Reality: You’re Soaking in It

Where do I even begin? That this isn’t the way I’d wanted to see the season end seems so beyond doubt that it hardly bears mentioning, and yet I just mentioned it. Even though a thing is obvious, it still needs a voice.

I hate writing this. I hate thinking this. Honestly? I hate everything about this.

But you can’t go through life hating, right? Well, you can, but it’s probably not a good idea. Besides, it’s just baseball.

“Just baseball.” I hate that, too. Like that somehow negates it all, makes the experience less important, less real. Yeah, buddy, screw you.

Anyway. Now you see the problem. I can’t even get started. Do I whine about Monday night’s outcome (box score), or do I express gratitude at having witnessed a tremendous game that most teams didn’t have the right to play? Do I make excuses for Jake Peavy, Brady Clark, and Trevor Hoffman, or do I give the Rockies their props for outplaying our guys?

Yeah, I said it. They outplayed the Padres. Deal, yo.

Or maybe we can think about Milwaukee. Sure, let’s play “what-if” there instead. Why did Hoffman throw eight bazillion change-ups in a row? What if he shows Tony Gwynn Jr. a fastball? (What if Gwynn hits it?) Or perhaps we’ll go back further and pin the blame on Mike Winters for baiting Milton Bradley, Bradley for gobbling it up, and Bud Black for taking out his own guy in the process. Or we could…

Here’s what happens when you go down that road. Aside from the fact that you make yourself miserable, you’re not even being honest with yourself. Replace every “should have” throughout the course of a 163-game season with “could have” and see what happens. When you say “should,” you’re basically conceding that games don’t even need to be played. Yeah, probability and all that. Okay, fine; I get it. But on the field, none of that matters. The only legal tender currency is what actually happens — you may know it better as reality.

Painful? Sometimes, yes; sometimes, no. But it remains constant even as it constantly changes.

I’m not making sense again. Sorry, it’s been that kind of life.

Another approach would be to take pride in knowing that the Padres, despite missing two of their starting outfielders and getting negative contributions from the best starting pitcher and best reliever in franchise history, pushed an improbably hot Colorado team to the edge of a mile-high precipice. This one might work better a few months from now, when the throbbing is less intense.

How can we reflect at a time like this? How can we analyze and be philosophical? Why would we want to even if we could? Now that the season’s over, it’s not like there’s a sense of urgency. Grieve, mourn, vent. Whatever it takes. Then sort through the rubble over the winter and return in spring with maybe a more prominent chip on the collective shoulder.

We can’t play in the big game? But, but… well, then, do it already. Nobody gives us respect? Oh, but they do; they give us exactly as much respect as we have earned. Want more? Okay, play better. Until then, suck it up like everyone else and get back to work.

The Padres have completed their fourth straight winning season. That’s the first time in franchise history if you’re scoring at home. They’ve made the transition from lousy/mediocre to good. How do they get from there to great? I don’t know, and I’m not prepared to think about it just yet.

I do know that this organization is in better shape than ever and that the better it gets, the more I want. This is a credit to the folks who run the club but also a burden for them. Not that the Padres have anywhere near the same track record, but I’m beginning to understand why the Braves couldn’t sell out home playoff games in the ’90s. At some point, as obnoxious as it sounds, reaching the playoffs isn’t enough.

To say nothing of not reaching the playoffs…

* * *

Man, this post sucks. I keep writing because… well, I don’t know what else to do. Is it spring yet?

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234 Responses »

  1. 149 … I don’t understand what you mean by “the jump”?

  2. 145: The Coach reminds me of a nice, kindly uncle with huge gaps in his education.

    Here’s a question for Fuson: Given that our last 2 first round pitchers are broken, do you still believe college pitchers have a durability edge?

  3. 147: I think the 9th is special though and requires a guy that can handle that pressure. As much as I’d like to see no specialization, its not going to happen in the 9th. We can argue against it all we want, but its not going to change the mind of management.

