Jaffe: Examining Trevor Hoffman’s Hall of Fame case

From SABR member Jay Jaffe at Sports Illustrated on December 18, 2017:

Trevor Hoffman was the antithesis of the physically intimidating, smoke-throwing closer. Undersized as a shortstop in high school, he attracted little notice from scouts, and while a growth spurt eventually led to his being drafted, it took a level of desperation for him to try the mound. There he discovered the ability to throw a mid-90s fastball, but by the time he began to carve out his niche in the big leagues, his velocity was on the wane.

That doesn’t sound like a recipe for long-term success, let alone a career that would draw Hall of Fame consideration. But Hoffman’s mastery of the changeup opened new doors—and then slammed them shut on opponents. “It’s like it has a parachute on it,” marveled the Dodgers’ Paul Lo Duca after whiffing on the signature pitch in 2002.

As the closer role evolved into an inning-at-a-time concern, Hoffman rode that changeup far enough to emerge as one of the game’s most proficient and consistent practitioners. Backed by AC/DC’s hard-rocking “Hell’s Bells,” his entry into games became an event unto itself, and he evolved into a franchise icon. In a role with a high turnover rate, Hoffman stuck around long enough to break Lee Smith’s all-time saves record of 478 and become the first pitcher to reach the 500- and 600-save milestones, remaining effective well into his 40s.

The closer’s job has evolved into an ever more specialized one, occupying a smaller footprint of innings, and the debate over what, if anything, constitutes a Hall of Famer among this class has continued to rage. Only five relievers have been voted into Cooperstown, starting with Hoyt Wilhelm in 1985. Wilhelm owned the all-time record for saves from 1964 (five years before the stat became official) until ’80, when Rollie Fingers surpassed him. Fingers—whose résumé was burnished by Cy Young and MVP hardware, not to mention a strong postseason track record—was elected in short order, though the record he held for 12 years was surpassed in 1992, the year of his induction.

Read the full article here: https://www.si.com/mlb/2017/12/18/trevor-hoffman-hall-of-fame-ballot-2018

Originally published: December 18, 2017. Last Updated: December 18, 2017.