Trevor Hoffman missed being inducted into the Hall of Fame this year by five votes. Five. Freaking. Votes. Despite a dominant career and sparkling numbers, the San Diego Padres closer has failed to reach the hall on his first two ballots. Some question the relative value of closers and use advanced stats to try and knock his case, but here’s the bottom line: Trevor Hoffman is undoubtedly a Hall of Famer and deserves induction.
I get that closers will never earn the respect of starting pitchers or position players, but the game has changed and specialization reigns. Closer is a legitimate position in baseball now and that should change the way Hall of Fame voters approach things. Hoffman was one of the two best to ever inhabit the closer role. If that isn’t worthy of induction I don’t know what is.
Hoffman’s numbers are, quite frankly, ridiculous. He played 18 seasons and in that time threw 1,089.1 innings in 1,035 appearances. He posted a 2.87 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, and struck out 1,133 batters, had a K/9 rate of 9.4, which is a full point higher than Mariano Rivera’s (8.2). In fact, Hoffman’s K/9 rate of 9.4 is the best among relievers with at least 1,000 innings pitched.
Between 1993 and 2010, Rivera and Hoffman were the only two pitchers in baseball who threw 1,000-plus innings and had an ERA under 2.90. Rivera is undoubtedly the best closer of all time, even this San Diego native won’t argue that, but Hoffman is No. 2 and there’s a wide gulf between those guys and the rest of the closer class.
Hoffman was the first pitcher in history to record 500 saves. He was the first to record 600 saves. He finished his career with 601, Rivera later passed him and owns the career mark at 652. Hoffman and Rivera each converted 89 percent of their save opportunities.
The number of saves and save percentage are the only true way to measure the success of a closer. Regardless of what you think of the role, those guys were asked to finish close games. Did they do it? That’s all I care about. Rivera and Hoffman did it better than anyone for nearly two decades. They converted a ridiculous amount of save opportunities and did so at the same percentage.
During 16 years with the San Diego Padres, Hoffman converted 552 saves, before spending two seasons in Milwaukee. He was a seven-time All-Star, posted 30 or more saves 14 times and 40 or more saves nine times, and was a runner up for the National League Cy Young Award twice. In 1998, he turned in one of the best seasons for a closer in Major League history. He saved 53 of 54 chances while posting a 1.48 ERA and a career-best 0.85 WHIP. He did that in the heart of the steroid era, while also becoming the first closer to enter a game to a signature song. While Rivera’s “Enter Sandman” walk-out gets a lot of praise, no one has or will ever top Hoffman’s slow jog to the mound while “Hell’s Bells” played in the background. I’ll be damned if that didn’t give me chills every single time.
Hoffman should have won the Cy Young in 1998. He garnered the most first-place votes, but was left off of several ballots because he was a closer. Tom Glavine won instead.
What sets Hoffman apart from other pitchers of the roided-up, high-velocity era in which he pitched, is the fact that his fastball barely touched 90 mph. A pair of freak injuries took all the juice out of Hoffman’s shoulder before the 1995 season. He couldn’t blow the ball past guys anymore. Rather that overpower hitters, Hoffman had to use smarts, deception and location to get them out. His changeup was every bit as devastating as Rivera’s slider, just ask hitters who had to face both.
We’ve reached a point where steroids cheats are now on Hall of Fame ballots, so I think we also need to give credit to guys who stayed clean. At any point he could have opted for the needle and added five miles per hour to his fastball. Others took that route, but he didn’t. Instead, he decided to be smarter and more accurate. He painted corners, hid his changeup with arm action and mixed his sequences. He’s an example of how a guy can overcome deficiencies without turning to pharmaceuticals.
Yeah, I just gave a guy credit for not cheating, but when you consider the era he played in and who else is not on the Hall of Fame ballot, I think that’s fair.
At the end of it all, Hoffman was also one of the best people in baseball during and after his career. There is not a single person who doesn’t rave about him. He spent two seasons in Milwaukee and to this day, people there talk about him. Go to a game at Miller Park and you’ll see at least a dozen Hoffman jerseys. Tell me he didn’t make an impact on the game and on that town. Hoffman is and was one of the best ambassadors for the game you’ll ever find and, yes, that should matter.
The Hall of Fame is supposed to honor greatness. I don’t care if you don’t like saves or relievers or whatever else your argument against including players who have that role may be. Trevor Hoffman was great at what he was asked to do. In fact, he is one of the all-time greats at it. That is enough to warrant inclusion in the Hall of Fame.
Hoffman got 74 percent of the vote this year (75 is needed for acceptance) and virtually everyone agrees he will be inducted next year. But with another season of people nitpicking and Monday morning quarterbacking his greatness, I’m worried. Hoffman was one of the most dominant pitchers of his era. Had he played in Boston or New York, his inclusion would have happened on the first ballot. The Padres were also yo-yoing between competing and rebuilding during much of his career.
Unfortunately, his unfailing devotion to San Diego has hurt his candidacy because the East Coast never got to witness his repeated, consistent dominance. That’s a terrible reason to keep him from his rightful place in Cooperstown. The Hall of Fame will be made better by Hoffman’s inclusion. There is no doubt he earned it.