  4. One thing I’m already getting very sick of are all the comments from the Rockies and commentators that the blown call in the 13th just evened the score from Atkins’ blown “home run” of Jake earlier. I have yet to see a replay that shows that ball went out of the park, while there is pretty indisputable video evidence that Holliday didn’t touch home plate.

  5. 152: His answer, “Well of course they are in college.”
    That would be a great question ask him, be he will avoid it and talk around it. I dont mind taking the college kids early, its the lack of taking high risk guys in the later round that tends to bug.

  6. 153: That’s also true of the earlier roles.

    Some guys may not be able to handle the pressure, but as dprat pointed out earlier, lots of guys who were described as having “questionable” makeup as starters turn into dominant closers (Nathan, Gagne). And some guys are just generic relievers most of their careers before they somehow become insensitive to 9th inning pressure (Jones). And other guys have the reputation of blowing big games even when they have seasons when they don’t (Benitez). In one single postseason Benitez went from Icewater (against Cleveland) to Choker (NY).

  7. Do you honestly believe Benitez, even at his peak, was as mentally able to handle the 9th as Trevor, at any point in his career?

    I’ve watched Trevor very carefully this year and what’s really struck me about him is just how ballsy he is about throwing that BP fastball for a strike on the first pitch. Getting that first pitch strike on the outside corner is absolutely critical for him because it sets up the change. I remember writing about one game where a batter hit a bomb off that pitch for an out but he came right back and threw the exact same pitch to the next hitter. A lot of pitchers, especially guys with 86mph fastballs, would get the yips and try to throw a slider or something on the next pitch.

    The save is an overrated (I say worthless) stat but that doesn’t mean there’s no mental component to closing. There’s a mental component to pitching under pressure (ask Jake Peavy) and there’s a lot of pressure in a save situation. Of course you have to be a good pitcher and do the right things but part of that is being able to handle the pressure. Just because we can’t put some kind of brainwave meter and measure his stress levels doesn’t mean it’s not there.

  8. For all you people arguing that Hoffman is the problem and that he is done and should retire — stop being ridiculous. Take a look at his split stats here

    Obviously he had huge differences between the first and the second half. However, some things jump out at you. His walk rate rose 75% in the 2nd but it was still only at 2.2BB per 9. His K rate also jumped 24%, from a bad 5.5/9 to 8.9/9. He didn’t give up HR the whole season, only one in each half. The number that really jumps out at you is his Batting Avg on Balls in Play (BABIP). In the first half it was .188, the second .387. That could be an indicator of declining stuff, but it also might have been bad luck.

    He was terrible last night and he hasn’t been great in the postseason in his career but let’s not make too much out of a couple of games. Granted it was a high visibility, high importance game but people tend too make too much out of only a handful of games. Relievers are notorious for having good years followed by bad years, hopefully this is just a bad year for Trevor and he’ll bounce back. Certainly closers with way worse track records (Todd Jones, Joe Borowski) have bounced back after terrible years to have good seasons.

  9. BP fastball, not according to the coach……he says Hoffman throws 87-89mph.

    I haven’t seen those numbers in a while from Hoffman

  10. If you don’t think there is a mental component to pitching, especially so in the closer’s role, please see the careers of guys like:

    Donnie Moore
    Mitch Williams
    Brad Lidge
    Armando Benitez
    Guiermo Mota
    Mike Timlin
    Byung-Hyun Kim
    Brandon Lyon


    All successful pitchers, some even successful closers for a short time, but all could not handle the pitching duties in the 9th inning, mostly due to mental make-up. When teams put many of them in their old, middle inning roles, they thrived once more…

  11. I tend to believe that the self-selection for pitching under pressure has largely happened before a pitcher reaches the majors. It’s not that it’s not a factor, it’s that those who can’t do it, for the most part anyway, have washed out before ever getting to put on a major league uniform.

