Yes, Trevor Hoffman will pitch for the Brewers again in 2010 (and maybe in 2011, too!). No, he probably won't be worth quite the $8 million he'll earn. But as Dave Allen points out, Hoffman can still pitch: Hoffman
- His strikeouts numbers are down from his peak but are still above average, and his walk numbers are still very good. But a big reason for Hoffman's success is his control over his balls in play. Hoffman has always had a low BABIP and over the past three years his cumulative BABIP is 0.266, 9th best among relievers over the time period. Part of this is his ability to get infield flies, over the past three calendar years he got them on 15.6% of his balls in play (4th best among relievers). He is also able to limit HRs in spite of his low GB% by limiting HRs to just 5.7% of flyballs over the past three years (5th best). Hoffman is like the poster-boy for anti-DIPS theory.
Hoffman's career batting average on balls in play (BABiP) is .265, which as you know is absurdly low. The average National League BABiP throughout Hoffman's career has been almost exactly .300, and the great majority of starting pitchers will hover around that number over the course of a few seasons. One exception is knuckleball pitchers; Tim Wakefield's career BABiP is just .275, while Tom Candiotti's was .284 and Charlie Hough's was just .254 during his salad days as a starter.
What I've never seen (perhaps because I've not looked hard enough) is a similar look at relief pitchers. Now I know about Hoffman, but what about the other top closers? Here are BABiPs for the rest of the active saves leaders ...
There's a selection bias here, of course; pitchers who give up a high batting average on balls in play, for whatever reason, might be stripped of their ninth-inning role. But most of these guys have pitched a fairly large number of innings, and I don't think it's just luck that's left most of them with BABiPs well under .300 (meanwhile, Brad Lidge continues to shock).
Again, maybe all this work has been done and I've simply missed it. But it seems to me that the BABiP puzzle isn't complete unless this apparent advantage for (at least some) relief pitchers is one of the pieces. In the mean time, let's all enjoy Hoffman, who turns 42 next week, as he reaches 600 saves next spring and just keeps adding to his already stunning record.