In November 2020, the Cincinnati Reds acquired right-handed pitcher Jeff Hoffman, once the centerpiece of a Troy Tulowitzki trade, in exchange for pitcher Robert Stephenson and outfielder Jameson Hannah.
Reds, Rockies trade: Jeff Hoffman and Case Williams for Jameson Hannah and Robert Stephenson
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) November 25, 2020
Getting out of the thin air of Coors Field will likely benefit Hoffman quite a bit, as he had a career 6.40 ERA in 38 starts and 30 relief appearances at the MLB level, which is horrific.
Included in that career ERA is a 9.28 ERA in 21 1/3 innings of relief with the Rockies last season.
However, will the change in venues be enough to warrant a breakout in the 2021 campaign for Hoffman?
Jeff Hoffman Was Very Bad In 2020, But Better Than His Final ERA
First, let’s establish something: Hoffman was very bad in 2020, but not as bad as his 9.28 ERA suggests.
Other run-prevention indicators, such as Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) and expected FIP had him at 4.69 and 5.39, respectively.
Additionally, although his weighted On Base Average (wOBA) of .406 was one of the worst marks in MLB, his .350 expected wOBA, or xwOBA, was a little more decent.
The wOBA judges a pitcher’s performance based on outcomes allowed, such as singles, doubles, triples, home runs, walks, and strikeouts.
The xwOBA takes into account other variables, such as launch angle and average exit velocity.
We have established that he wasn’t 9.00+ ERA bad, but does that mean that he is ready to break out?
Not quite, as his stuff is middling at best, with negative Pitch Value (pVAL) per Fangraphs: his fastball (-4.8) his curveball (-1.8) and his changeup (-1.7) all graded negatively in 2020.
Hoffman’s Stuff And Numbers Aren’t Too Encouraging
He was also battered, leading the league in hard-hit contact allowed with 53.4 of his batted balls allowed reaching at least 95 miles per hour.
Hoffman also ranked in the 1st percentile (meaning that 99% of the league was better than him) in average exit velocity, with 92.3 mph.
Right now, the Reds are holding an open competition for the fifth and last spot of their rotation, and Hoffman is in the running.
According to press reports, Michael Lorenzen is the leading candidate to claim that fifth spot in the Reds’ starting rotation, and he can secure it with a strong spring training.
All of them are, at this point, significantly more talented than Hoffman, but in any case, the former Rockie could make the team as a reliever, which is the role he had last year.
It remains to be seen if getting out of Coors Field and another year as a bullpen piece will help Hoffman thrive, but unless he makes significant changes in his mechanics or pitch mix, he looks unlikely to have a huge impact.
According to @fangraphs, Jeff Hoffman is projected to end 2021 with a 5.00 ERA and 4.60 FIP.
God do I hope the pitching gurus in Cincinnati prove this dead wrong.
— Big Red Machine (@BigRedTweeter) December 17, 2020
One of the stats that help us determine whether a pitcher is ready to break out is his swinging strike rate, which is the percentage of pitches that end up on a whiff.
Hoffman’s 2020 mark was 9.3, only marginally better than the 9.2 he had in 2019.
In the end, it’s hard to envision him being an extremely useful pitcher in 2021.