Yesterday it was Chris Stratton. Today’s edition of failed starter turned reliever who the Yankees should trade for is Jeff Hoffman. The Rockies have tried Hoffman in the rotation in each of the last four seasons, but things just haven’t worked out. It’s not easy pitching at Coors Field, you know. Colorado’s trying Hoffman in the bullpen this year.
There could be a couple of impetuses to a trade with the Rockies right now. For one, Colorado’s 12-6 and in first place of the NL West. Subtracting from the Major League roster might not make sense. Two, the Yankees have made the Rockies look pretty bad in recent years. The Rockies were fleeced in the Mike Tauchman trade and DJ LeMahieu has excelled in pinstripes. Now, that didn’t stop them from making a minor trade last summer (Joe Harvey for minor leaguer Alfredo Garcia).
Background & Performance
Hoffman’s professional career began with the Blue Jays. Toronto drafted him with the ninth overall selection in the 2014 draft out of East Carolina University. The Jays didn’t hold onto him for long, though: the team dealt Hoffman to the Rockies the next summer as part of the Troy Tulowitzki deal.
Hoffman was a consensus top-100 prospect from 2015 through 2017, though he first debuted in the majors in mid-2016. He’s prety much been up-and-down from Triple-A ever since, and hasn’t been able to put things together. In 209 1/3 innings, Hoffman has a 6.11 ERA, 5.67 FIP, 18.7 percent strikeout rate, and 10.4 percent walk rate. He’s also allowed 43 (!!!) home runs. Almost all of that (191 innings) have come as a starter. All of his minor league options were exhausted in that time.
That brings us to 2020. Colorado has stuck him in relief to start the year, basically Hoffman’s last resort before getting DFA’d. So far, so good. He’s yet to allow a run in 6 1/3 innings spread across three appearances while also surrendering just three baserunners. I’m not going to jump to conclusions based on three relief outings because the results are completely meaningless. What I will do is say that Hoffman appears to have a bit of promise in relief if you look deeper.
Intriguing Underlying Metrics
Before I nerd out like I did with Stratton yesterday, I want to go to the video first in order to get a sense of Hoffman’s three pitch mix.
Hoffman averaged 95 MPH on his four-seamer that he’s thrown just under 54 percent of the time this year. It’s topped out at 96.6 on the gun. Here’s a good one:
He also throws a curveball, which historically has been his go to secondary offering. This year, he’s thrown it 19.7 percent of the time.
That’s pretty. But the pitch I really want to focus on today is his changeup, which I think has a ton of potential for him. This year, for the first time in his career, it’s eclipsed his curveball usage. He’s tried to pull the string 26.3 percent of offerings.
I just love the one that sent Kole Calhoun’s bat flying.
With the videos out of the way, let’s dig into the details. Both his fastball and curveball spin at above average rates, albeit nothing dramatic. It’s his changeup, however, that stands out in terms of it’s extremely low spin rate (which is fine for a changeup, generally).
At 1,296 RPM, Hoffman’s changeup has the 13th-lowest spin in the league this season. For reference, changeup wizard Tommy Kahnle sat just above 1,400 RPM this year. For Hoffman, this is a big drop in spin from last season on the pitch (1,425 RPM a year ago). It’s an even more significant drop from 2018 and prior, when it was north of 2,100 RPM. That’s a huge difference!
Perhaps it has something to do with tweaked mechanics. As a result, Hoffman is getting five inches of vertical movement above average on the pitch. In spite of the significant changes to the pitch, his changeup velocity is mostly unchanged (around 85 MPH).
Further, it appears that his changeup has potential to pair with his heater really well. There’s almost no difference between his fastball (in red below) and changeup (green) in terms of horizontal movement, meaning both pitches drop on the same plane.
It also really helps that the pair of pitches’ release points are nearly identical.
So, the fastball and change come out of the same chute, drop on the same vertical plane, but one comes in 10 miles per hour slower and falls another 17 inches. Have fun with that!
I’d argue that Hoffman should go the way of Kahnle and essentially rely on fastballs and changeups and see what happens. Not that he can’t throw his yakker either — it’s not bad in its own regard — but it seems to me that his fastball/change combo could be lethal.
Now, there is reason to be hesitant of course. Hoffman has been pretty dang bad at the Major League level for quite a while, save for this year’s incredibly small sample size. It’s not like his minor league numbers speak volumes, either. On top of that, his control is suspect. He’s got a career walk rate north of 10 percent, comfortably worse than league average. You can tell he doesn’t really know where the ball is going from his pitch charts this year, too:
This is a big reason why Hoffman didn’t cut it as a starter. It might work as a reliever, however. He can get away with mistakes given the quality of his stuff, particularly if he leans on his changeup more often (at least in my mind).
I mentioned this before, but Hoffman dealt with shoulder inflammation back in 2018. That’s not the first of his arm troubles, either. In college, Hoffman tore his UCL during his junior season and had Tommy John surgery. He’s been OK since the shoulder scare a couple years ago, but it certainly remains in the back of everyone’s mind.
Hoffman had a bit over one year of service time and makes near the league minimum. That puts him under team control for five seasons (including this year). However, Hoffman has no more minor league options remaining so he has to stick on the big league roster or otherwise be put through waivers.
What would a trade look like?
Again, this is tricky because the Rockies are in contention and may be realizing that Hoffman could be a good bullpen arm. But uh, the Rockies are weird and have a propensity for head scratching moves. There’s also the chance that Colorado falls apart as we get closer to the deadline, of course. In any case, I compiled a few comparable trades that have happened this year:
|Pitcher||Service Time||Options Remaining||In exchange for…|
|Austin Pruitt||1.125||0||Prospects RHP Peyton Battenfield and OF Cal Stevenson|
|Austin Brice||2.101||0||Prospect 2B Angeudis Santos|
I tried to boil things down to pitchers with one year (or more) of service time and zero options. Obviously, not everyone on the list above is out of options. However, I think the Austin Pruitt trade could be a good comp to what it’d take for Hoffman. Like Hoffman, Pruitt has no options remaining and five years of control left. The Rays acquired two low level prospects from the Astros in return for Pruitt.
Peyton Battenfield was the Astros’ 9th rounder in 2019 and Cal Stevenson was the Blue Jays’ 10th round choice a year before. Both are 23 and at different tranches of A-ball. Neither appear to be significant prospects, though they aren’t non-prospects either.
For the Yankees, that might be 23 year-old OF Brandon Lockridge, the org’s fifth rounder in 2018 who has topped out in Charleston. Maybe the arm in the deal could be LHP Alfredo Garia, who the Yankees actually acquired from Colorado for Joe Harvey last summer. Garcia is rule 5 eligible this winter and doesn’t seem like a guy the Yankees will protect anyway. My trade proposal sucks though, as you know.
Now, a more fun trade might be sending power-hitting 1B Chris Gittens to the Rockies. Daniel Murphy is currently Colorado’s first baseman and won’t be there for long, whereas Gittens has been rule 5 eligible since last year and probably needs a chance elsewhere. He was the Eastern League MVP in 2019 and would probably bash 40 homers in Colorado, albeit with a ton of strikeouts. That’s a win-win for both the Yankees and Rockies, no?