Colorado Rockies RHP Jeff Hoffman hasn’t quite found success just yet. Let’s figure out how what’s wrong and what can be done to fix him.
Colorado Rockies RHP Jeff Hoffman had a rough 2019 season throwing 70 innings with a mile high 6.56 ERA “good” for a -0.4 WAR. He was also a frequent flyer on the Denver to Albuquerque flight as he was optioned and recalled 10 different times.
The Albuquerque Isotopes play in a beautiful ballpark and Green Chili is delicious, but Hoffman presumably wants to pitch in Colorado all year-long. Hoffman has all the tools to be an effective MLB pitcher so let’s dive in and make a plan.
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Before we fix Hoffman, we need to understand what’s wrong. Right off the bat, we can look at Statcast and can see that Hoffman got absolutely shelled by MLB hitters in 2019. His expected batting average, slugging percentage, and weighted on-base average was in the bottom 2% of the league.
Additionally, Hoffman was sixth-worst by walk rate among starters with 70 innings pitched at 10.8%. Another issue is that Hoffman allowed far too many fly balls at 43% compared to a 35% GB rate. If you look at Rockies pitchers over the last 10 years, the ones who have had success had a GB rate of at least 42.5%. So to fix Hoffman we need more ground balls, fewer walks, and better contact management.
Now, there are a number of interesting things that could make Hoffman a breakout 2020 candidate whether it’s with the Colorado Rockies or another team. Hoffman averages 93.7 MPH on his fastball and as seen below can reach back for 100.
Both his fastball and curveball have a spin rate well above league average. His fastball, in particular, was in the 89th percentile in terms of spin. Hoffman’s fastball also has a ton of horizontal movement. There’s plenty of quality traits in Hoffman’s profile we just need to figure out how to utilize it better.
Looking at Hoffman’s fastball and curveball heat map, he throws a majority of pitches in the middle of the zone and will throw his curveball out of the zone. With Hoffman’s elite spin rate, he should use that fastball in the middle and upper third of the zone.
Hoffman should consider using his breaking ball more given that was his best pitch. Hoffman used his breaking ball 29% of the time compared to 59% on his fastball. Batters had an xwOBA of .465 on Hoffman’s fastball compared to a .218 on his curveball. For comparison, Mike Trout had a .455 xwOBA and Scooter Gennett had a .222 xwOBA.
It’s also worth mentioning that Hoffman threw his change-up 11% of the time. His changeup has the potential to generate ground balls and cause batters to swing through it but his usage of the pitch is questionable. Despite having above-average vertical drop, Hoffman throws the pitch up and in to a righty and doesn’t pair the pitch with his fastball or curveball.
Digging further into the Rockies’ rotation, Hoffman may represent a bit of a blind spot for the Rockies as a pitcher with high spin traits. Righties Jon Gray, German Marquez, and Anthony Senzatella have below-average spin rates which are more likely to produce ground balls.
In fact, if you compare the spray charts for Gray, Marquez, and Senzatella to Hoffman, they look incredibly similar despite the fact that Hoffman’s stuff is significantly different. Maybe the Rockies’ solution to pitching at altitude is a low spin approach to attack the middle/bottom half of the strike zone to generate as many ground balls as possible. With Hoffman, either the Colorado Rockies either haven’t found a pitching plan that works or they don’t think a high spin pitcher can succeed in Coors Field.
So based on our investigation, Hoffman needs to increase his curveball usage rate, throw his fastballs towards the top of the zone, and get control of his walk rate. He also needs to revamp his change-up by not throwing it up in the zone.
Hoffman needs a different plan for attacking MLB level hitters. Changing the usage of his pitches will increase swings and misses, his groundball rate, put him in more favorable counts, and thus lead to a better set of expected statistics.
The Astros once acquired an under-performing pitcher by the name of Gerrit Cole and turned him into a $324M monster. Hoffman has similar traits that indicate he could be a front line pitcher sooner rather than later. Much like Ryan McMahon, Jeff Hoffman is a Rocky that has been around for a while and is one step from being an elite player.
Whether the Colorado Rockies are the team to develop Hoffman remains to be seen. If the Rockies would spend more of their time signing capable free agents and figuring out their home-grown talent rather than pissing off Nolan Arenado, they just might be on the verge of something special in Colorado. If Hoffman puts it all together, he may well be the new ace of the staff in Colorado.