Hoffman's time in Milwaukee might not be pretty

January, 8, 2009
I guess the Milwaukee Brewers felt they needed to do more to help their bullpen than their recent signing of relief pitcher Jorge Julio. Who could argue with that line of thinking? But I'd thought the Brewers would add someone a bit younger instead of taking a chance on Trevor Hoffman, as ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney is reporting. Even though Hoffman is 41 years old and has scary peripheral numbers that might portend doom, he instantly becomes the Brewers' top relief pitcher. The problem is, that's not saying a whole lot.

Trevor HoffmanJody Gomez/US PresswireTrevor Hoffman's 3.77 ERA in 2008 was his highest since 1995.
The optimist will point to how Hoffman accrued 30 saves in 2008. He'll say the all-time leader in the category is doing just fine and add that the San Diego Padres made a huge mistake in letting their recent face of the franchise walk away in a public relations nightmare. (For me, though, the face of the franchise always will be Tony Gwynn, who just edges out Bip Roberts.) Hoffman compiled a decent '08 season with a 3.77 ERA and 1.04 WHIP (thanks to only nine walks), and he destroyed right-handed hitting to the tune of a .466 OPS. That's not a bad season, and on the surface it looks better than what Milwaukee's incumbent/retiring closer Salomon Torres accomplished.

Torres walked away from baseball after the season, leaving a huge void in the Milwaukee bullpen. He was just a stopgap in the first place, so that says something about the state of Brewers' relief corps. In retrospect, it's amazing the Brewers made the playoffs at all. Oh, wait, CC Sabathia pitched in relief every third day, right? And the Mets' bullpen was truly worse. So Torres did a decent job -- there's that word again, decent -- when closing, but his WHIP was high and he didn't miss a whole lot of bats. The mess behind him was worse, including Eric Gagne, Guillermo Mota and David Riske. The Brewers had Carlos Villanueva, more of a long man/spot-starter type who could be a possible endgame guy in 2009 fantasy drafts, but if they would want to win more close games, they would need a closer. Now they have Hoffman, who will seek to add to the all-time saves mark. I have to make the case that the Brewers needed him, but I can't make it seem as if this addition solves everything, either.

My concern as a fantasy owner, and I suppose if I were a Brewers fan, would be how Hoffman's stuff, which has been in steady decline for a few seasons, will fare in a home ballpark a lot smaller than Yellowstone, um, I mean Petco. You're probably expecting some ugly recent road numbers from Hoffman, right? Well, in 2008, Hoffman actually performed better on the road, quite a bit better. You might think that pokes holes in my statement, but it doesn't. The fact that Hoffman gave up seven home runs in fewer than 30 innings at Petco Park makes it even worse! He pitched only 15 2/3 innings on the road, which made his season look better than it was. Hoffman also got skewered by left-handed hitters, who hit for a .291 batting average and .869 OPS against him, and his ERA with zero or one day's rest was 5.62.

I don't really oppose this signing by the Brewers. Hoffman is a stopgap measure for a bullpen that is loaded with them, and maybe he'll bridge the gap to the next guy in a year or so. He won't be as bad as Gagne, I believe. He'll earn his 30 saves without too much trouble, with an ERA firmly in the 4s, but he also will have some tough outings and bad stretches when hitters tee off on him. It's kind of inevitable.

There was talk that the Los Angeles Dodgers were about to sign Hoffman, which probably didn't make a ton of sense because Jonathan Broxton is just fine as their closer. Such a move would have made me like Hoffman's statistics a bit more. There's not a ton of offense in the NL West, the L.A. ballpark is slanted toward pitching … you get the idea. Plus, Hoffman is from Southern California. Can you see him pitching in Milwaukee? It's like when Joe Namath finished up with the Rams, Joe Montana with Kansas City, Tom Seaver in Boston and Steve Carlton on a bunch of teams post-Philadelphia. I'm not saying Hoffman should retire, just that he will look strange in this uniform.

What won't look strange to the fantasy owner will be Hoffman's 30-plus saves yet again. He should reach that mark, and you'll get what you need. He probably won't take the smoothest ride, which might remind some of how Todd Jones finished up his career, but saves are saves. Hoffman isn't ranked in my top 10 list of closers in the offseason Relief Efforts, but he fits into the 15 to 18 range because it's pretty clear that he will accrue saves. He ranks roughly where he did last season, as a No. 2 closer in fantasy. That's good for the Brewers, but don't expect an ERA from Hoffman on the good side of 3.

Eric Karabell is a senior writer for ESPN.com who covers fantasy baseball, football and basketball. He has twice been honored as fantasy sports writer of the year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. His new book, "The Best Philadelphia Sports Arguments," was published by Source Books and is available in bookstores. Contact Eric by e-mailing him here.

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ESPN Senior Writer


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