  12. The Padres have a huge advantage over other teams because their closer isn’t their best reliever. I think it’s been pretty clear over the past few years that Trevor is at best the Padres 2nd best reliever. However, by using him only in the 9th inning, they have the ability to use their better reliever in situations where they have more impact in the game. Last night was a perfect example of that. If you looked at the situation when each reliever came in the game, you might think that Trevor is the Padres 4th best reliever. Not only that, by having Hoffman get all the saves and the glory in the bullpen, it keeps your better reliever’s salaries down since no one knows about relievers that don’t get saves.

  13. 157: This is a case of people overrating what they see everyday and overvaluing what they see on TV.

    Benitez has a career ERA+ of 139 over 14 years, almost all of it closing. Hoffman’s is 149. Both very good, Hoffman’s slightly better, but that’s a smaller difference than the gap between Maddux and Glavine for their careers. The big difference is that Hoffman has avoided the late career fade that dragged Benitez’s numbers down. Through their first 12 seasons they were even closer. Benitez had a bunch of seasons with 1 to 4 blown saves. Just like Hoffman. He had four seasons with 6 blown saves or more, including his terrible time with SF in 2006. Hoffman’s had…..four seasons with 6 blown saves or more. How is “Mind of Steel” Hoffman more robust than “House of Glass” Benitez?

    Benitez has the rep of a headcase for failing on the national stage in high-pressure games. Sound like anyone else we know?

    If it’s unfair to call Hoffman a choker for his few postseason failings (which it is), it’s unfair to say that Benitez didn’t have what it takes. They’re scarily similar in their regular and postseason results.

  14. 160: Benitez was a closer eerily similar to Hoffman for 12 of his 14 seasons. It was only his last 2 that were really bad, which Hoffman has avoided having.

    When the average major league career length is 5.6 years, 4 years or so as a closer is pretty good.

    A lot of those guys also failed because their stuff was short or they got hurt. The list of pitchers who came out of nowhere and had good careers as closers is at least as long, probably longer.

  15. Schlom, you’re right, half year stats, especially for a relief pitcher, are virtually worthless.

    So look at the longer term trends in posts 36, 37, 44, and 87. And here’s one more:

    2004 – 6.6
    2005 – 4.5
    2006 – 3.8
    2007 – 2.9

  16. 162: That’s a very good point. I say that because I made the same point last year :) Because Trevor is the designated 9th inning guy it allowed Bochy to use Cla Meredith in some incredibly high leverage situations (bases loaded, no outs in the 6th), which is exactly what sabermetric doctrine says you should do with your best reliever. Same thing with Bell this year.

    163: Benitez still throws harder than Hoffman, or he did last year (is he still active?). How did Hoffman avoid the late career fade? I submit it was through the mental aspects of the game, learning to pitch with diminished stuff and having the guts to make those pitches in tight situations.

    I’m sure you’re right about Benitez, I remember thinking it was typical New York a-holeism to make him the goat but on the other hand he always seemed like a guy who got really wild under pressure and then grooved a fastball.

  17. Ooops, just realized 165 was already covered in 37.

  18. TW (or is it WoF?), in your response to my Delta H post you discounted it as a counting stat versus a rate stat, and in 140 you want high K, low BB and low HR rates. I think this is fair enough. Well, TH has no doubt lost the K rate, that much is plain; however, his BB/IP has delcined over the past four years and is at a .206 ratio versus .251 for the prior four year period and versus .281 for his career. HR/IP has also declined (Petco at work, perhaps, but the Q was not a Homer Haven either). Any consideration to his offsetting his decreasing K’s by improving these other two areas?

  19. 166: When we’re talking about two years of difference over careers more than twice as long as the norm, I seriously doubt there’s a mental factor at work. In 2004, just 3 years ago, Benitez had a….

    ….wait for this, it’s amazing…..

    317 ERA+. No kidding. I just about fell out of my seat. That’s a late career surprise. It’s a better ERA+ by far than any Hoffman ever had. The difference has just been 2005 and 2007, when he went 92 and 81. In between (2006) he was back at 128.

