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The Phillies may have created another useful bullpen arm this year

Another diamond in the rough found in the bullpen

Arizona Diamondbacks v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

I’ll be the first to admit: I was skeptical of Jeff Hoffman. The team called him up on May 4 as someone who could help out a bit with a beleaguered bullpen, not thinking he’d be any more than someone who could be used, designated for assignment and moved back to Lehigh Valley with relative ease. Instead, it looks like the team has uncovered something useful to the bullpen crew, much in the way they used Andrew Bellatti in 2022. It might be as simple as making a pitcher throw his best pitch more often.

Hoffman, as you might recall, was a part of the trade way back when that sent Troy Tulowitzki from Colorado to the Blue Jays. At the time, he was considered one of the more highly rated prospects in the game, Baseball Prospectus ranking him 4th in Toronto’s system prior to the 2015 season, 73rd overall in the game. Baseball America was a little more kind, putting at a very nice 69th on their list of top prospects in 2015. The year before, he had fallen prey to the dreaded Tommy John surgery, something he was still recovering from at the time of the trade. Since those days, Hoffman has struggled to maintain an MLB career, last year being the first one where he was able to maintain an ERA under four. Signing a minor league deal with the Phillies this offseason, he was looked at someone who would provide depth for the team with enough that maybe they would be able to find something they can work with.

This year, while with the Phillies, it looks like they have actually found something that is going to work with his slider.

Usually, when looking to see how and/or why a pitcher has been effective, Baseball Savant provides the first point of contact. Using the information gleaned from the Trackman data, we can start to figure out why a pitcher has been better. The first thing to notice is the team has clearly identified Hoffman’s slider as his best pitch and convinced him to throw it more.

That’s a rather stark jump in slider usage, almost double what he was doing last year. Whereas in the past, pitchers preached “establish the fastball” when a pitcher is early in the count, that philosophy feels a touch antiquated with how teams approach hitters in the present era. Which is why we see a jump in Hoffman’s slider usage. The team thinks it’s his best pitch and that he should throw his best pitch more often. It’s with a solid reason too - it generates swings and misses.

The numbers back this up as well. When Hoffman throws his slider, he’s only allowing a .071 batting average on the pitch, one of the better averages in the game when it comes to sliders. It also helps that he’s burying the pitch in good spots, just enticing enough to swing at, but not good enough to do any real damage with.

Looking at how it is moving, it looks like the coaching staff has gotten Hoffman to tighten up the movement on the pitch to what it looked like in the past, contributing to the swing and miss aspect of the pitch.

Now, there was a reason why Hoffman was readily available this offseason. While reclamation projects are fun, arms like Hoffman are usually there for the free pickins’ because of ineffectiveness in the past. It’s hard not to look at what Hoffman has done in the past and not be hesitant to declare him “Back!” here in 2023. The team has had success turning pitchers into something from nothing, so there should be a bit of a reason for optimism. If nothing else, last year’s uncovering of Andrew Bellatti should give hope that by convincing a pitcher to use his best pitch more often, the team can use Hoffman as a middle reliever who can be used in any leveraged role they choose.

It’s nice to see that the team is able to turn minor league deal pitchers into something useful at the major league level. Having had to endure pitchers like Sean O’Sullivan, Elvis Araujo and Michael Mariot during actual major league baseball games was torturous both for the fanbase and the team. Now, when an arm is brought up to the big leagues, there is at least hope, if not expectation, that the team can wring some usefulness out of them. Will the success Jeff Hoffman is having continue? Maybe, maybe not. But at least he’s become somewhat decent while here.