Trevor Hoffman and the Hall of Fame

Now that Hell’s Bells will no longer be played in the Majors, let’s have a look at Trevor Hoffman’s chances for the Hall of Fame.  The flame-throwing closer currently resides as the all-time saves leader in the game’s history–the only man to reach 600.  Trevor made seven All-Star appearances over the course of his career and was an uncommon finisher in that he actually possessed accuracy.  His career 1.058 WHIP is outstanding as Hoffman fanned over a batter per inning and had a strikeout-to-walk ratio close to 4-to-1.  He posted nine 40+ saves seasons for the Padres, had three Top Five finishes in Cy Young Award voting and is one of the few pitchers in baseball history to work in over 1,000 games.

Hoffman has an impressive resume, but its a worksheet that has limited mileage.  He helped redefine the closer into a one-inning gunslinger post.  Many old relief pitchers turn their noses up to the one-inning wonders that come into a game during the final frame with a clean slate.  Before Hoffman shaped the role, guys like Gossage, Smith and Quisenberry came into the game before the ninth, usually with men on base, and worked multiple innings when asked to get the starter out of a jam.  The two-inning closer is a thing of a bygone era which has enabled guys like Hoffman and his high punchout peers to record those lofty strikeout totals.  They rear back and fire it with all they’ve got because three batters is all they’re paid to face.

But baseball has gone through many positional redefintions over its long life and players shouldn’t be viewed as second-rate because of the shift in managerial style.  When elite pitchers of the early 1900s like Noodles Hahn, Smoky Joe Wood and Orvie Overall blew out their arms thanks to excessive use, teams began to treat their pitchers more conservatively.  That’s why we have the closer, the setupman, the left-handed specialist and the mop-up pitchers–to save arms.  Hoffman’s Hall of Fame chances should not be taken negatively because his job is relatively new.  On the contrary, he should be viewed as a trend-setter because he will be knocked off the top of the hill, perhaps next year, since Mariano Rivera is just 44 saves behind him. 

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