    I don’t see how there’s any difference between getting frustrated and grooving a 96 mph fastball and missing with a 85 mph straight fastball that gets launched by Scott Brosius. The game’s blown either way.

  20. 67: “Had OG got a better arm, his throw wouldn’t have so much arch to it from shallow right.”

    Are you seriously complaining about Giles’ arm after he threw out the runner at home plate? That’s just asinine.

  21. 168.

    his BB rate may be declining but that may also be a product of the 85mph up in the zone fastball he is constantly bringing to the mound with him. What does his BAA look like? I have no idea.

    All I know is TH looks more hittable now than he ever has. Ever since last season in that stupid Dodger come back game I have been on pins and needles every time hells bells gets the call. People lay off the change since he doesn’t throw it for strikes and sit on a very hittable fastball that he seems to having trouble locating these days.

  22. 166: And yet we still have these leverage numbers from BP…

    Hoffman 2.26
    Linebrink: 1.98
    Bell: 1.70
    Meredith: 1.35
    Thatcher: 1.13

    Hoffman 2.36
    Linebrink: 1.91
    Meredith: 1.37

    Hoffman 2.11
    Otsuka 1.94
    Linebrink: 1.48

    Hoffman 2.17
    Otsuka: 1.58

    So there’s no way the best relievers are being used, more than occasionally, in the highest leverage situations.

  23. 168: It’s only WoF today.

    I wasn’t discounting Hoffman’s Delta H, although it has varied quite a bit. I was discounting “doing his job,” holding a lead by pitching 1 inning with no one on, which earns him a save.

    The declining K and K/BB rates trump any slight decrease in his BB/IP numbers. He didn’t walk many to begin with, his effectiveness is not going to be substantially impacted by walking fewer. He does have the low BB and low HR rates, no question, but those are only two legs of the tripod. What happens when one leg (K) is too short? The darn thing sits funny or falls over. He’s not finished yet, and we’ve certainly seen closers throwing 95 with 12 K/9 blow big saves before. But you can’t argue the handwriting is on the wall.

  24. 170: That was a tough play because the ball got on him so fast, he was basically throwing flat-footed. And it beat him and he was out.

  25. 173: Fair enough. Nice chatting with you.

  26. 126: They’re not the toughest three outs. Someone did a study on this recently, I think. I’ll try to find it.

  27. 170: It was a deadly accurate throw but not the strongest throw he has ever made. I normally l ike Giles’ arm.

  28. KRS1, it sounds like you’re suggesting that makes him more hittable and batters who used to walk are now getting base hits, H/IP is up slightly from .806 to .821. Not sure if it’s significant or related to your hypothesis or not.

    His BAA from MLB from 1999 through 2007 (leaving out 2003) is:


    The only thing which looks like a trend or pattern there seems to be good year, not so good year, good year, not so good year, etc. :-)

  29. 177: My point is that it was still good enough to get the runner, so why the complaint?

  30. 176: They are the toughest 3 outs on most occasions for the pitcher. There is no way to judge the kind of pressure that is on those last 3 outs. Depending on the situation another inning could be tougher, but the pressure that goes with the final 3 makes them the toughest on most occasions in my mind. A study is just a theory. I believe the theory that more times than not they are the toughest.

  31. 180: The 17th, 9th and 12th outs are the three toughest outs to get. This is based on how tough those outs have been to get historically. It’s not a theory, it’s a record of what has actually happened.

  32. 179: Well a better throw without the air under it beats Holliday there even more and the tag is made and not with a bad slide/good block and a mis call. I am not dis-creditting the effor Brian put into that play, but to say the throw couldnt had been better is wrong aswell. Barrett made a good play with his feet, but the non-call would not had happened had he hung onto the ball during the initial tag.

  33. 172: Sure the average looks like that because Trevor only pitches the 9th and the other guys pitch all over the place. But the fact is that they all were brought into very high leverage situations at times, situations that you would ideally want your best pitcher in.

