Hoffman Nears Record

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Well-Known Member
Dec 17, 2005
San Diego
Insider:Change the Operative Word as Hoffman Nears Record

Sep. 7, 2006
By Scott Miller
CBS SportsLine.com Senior Writer

Trevor Hoffman is six saves from passing Lee Smith and becoming baseball's all-time leader, and the similarities between the two are absolutely striking.
You could time Smith's slow walk in from the bullpen with a sundial. Not that it took the guy forever to get to the mound, but batters had time to step out, return to the clubhouse, brush their teeth, phone their mothers, check with their accountants and still get back in the on-deck circle to time a few of Smith's warmup pitches.
Hoffman? Thankfully, the trip in from the bullpen is much more brisk -- and who could walk slowly, anyway, with the raucous Hells Bells firing up him and everybody else for his save situations in San Diego since 1998? It's his feared changeup that ambles along casually enough to cause hitters to check their watches and ponder upcoming appointments.
Which, by the time Hoffman finishes with them, they usually can make with time to spare.
"You know he's not going to overpower you," Cincinnati's Ken Griffey Jr. says. "He's learned over the years how to pitch. That's more important than overpowering you."
"The thing of it is, his changeup makes his fastball look [FONT=Arial, Helvetica]like it's 92 or 93," Colorado's Todd Helton says. "He's got that good of a changeup."
Well, duh. Not only is the San Diego landmark closing in quickly on Smith's record 478 saves -- Hoffman is at 473 heading into this weekend's series in San Francisco -- perhaps even more impressive is this:
While poised to become the game's all-time saves leader, Hoffman also is the all-time leader in save percentage, ranking first by successfully converting 89.6 percent of his career 528 save opportunities. A tick behind is the Yankees' Mariano Rivera, who has converted 88.2 percent (412 of 467).
"Oh my goodness," Padres manager Bruce Bochy says. "I wouldn't even know where to begin telling you how much easier he's made my job. Myself, the team, the organization ... it's hard to (gauge) how much value he's had for everybody.
"I would hate to think of life the last 12 years without Trevor Hoffman. The sense of calm he brings to the end of games, what he does in the clubhouse, the type of teammate he is, the person he is ... they just don't get any better."
At 38, Hoffman is monstrously successful for the same reason as McDonald's. At 10 p.m. in San Diego, or 4 p.m. in New York, or 3 p.m. in Cincinnati, he is able to duplicate, on demand, a product that is both unique and potent.
The repetition of his changeup -- same arm slot, same motion, same delivery, same way of hiding the ball as it comes out of his hand every time -- makes it one of the game's most prized natural resources.
Hitters, like fast food addicts, know what's coming but usually are powerless to do anything about it.
Take Hoffman's 472nd save, earned Sunday, special for the way it ended: a classic matchup of two men almost certainly headed for Cooperstown.
Two out in the ninth, San Diego leading 2-1, a runner on first and Griffey at the plate.
Junior took two 88 mph fastballs for balls, then looked at another for strike one. The fourth pitch was another fastball, this one 89, for ball three. The fifth, another 89 mph fastball for a called strike.
Full count, five consecutive fastballs, the windup, the delivery ... and then, as if pulling back the string on a yo-yo, Hoffman choked off the next pitch, a 71 mph changeup.
Bouncer to first, ballgame.
"I knew it was coming," a glum Griffey said afterward. "I think he knew I knew it was coming. But that's just the way it goes."
Griffey also offered one other revealing nugget: No, those weren't five consecutive fastballs before the grounder to first. One of those pitches was a changeup.
"Really? He said that?" Hoffman said a couple of days later, confirming that, in fact, the first five pitches really were all fastballs. "That's good if he wasn't sure. I don't want to be so predictable."
Said Bochy: "That's what people don't realize about Trevor. He pitches with his fastball, along with his changeup and slider. He has such great command of both his fastball and changeup."
In a high-octane role normally marked by velocity and power -- Rivera's mid-90s cutter, the Angels' Francisco Rodriguez hitting 99 on the radar gun -- Hoffman is an anomaly. There is no sizzling heater, no hard slider and no scary, Mad Hungarian-style stomping.
Once there was -- a vaporizing fastball, at least -- which makes Hoffman's story all the more intriguing. When the Padres acquired him from Florida during their fire-sale trades in 1993, they zeroed in on him for one reason.
"Arm strength," said Randy Smith, then the general manager who acquired Hoffman in a five-player deal that sent Gary Sheffield to the Marlins. "At that point, you thought he would be a late-inning pitcher, a future closer."
"That's what's so special about him, the way he's changed. When we faced him when he was with the Marlins, he dominated us," said Bochy, who was a third-base coach on manager Jim Riggleman's San Diego staff back then. "I remember him going through Sheffield and (Fred) McGriff with fastballs."
But shortly into his career as a closer, Hoffman hurt his shoulder while playing football and volleyball at the beach during the 1994 players strike, and that robbed him of a fastball that, at the time, reached into the mid-90s.
