Hoffman’s Fastball and HR Prevention

I was poking around the pitch type leader boards and noticed an interesting fact: Trevor Hoffman had the best fastball of all qualified relievers in 2009. His 85mph pitch beat out the likes of Phil Hughes‘s and David Aardsma‘s, which were almost 10 mph faster.

When he re-signed with the Brewers I noted that he has, over the course of his career, been able to maintain a HR/FB well below the 10% expected value. Playing in Petco for a big part of his career no doubt helped, but beyond that it seems like Hoffman has the ability to depress his HR/FB, which runs counter to some of the prevailing ideas about a pitcher’s ability to control his balls in play.

These two facts, the fact that he had the best fastball of 2009 and his historic ability to depress, inspired me to look at Hoffman’s pitchf/x numbers in a little more depth. Let me say that this analysis just scratches the surface of what makes Hoffman so great. His changeup is devastating and I am sure plays a big role in his HR prevention and probably makes his fastball better. In addition, his fastball has a lot of “rise,” which plays a big role in his high IFF%. But I am going to focus on HR prevention with his fastball, and specifically HR prevention against LHBs.

A lot of attributes determine if a pitch is going to be hit for a HR, but one of the most important is its location. Obviously the height of the pitch plays a big role, but here I am going to look at the horizontal location of the pitch. Here is how HR/FB varies for LHBs against all pitchers (not just Hoffman).
So pitches middle-in are hit for HRs the most often. Now let’s look at where Hoffman locates his fastball. Gold is Hoffman and gray the average four-seam fastball to a LHB.
Hoffman’s distribution is much narrower than average. He has been very good at locating his pitch in the same horizontal area with little spread. This should not be surprising: the fastball is just 85 mph, so for him to be successful, he needs that pinpoint command. And he puts the pitch about as far away as he can and still be in the strike zone. That is where LHBs have the least power.

I usually just display the 2-foot strike zone that John Walsh described, but in this graph I add the dotted line for the specific strike zone to LHBs. The zone is called differently to LHBs, with the outside and inside edge shifted away. That makes Hoffman’s pitch locations even better. He pitches more to the extreme outside where umpires often call pitches 14 or so inches from the center of the plate strikes against LHBs.

As I said, there is a lot going on and this just scratches the surface, but Hoffman’s ability to locate his fastball very well on the outside quarter of the plate to LHBs, I think, plays a huge role in his abnormally low HR/FB rate.

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Dave Allen's other baseball work can be found at Baseball Analysts.

8 Responses to “Hoffman’s Fastball and HR Prevention”

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  1. Dave R says:

    I get why Hoffman is so successful against LHB… what I don’t understand is why he’s dominated RHB as well as he has. Shouldn’t his change up actually hurt him vs. RHB? If so, what is his secret to dealing with RHB when his best pitch is taken away from him?

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    • Dave Allen says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      This was another interesting aspect I wanted to examine. One thing is that he strikes out LHBs more often, probably because of his great change, but also walks them much more. So it looks to me that against RHBs he scarfices some strikeouts to greatly limit walks. He does throw the change against RHBs (25% of the time compared to 35% against LHBs), but then also mixes in his slider (19% compared to just 1% of the time against LHBs).

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  2. Bryz says:

    I’m sure pitching coaches and pitchers already consider something like this when attacking hitters, but could the information from that first graph be exploited by a pitcher that’s struggling with keeping balls in the park?

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  3. RZ says:

    nice job Dave.

    I think this would be a great scouting tool when looking at older free agent pitchers. Looking for control when the stuff meter goes down.

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  4. Pete says:

    Great piece, Dave.

    One thing the SABR revolution has brought about is a focus on specific data rather than generalities. In this case, data have proven two things most assume true anyway… RHP are playing with fire when pitching a LHH inside, and Trevor Hoffman is really really really good at what he does.

    Hoffman is such an interesting case. He demonstrates rather forcefully that there are many ways to be good at pitching, but keeping hitters off balance and locating is a damn good one to focus on. I’m a frequent commenter over at Viva El Birdos, and whenever the Cards see Hoffman there is a vocal contingent (and keep in mind this is a pretty baseball-savvy readership we’re talking about) who simply have no idea how no one hits Hoffman because “He’s throwing like 85!!!” Ah, yes, but he locates that 85 brilliantly, it has a “rising” movement that must be somewhat deceptive, and that 85 is paired with a lethal changeup. One of our other posters flat out told one of those vocal contingenters to try and determine which pitch Hoffman was throwing based on his delivery… and guess what. It’s IMPOSSIBLE! The guy is a great pitcher and I think he’s still got a lot in the tank.

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    • TJ says:

      i tend to agree from looking at other great fastball/change-up pitchers who were able to pitch well into their 40’s such as glavine and maddux it is reasonable to assume he could afford to lose about 2mph on his fasball before he begins his decline. If that as the previously mentioned pitch only had 5-7mph between their pitches where hoffman has 11.

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  5. Joe says:

    Hitting is timing. Pitching is upsetting timing. -Warren Spahn

    Trevor does just that. He does not need to throw hard with that change up he brings. Batters are off balance just waiting for him to throw it.

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