    Anyway, I’m undecided on whether Trevor is done but I don’t want to see him as the unquestioned 9th inning save guy anymore. He needs to accept that Bell is going to get some save opportunities next year and Trevor is going to have to work the 8th. The Padres need to see if Bell can have the same results in the 9th as he’s had in the 7th and 8th. Who knows, he might even be able to more than 3 outs once in a while.

    I like that we have 170 comments in here after a devastating loss. We’re not ready to call it quits.

  34. 179.

    Thanks. Yeah the numbers were not really what I thought they would be. It seems to me from watching virtually every game is that he doesn’t spot his fastball nearly as well as he used to. He also seems to me to be throwing it a lot more than usual (though I don’t know if that is really the case). When he misses with that pitch anywhere near the zone he gets killed.

  35. A study, if it has any value at all, is not a theory, but a test of one or more theories. It is actual evidence, which may lend credence to a given theory… or not.

  36. 181: Ok that is a cute study and a fun read, but it really doesnt prove anything without fail. I guess I feel the final 3 are the 3 toughest consecutive outs.

  37. One thing on the Leverage Indez — they aren’t entirely correct because obviously the later you pitch in a game the higher the leverage will be. Going 1-2-3 in the 9th will be higher then 1-2-3 in the 8th but it doesn’t take the batters into account. The most important situation in a game might happen in the 6th but it’s leverage will still probably be lower then someone coming in with a 2 run lead in the 9th facing the bottom of the order.

    I think a lot of people are misusing the stats on Hoffman. There is no doubt that he’s not at his peak anymore but he’s not that bad. You can look at Mariano Rivera stats and I’m sure they are declining a ton from his peak but he’s still an effective reliever. Papelbon’s numbers are way down from last season’s, does that mean that he’ll be even worse next year? Sure it would have been nice if he closed out last night and Saturday’s games. But move those blown saves to earlier in the season and we wouldn’t be talking about this. The fact is that he’s under contract for next season, he is still mostly effective and he enables Black to use his best relievers most effectively, not to justify some arbitrary rule.

  38. This is completely off topic but has anyone ever run across any studies on frequently injured players? Specifically, what is it that makes guys like Milton Bradley so fragile, and is there a precedent for that kind of player to become more durable?

  39. Isn’t it gut check time? We’re all in agreement that Trevor is not only an irreplaceable part of Padres history but by all accounts a stand-up guy. But there are healthy, hungry arms on the staff who could be the next Papelbon with the right opportunity. The Pads need to shake it up and start growing young talent from within, rather than trying to wring out the last dollars from the weary arm of Trevor.

    Move Bell or some other younger arm into the closer role while they’ve still got some fire and while Hoffman’s still on staff. Worst case scenario is that Hoffman keeps the closer role all season, and we’re no worse off than we were last night. Best case scenario is that like Clemens/Chamberlain, Hoffman helps to groom his successor and the Pads enter the second half with young new closer who’s got the perfect mix of ability and attitude.

  40. 188: I agree that Hoffman is “not that bad,” in fact, he’s someone I would want in the Padres bullpen next year. Just not the way he has been used in the past.

    And Black is NOT using his pen as effectively as possible. In fact, he is almost as dependent on the one closer per inning, with specific innings assigned to specific guys regardless of game situation and batters coming up, yanking them after one inning, regardless of performance, as Bochy was. (note: I did say “almost” – no one is as slavish to the formula as Bochy, I think.) Again, not unique to Black or Bochy, but MLB SOP. And a formula that I think will cost you a game or two or more, year in, and year out.

  41. Regardless of what the stats say about each pitcher’s effectiveness, the closer role includes a huge mental component. That is where Hoffman excells and what will make replacing him so difficult.

    I think there have been many set-up guys promoted to closer who have not had near the success their prior stats would have predicted. (I’m sure lots of you have good examples, right?) You don’t know if a great reliever will make a great closer until he tries.

