIME!" sign. They had to dub Hells Bells into the commercial, because the crowd noise drowned out the song live. No speaking, no montage of highlights, not even any game action. Just Trevor jogging in, the crowd going wild, Trevor throwing warmup pitches, the crowd going wilder, and then a phone number at the end. I wish I taped that commercial, I got chills every time I saw it.

I was thinking this weekend about what it'll be like at Trevor's first save appearance this season, and I got chills.

Anyway, back to more important topics:

"When you take into account the fact that 1994 and 1995 were strike-shortened seasons, you can see a definite pattern with Hoffman's workload. As with many modern closers, the more success Hoffman has had, the fewer innings he has pitched."

In fact, it seems that Trevor needs a steady workload. He tends to get rusty and lose a little command of his changeup when he's not pitching as much. It's probably not fair of me to compare the 33-year-old Hoffman to himself at 27, but he used to be a versatile closer. I remember him coming into a tie game against Houston in the ninth in '96; he was dominant, but the Padres couldn't score. It took him 3 innings and 7 Ks to get the W. But since '96, Bochy has slowly cut down his workload.

"It is really his home run rate that determines the overall quality of his season. When he keeps the ball in the ballpark he is great, when he doesn't he is simply good."

I think that may be too strong a statement. Well, not really, but I think people may read too much into it. Here's what I mean:

Trevor's a dominant pitcher, with a great K rate and control. He gives up the gopher ball now and then. And with the way small numbers work, the difference between an average season (like '97 or '00, where he gives up 6-7 HR) and a great season (like '98, here he gave 2 HR) or a "bad" season (like '95 or '01, where he gave up 10 HR) is just a few pitches.

Even if his performance level did not change at all, we would expect to see his HR rate bounce around like it has. And his ERA with it. I'm not saying that it's just random fluctuation, because he does tend to give up his HR in bunches, and I can visually see when his changeup is not at 100%. Basically, I'm saying that the final quality of his season, as judged by ERA or save percentage, is entirely dependent on whether he has a bad stretch during the season; usually he has a bad week or two. In '98, he was "on" the entire season (save for one bad pitch to Alou in July and one to Brosius in October). In 2001, he actually hit a couple ruts. That's the entire difference.

"I think that the reason why he occasionally has struggles giving up too many homers is that he relies on fooling batters and not simply overpowering them. So, occasionally, when a batter isn't completely fooled - which is very rare - or Hoffman isn't quite perfect with his change, the ball gets hit very hard and travels a long way."

Bingo. Sometimes he leaves the change up in the zone, and if there's a good hitter up, Padre fans know when the pitch is halfway to the plate that it's going to leave the park. This is entirely anecdotal, but it seems that truly good hitters hit those homers (Piazza owns him); it's rarely a scrub (even Brosius was pretty good in '98).

I also want to add that there's a long-standing theory in San Diego that Trevor is markedly worse in non-save situations (either in blowouts, when he's in just to get some work, or in tie games). For years, I didn't give any credence to that theory. Part of it is perception: giving up 1 run is no big deal with a 2- or 3-run lead, but it's costly in a tie game. And I never want to rule out random fluctuation. But the numbers over the last five years are really starting to add up, and he has been a lot worse in non-save situations. I don't know if there's anything to it, but I'm finally starting to think there may be something there.

"My intitial thought would be that, even if he has some loss in velocity, it won't affect him as much as other pitchers because he isn't blowing people away anyway. That said, perhaps a loss of a 1 or 2 MPH off his fastball would make his awesome changeup a little less awesome, which would obviously have a huge affect on his overall ability to get outs."

Trevor doesn't throw his fastball as hard as he can. He uses a calmer throwing motion, so that he can use the same arm motion and speed on the changeup. For this reason, most people aren't too worried to see him top out around 90 when he used to consistently hit 93-94mph around 1995 or so. Supposedly, he can still crank back and get there when he needs to (and to be honest, he doesn't seem to pitch any better on those days when the fastball is hitting 90-92 rather than his usual 87-90).