At that point, he began earnestly refining the changeup, a pitch that had intrigued him ever since he studied John Tudor as a kid. One-time teammate Donnie Elliott had showed him a special grip in the mid-1990s, and as injuries and age have conspired to deaden his fastball, Hoffman has become utterly unique among closers by perfecting a personalized version of the changeup.
In the old days, he threw a circle change, kind of a standard-issue pitch. Once his fastball started losing steam and the urgency to really pitch -- rather than simply rear back and fire -- increased, he played around with the grip of the changeup until he was comfortable with its potency.
Essentially, what he throws now is not dissimilar to a palm ball. He shoves the baseball back into the palm of his hand, further back than a conventional changeup, and then pinches the seams with his thumb and index finger as he's throwing it.
"Kind of like a trick pitch," Hoffman said.
The only other pitcher Hoffman has noticed with a similar changeup is Boston's Keith Foulke.
"It looks like it's similarly sucked back in the palm of his hand," Hoffman said.
Through repetition, study, deception and genetics, Hoffman has been able to refine his changeup with assembly-line precision, which is what makes it so lethal. It is why hitters can know what's coming and still be unable to do anything with it.
"That's kind of the trump card in the whole thing," Hoffman said. "Nobody is going to have exactly the same arm slot."
Hoffman does, time after time, which is why hitters even as savvy as Griffey are often fooled by the change, and why Helton thinks he is seeing a 92 mph fastball when it's really traveling no faster than 88.
"I try to aim to hit one in the dugout -- our (third-base) dugout," said the left-handed Griffey, explaining how conscious he is of staying back with his bat when facing Hoffman so he doesn't find himself hopelessly out in front of a changeup. "If he throws a fastball, I'll hit it down the line. You don't try to pull the ball against him.
"But it's tough, because his changeup is that good, and when he throws a fastball, even though it's coming in at 85, it looks like it's 95."
"I feel good about the pitch more often than not," Hoffman said when asked how many nights he has his "A" changeup and how many nights he doesn't and he's just scuffling to get by. "It still gets hit. It's not like I can throw a pitch to certain spots.
"I'm gripping it and throwing it, and sometimes it goes in a different direction. It's the deception of me not throwing hard anymore. It's good if they're not real sure of what they're seeing." (cont)
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Well-Known Member
Dec 17, 2005
San Diego
Like Griffey on Sunday.
"Even if he did (know a changeup was coming), in my eyes, he hadn't seen it yet in that at-bat," Hoffman said. "Even with the runner going ... it makes it difficult for him to square the ball up. Even though he thinks it's coming, maybe he'll foul it off, or hopefully I'll keep him out of the gaps where he could drive it and score a run."
He has been thinking like this, and playing the percentages, since Cincinnati made him its 11th-round pick in the 1989 draft.
Hoffman started his career as a light-hitting shortstop but was converted to the mound when he was in the Cincinnati organization in the early 1990s. Being that he was hitting in the low .200s and that a fellow named Barry Larkin was still going strong at the major league level, Hoffman was open to the idea.
"I understood that if I had a great night at the plate, I was still on the failing end most of the time," Hoffman said. "Hitters who fail seven out of 10 times can still go to the Hall of Fame.
"I like to be a part of something where you're successful if you do something eight out of 10 times."
Spoken like a true visionary, of course. But nobody could have predicted this.
"It would be great to sit here and say we knew he was a special guy at that point," Smith said of those early '90s days.
But until the Padres actually landed him and began working with him, few really knew, as Smith said, "this was a guy with Hall of Fame makeup as well as a Hall of Fame personality."
"He was the face of the fire sale," Smith continued. "It was difficult for him. In '93, he took the bullets from the players side along with me from the management side."
He has had to take darn few since. The best part of him having a chance to pass Smith this month, Hoffman says, is that the Padres have a chance to overtake the Los Angeles Dodgers for the NL West title, and if not that, they're leading the wild-card race. The opportunities are coming rapidly, and they're coming in meaningful games.
What, exactly, will it mean when he hits No. 1 with a bullet?
"I've asked myself that, too," Hoffman said. "I've tried to come up with some thoughts to quantify it, what it means to get there.
"It's hard to put into words 14 years of work. If your goal was to one day be at the top of the list, then you're in this for the wrong reasons. The result is just a byproduct of all of the work you put in."


Well-Known Member
Nov 16, 2005
Great post Darlin, but...:icon_eek: :icon_mrgreen: :lol:


Well-Known Member
Dec 17, 2005
San Diego
heeeeeeeeeelpppppppppppp meeeeeeeeeeeee

how do i delete this outta the chargers forum?????/

i feel so ridicyulous. wheres a mod when you need one???