  42. 188: It’s not misusing the stats. It’s misunderstanding the difficulty, or rather than the relative ease, of any relieving gig. Relievers usually improve their peripherals because they’re working in short bursts, often with favorable platoons, compared to when they were starters. And they can survive with worsening peripherals because every outing is usually only an inning long, and it’s a lot harder to score 1 than to give up 0. And I do like that we use our better relievers earlier, but that’s actually an accident rather than a plan. It’s because Hoffman is now the 3rd or 4th best arm in the pen that we don’t use our best arm in the toughest situations. If he was our best reliever he’d still be working the 9th because he’s The Closer.

  43. 191: True, bullpen usage has not been optimized, but if it costs us a few games, it costs other teams a few games because as you pointed out it is pretty much an SOP. However, as someone pointed out earlier (TW?), players do seem to prefer set roles, which makes sense. It’s easier to prepare for performance if you have at least an approximate idea of when your performance is going to take place.

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see our usage shift in the coming years with more focus on using better performers in more high leverage situations. All you have to do is look at the FO and see guys like Alderson and DePo to know the FO is aware of doing so; heck, they practically invented it. Still, I’ll bet it’s tough to convince guys like Black and Balsley, let alone a bunch of young pitchers, to move in that direction, and those are the two guys on the bench making the decisions during a game.

  44. 189 … send an email to Will Carrol @ BP with those questions … I’ll bet you get a good reply … especially if you’re a subscriber …

  45. BA’s Cal League Top 20 Prospects is out …

    … Antonelli @ #4, LeBlanc @ #12 … no mention of Blanks nor Huffman … hmmm …

  46. 192: How do we know that? We have cerebral, narrow-margin closers like Hoffman who outthink hitters, and we have closers like Bobby Jenks, and I’m not sure Bobby knows his own telephone number.

    A lot of setup guys who “failed” as closers got about 3 chances to do it before being called “failures.” You blow 3 saves in the middle of a season and you’re the Established Closer, no biggie. Or blow 3 saves at the start of your career for a non-contending team that doesn’t have any other options, you might get a chance to right the ship. Blow 3 of your first 6 chances for an impatient team and you’re a failure without the mental toughness to compete.

  47. 192.

    After what Heath Bell did last night I’m pretty sure he can deal with it. I’m pretty sure he can move mountains with his mind and stuff too. That dude is scary! We will never know until we throw him out there if he can deal with a blown save mentally like Trevor has been able to.

    Before I say this next part I want it to be know that I have loved Trevor the same way that I love Tony Gwynn growing up but… If I was trying to make an argument against all the people talking about Trevor’s supreme mental ability it could very easily be pointed out that it takes a certain mentally stable mind to close out big games. Trevor has made a career out of racking up tons of saves on what was for a long time really bad teams and not exactly high pressure situations. He has also been a far different pitcher in big games or nationally televised games (World Series, All Star Game, Last night). It could be said that his mental stability is a factor when he is on the big stage and the heat is really on. San Diego is such a laid back town when it comes to sports than many other cities Trevor has never felt the pressure a guy like Rivera or Gagne or Wagner or even maybe Papelbon has.

    Before people go around touting Trevor’s supreme mental capacity when compared to everyone else that’s something to think about. He has been able to get through an amazing career in a really laid back city for teams that were lean for a lot of years and has not cut it on the bigger stage.

  48. 196: BA got a lot of questions about Blanks. I don’t think I saw one on Huffman.

  49. Basically, I would like to see Hoffman transition into a John Franco-like role, the once-great but increasingly unreliable middle reliever / sometimes-closer. It doesn’t have to happen right away, but I think anyone would agree that it isn’t in anyone’s best interest for him to stay at closer until he retires just because he’s been a great closer historically. And if he doesn’t agree to that, the Padres should consider moving him while he still has some value. If he’s really a team player, he would agree to the reduced role. If he doesn’t agree, he shouldn’t be here anyway.