So my first reaction was that losing a couple mph isn't a big deal, since he's not using everything he's got anyway. But after thinking about it more, I'm a little bit worried; it seems he'll still have to hold back from using his best heater for the same reason (to disguise the changeup), and so if his "game fastball" drops down to 86-87, that's kinda scary. Like you said, who knows?

I compiled a list of all the active players who have homered off Hoffman, to see if I was right that very good hitters fare better against him. This is certainly an impressive list of players with very few scrubs, but then again, any list like this will be pretty good (especially for a closer). So this isn't necessarily support for my guess (though it seems my memory was right about Piazza), but it's an interesting list, which you can print if you want:

4 HRs - Mike Piazza

3 HRs - Sammy Sosa

2 HRs - Barry Bonds, Scott Rolen, Moises Alou, Todd Hundley

1 HR - Steve Finley, Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, Todd Walker, Barry Larkin, Ellis Burks, Todd Helton, Larry Walker, Jeff Bagwell, Fred McGriff, Paul Lo Duca, Wil Cordero, Jose Macias, Mo Vaughn, Raul Mondesi, Erubiel Durazo, Mike Lieberthal, Pat Burrell, Jason Kendall, Pedro Feliz, Bret Boone, Edgar Martinez, Joe Girardi, Rafael Palmeiro, Matt Williams

***This is Aaron again***

While we are on the subject of San Diego closers...

I read an article the other day that said the Padres were considering using Jaret Wright as their closer in place of the injured Hoffman.

In case you're wondering, here are Jaret Wright's career stats:

Year      IP      ERA     SO9     BB9

1997 90 4.38 6.3 3.5
1998 193 4.72 6.5 4.1
1999 134 6.06 6.1 5.2
2000 52 4.70 6.3 4.8
2001 29 6.52 5.6 6.8
2002 18 15.71 5.9 9.5

Jaret Wright came up with the Indians in 1997, as a 21 year old. He pitched well in the 2nd half of the year, going 8-3 in 16 starts for a Cleveland club that ended up winning the AL Central division. Wright also went 3-0 for Cleveland in the post-season.

Things looked very bright for him and he got a ton of hype, as most 21 year old pitchers that have success in the post-season tend to get. But it's been all down hill from there.

Wright had a moderately successful first full-season, going 12-10 with a 4.72 ERA. The next year he pitched 134 innings with a 6.06 ERA and he has not pitched more than 52 innings in a season ever since. He has had tons of injury problems over the years and the Indians finally released him after last season. San Diego picked him up and they are now considering him a potential replacement for Hoffman.

From what I've read, Wright is injury-free and throwing well so far in spring training, but I am a little hesitant to think that a guy that has pitched a grand total of 47 innings with an ERA of 10.14 over the past 2 years will have much success as a closer, particularly when he wasn't that great to begin with.

While I had Vinay's attention, I figured I would ask him about the whole Jaret Wright situation, since he's following the Pads a lot closer than I am:

Me: Is Jaret Wright really being seriously considered for the closer job?

Vinay: Yup, there was talk about that even before they signed him. Then with Trevor going back under the knife, and with Wright lighting up the radar gun in Peoria, that talk has increased. Kevin Towers can't go 20 minutes without comparing Wright to Gagne.

I think the combination of the Orosco signing and the Hoffman injury could be huge for Kevin Walker's career. With Orosco in the pen, Walker will not be pigeonholed into the LOOGY role. And with Hoffman out, everybody's roles will be more fluid. I don't think Walker will turn into a stud closer, but I'd much rather he turn into Stanton or Rhodes than Mike Myers. Heck, if the Padres didn't have so many SP candidates, I'd be agitating for him to get a shot at the rotation.

There was an article in the SD Union-Tribune last week discussing Oliver Perez as a potential closer. Bochy said he'd love to have another Perez as a closer. Towers says this Perez is staying in the rotation. I don't think cloning technology is far enough along to have both. I shudder at the thought of wasting Perez's talent in a 70-inning role, but I do wonder if it might help him survive the injury nexus.

I want to thank Vinay Kumar for all the info. I guess now we have a San Diego Padres correspondent here at Aaron's Baseball Blog!

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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