Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Treveor Hoffman's 600th Save

Very few professional athletes are older than Brett Favre, count 42-year-old Trevor Hoffman as one of the chosen few. After an outstanding 2009 season, Hoffman signed a one-year, $7.5 million contract with a mutual $7 million option for 2011*.

In Hoffman's first season with the Brewers in 2009 he appeared in 55 games, converted 37 saves, and had a 1.83 ERA. Going into 2010 it looked like Hoffman would be the Brewers closer through 2011. Unfortunately Hoffman had a horrible start to 2010. Hoffman blew 5 of his first 10 save opportunities, racking up a 13.15 ERA over 14 appearances. As a result, Hoffman was stuck on 596 career saves with a huge sign in left field at Miller Park to remind him daily of how much he was struggling in 2010. With Hoffman struggling, rookie John Axford assumed the closer role and flourished by converting 20 of 22 save opportunities.

Mercifully, Hoffman finally settled in and notched his 600th career save on Tuesday, September 7, 2010. Most people think Hoffman only pitched for the San Diego Padres and Milwaukee Brewers but Hoffman actually recorded the first 2 saves of his career with the Florida Marlins, the first coming on April 29, 1993 at the Atlanta Braves. After that, Hoffman recorded the next 552 saves with the San Diego Padres and got the final 46 saves with the Milwaukee Brewers.

It is fitting that the way Hoffman's 600th save went down was a little curious. Milwaukee Brewers manager Ken Macha was ejected in the 2nd inning of Hoffman's 600th career save for arguing a call. Before summoning Hoffman in the 9th inning, Brewers pitching coach Rick Peterson walked back to the club house to consult Ken Macha. That reminds me of my grade school basketball days. Our head coach, Jim Holton, got tossed from games fairly regularly. Every timeout after Holton got tossed our assistant coach Rich Bub would look towards the exit doors to see what play Holton wanted to run. Doesn't that undermine throwing the head coach out if he can still have an impact on the game?

Anyhow, Macha gave Peterson the go ahead and Hoffman nailed down his 600th save with Macha watching on television from his office. The Brewers were so proud of Hoffman that Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, and Todd Coffey carried Hoffman off the field on their shoulders. Hoffman is still so revered in San Diego that the Padres replayed the final out of Hoffman's 600th save during a Padres game on the jumbotron and the stadium gave Hoffman a standing ovation. Hoffman is such a classy guy that he apologizes to the team for letting them down this year in the locker room before celebrating his 600th save.

For two years of service, Hoffman is going to earn roughly $15 million from Milwaukee Brewers owner Mark Attanasio. Although that seems like a ton of money, it was only a few years ago that the Brewers paid Eric Gagne $10 million for one year of service a few days before he was prominently named in the Mitchell Report so two years for $15 million doesn't seem that bad. Statistics and records aside, the Hoffman signing was worth it solely for the wisdom Hoffman imparted on young relievers John Axford, Zach Braddock, Kameron Loe, and Mike McClendon. Hoffman is a model teammate and his work ethic will have an impact on the Brewers young pitching staff for the next decade.

In all likelihood, 2010 will be Hoffman's last season pitching in the major leagues, but wouldn't he make a great bench coach in 2011? With how crazy the players went for Hoffman's 600th save, it seems like they love Hoffman. I assume that if Hoffman doesn't pitch in 2011 he will want to be with his family in California, but he strikes me (no pun intended) as a perfect bench coach. Hoffman would have the trust of the players and the manger based on his impeccable clubhouse track record.

What Hoffman has done off the field in Milwaukee will be his greatest gift to the Milwaukee Brewers organization. I don't say this often but money well spent by Doug Melvin and Mark made the right gamble on Hoffman not for 2009 and 2010 but for 2011 and beyond.

* = Since it is a mutual option, both the Brewers and Hoffman would have to exercise it for Hoffman to pitch for the Brewers in 2011. Based on Hoffman's lackluster performance in 2010 there is virtually no chance that the Brewers will exercise the option so they will ultimately have to pay the $1 million buyout.

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