That sucked.

In case you’d forgotten how 2007 ended, the Padres gave a nice little encore Sunday afternoon in San Francisco. They battled back from a deficit, took the lead in extra innings on a two-run homer, then watched Trevor Hoffman give it back, with the game ending on a bizarre defensive play.

As was the case with Scott Hairston last October, Adrian Gonzalez‘ dramatic home run is now just a footnote, not the story. Nobody cares that he pounded the first pitch he saw from rookie left-hander Alex Hinshaw over the center field fence at PhoneCo Park. Nobody cares that he sat on and crushed a breaking ball after watching Hinshaw throw a steady diet of them to Brian Giles, who was caught looking at a particularly nasty one on 3-2 that kissed the inside corner.

No, the story is that Hoffman blew the save and the Padres lost the game. Some people have dubbed me a Hoffman apologist, but the truth is, I’m an evidence apologist. I look at things and try to figure out what’s happening. In this case, Hoffman is struggling. His command isn’t as precise as it has been in the past and he’s paying for it in a big way.

Hoffman has had successful stretches this season — he dominated between April 13 and May 30 (14 IP, 1.93 ERA, 11.57 K/9), but that’s cherry picking. The trouble is, he keeps getting nicked up here and there, and every once in a while he implodes. it’s happening now more often than in the past few years:

Trevor Hoffman: Runs Allowed by Game, 2006-2008
  Runs (%)
Year G 0 1 2+
Statistics are courtesy of Baseball-Reference and are through games of June 1, 2008.
2006 65 84.6 7.7 7.7
2007 61 78.7 13.1 8.2
2008 20 65.0 25.0 10.0

This table is a little weird, but basically, Hoffman is coughing up at least one run in a game roughly 2 1/2 times as often now as he was in 2006. It would be nice if that were an illusion, but it’s not. Neither is this:

Trevor Hoffman: Lefty/Righty Splits, 2006-2008
  vs RHB vs LHB
Statistics are courtesy of Baseball-Reference and are through games of June 1, 2008.
2006 134 .214 .231 .328 114 .194 .272 .301
2007 124 .169 .187 .305 111 .299 .376 .423
2008 43 .190 .209 .262 40 .382 .462 .647

I haven’t looked at a breakdown of his pitches, but my suspicion is that either Hoffman isn’t throwing as many change-ups as in the past or nobody’s biting on the pitch. Heck, maybe both. Regardless, this is a disturbing trend.

The weird part is that Hoffman is striking out more batters than he has at any point since returning from surgery in 2003. That and the fact that we’ve never before seen him struggle like this.

I still don’t know what you do with Hoffman if he’s not closing games. Modern setup guys typically work 70+ innings a year, which he hasn’t done since 2000. I suppose if the ‘pen were deeper, you could let him split seventh-inning duties with someone (presumably Heath Bell would work the ninth and Cla Meredith the eighth — yes I know, but this is how teams use their relievers nowadays).

The other thing that’s worth noting about Sunday’s game is the way it ended. Edgar Gonzalez got the start at shortstop, spelling Khalil Greene. It’s a nice idea, because you don’t want to wear down your regulars over the long haul, but coming into the contest, Gonzalez had played just 22 of 895 professional games at short, none since 2006.

We saw this with Callix Crabbe earlier in the year, and the theory is that with a 12-man pitching staff, you want extra bats on the bench, not defensive specialists. That said, this is the second time I’ve found myself lamenting the loss of Geoff Blum (or at least Oscar Robles). Why a big-league team refuses to carry a backup shortstop is quite beyond my comprehension.

Anyway, after Fred Lewis slammed a badly misplaced pitch off the top of the wall in right-center, the Padres had a chance to escape the 10th without further damage when Hoffman induced light-hitting Jose Castillo to roll to shortstop for a possible inning-ending double play. Randy Winn was running on the pitch, and it would have been close at second, but E-Gon never looked in that direction, deciding instead to focus on Lewis coming home. Except that E-Gon never threw the ball, so the game ended with him holding the baseball in his hand.

Again, I can’t really fault Gonzalez for not making the play. He was put in a position to fail, and that’s exactly what he did.

I dunno. Losing stinks. We need to blame people. Today I’ll go with Hoffman, Bud Black, and E-Gon.

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32 Responses »

  1. I’ve been a “Hoffman is done” griper, but run of solid performances, after a string of bad outings starting at the end of last year, showed he still had stuff in the tank.

    It just looks like he has less in the tank. His K/BB ratio is dead-on, but his HR/9 and H/9 are both up. Along with the ERA. The HR/9 may be fluky (only 3 HR) and H/9 fluctuate with BABIP, so that can be unreliable as well. So one could argue is just getting a bit unlucky.

    But when I watch him, he seems somewhat binary: when he has his old stuff (well placed fastballs, control of the change), he is very effective. However, there seems to be more times where he is off: walking guys, missing on location with the FB, and the change not helping to counter that.

    That loss sucked, but playing bad teams (Nats, Giants) has helped, but am nervous about the next stretch. That said, the team has me hoping the floor has not completely collapsed.

  2. It was a tough loss, but it was inspiring to see us play as well as we did this weekend. It’s undeniable that the team is playing better baseball right now, and hopefully we’ve found a couple gems in the new pitchers we’ve brought in. I think if we can pull within 5 GB as of the ASB, then the season is still not a bust.

  3. I honestly don’t think E-Gon had a play either way. Iguchi didn’t exactly get to second quickly. If people want to point to the fact that Khalil not being in hurt us that is fine but outside of a phenomenal play (which he is very capable of) I see almost the exact same result from Greene.

    Griping and nitpicking the loss yesterday aside I agree with you Geoff… That SUCKED!

  4. Yes, we are frustrated and seem to have a need to blame people. I start with the guy who tackled Milton Bradley, which lead to the horrible ending of the 2007 season, Harry Black. Bud may be an example of why few former pitchers become big-league managers. The cheapo Padres were looking for a low-profile guy to replace Bruce Bochy. Low profile equals low salary, certainly not Dusty Baker money.

    The UT story this morning had quotes for Rich Aurilia who second guessed the positioning of Edgar Gonzalez. I DO NOT place on blame on EGON, who as Geoff explained is not really a shortstop. Why didn’t a coach move him into a position where he had a chance to throw out the winning run at the plate?

    It is hard to believe that the Padres do not have a real shortstop to fill in. Too cheap to keep Blum but tossed away a million on a damaged pitcher, Mark Prior, who never tossed an inning for the team. And don’t get me started about Oscar Robles, and leave EGON alone on yesterday’s fiasco.

    Who would you guys like to see as the next Padres skipper? Does Tim Flannery come to mind? Black will not be gone until at least very late in the season, because the cheapo Padres would not want to pay someone not to manage, although Harry is not doing much managing, in my mind.

    How about Alan Trammell? I do not know if Tony Gwynn wants the job or is even ready, but his name drifts across my mind. Yesterday sucked. Thanks for reading my venting rant.

    ballparkfrank in vegas

  5. It’s just a bit frustrating to see quality start after quality start and yet the Pads are still on pace to lose 98 games. The starting pitching has been good and I feel that the bullpen will improve as the year goes on. Will the hitting improve ?