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Trevor Hoffman Retires; Let the Hall of Fame Debate Begin

Posted on January 12, 2011 by Dean Hybl

Is all-time save leader Trevor Hoffman worthy of a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame?

The announcement that career saves leader Trevor Hoffman is retiring after 18 major league seasons means that the five year debate about whether he is worthy of induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame is about to begin.

With 601 career saves, some believe that Hoffman is a lock for a plaque in Cooperstown. However, to others, he is an example of the over-inflation of the save as a statistic of relevance and short of Hall of Fame worthiness.

It is difficult to argue that Hoffman is among the best of the one-inning closers. He registered 30 or more saves in 13 straight full seasons (he missed most of the 2003 campaign) and twice led the majors. He finished his career with a 2.87 career ERA and averaged more than a strikeout per inning for his career.

However, over the last decade Hoffman rarely pitched more than one inning in a game. The last time he averaged more than one inning per appearance was in 2000.

Also, unlike Mariano Rivera, who is known for his big game performances, Hoffman’s results in crucial contests are not especially impressive.

Perhaps the most blatant example occurred in 2007 when Hoffman blew a save opportunity on the final day of the regular season that kept the Padres from clinching a playoff spot and instead forced a one-game playoff with the Colorado Rockies. He then blew a two run lead in the 13th inning of the one-game playoff to keep the Padres out of the playoffs.

In addition, he registered only four saves in 12 career playoff appearances and blew a save in his only game during the 1998 World Series against the New York Yankees.

Is Trevor Hoffman Worthy of Hall of Fame Selection?

  • Yes (56%, 14 Votes)
  • No (44%, 11 Votes)

Total Voters: 26

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While the Hall of Fame now includes several relievers, the only one who pitched primarily during the one-inning closer era is Dennis Eckersley and his time as a starting pitcher make his situation very different than Hoffman.

In the recent Hall of Fame voting there were two modern closers on the ballot and neither came close to receiving enough votes for induction.

Lee Smith has received only minimal Hall of Fame support.

Like Hoffman, Lee Smith completed his career as the career leader in saves. However, Smith was included on only 45.3% of the ballots, which was two percent fewer than in 2010.

In his first year of eligibility, John Franco was included on only 4.6% of the ballots.

There seems to be many similarities between Hoffman and Smith. In addition to retiring as the career saves leader (Hoffman passed Smith for the record in 2006), both pitchers retired with below .500 records as Hoffman was 61-75 and Smith completed his career with a 71-92 mark.

Like Hoffman, Smith posted excellent regular season save totals, but never had that dominating post season performance.

Of the relief pitchers in the Hall of Fame, excluding Hoyt Wilhelm who was from a very different era, each one was the dominant closer on at least one World Series Championship team.

Rollie Fingers would often come into the game in the fifth or sixth innings if that is what was needed while Bruce Sutter and Goose Gossage were the epitome of the shut-down closer.

Yet it took both Sutter and Gossage quite a while before they earned enough votes for Hall of Fame induction. Gossage was elected in his ninth year of eligibility while it took Sutter 13 years.

It will be interesting to see how voters react to Hoffman’s lofty career save number. Of course, by the time he is eligible for the Hall he will likely be second in career saves behind Rivera.

The reaction to some of the hitters from the last 20 years could be a hint of how Hoffman will be treated. Both Fred McGriff and Jeff Bagwell have better career stats than many players from previous eras who are in the Hall of Fame, yet it will take a radical change in voting patterns for either to ever get into the Hall of Fame.

Hoffman’s lack of post season dominance will likely make it very difficult for him to get over the threshold.

Nonetheless, there will definitely be much analysis and speculation in the next few days and again every January for many years to come.

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