After last night's 20-pitch blown save, Tom Hardricourt finally asked the question on everyone's minds: Where is Trevor Hoffman's famous changeup? Entering the game to ringing bells and a one-run lead on the Pirates, the future Hall of Famer threw 13 pitches (fastballs and sliders) before throwing one changeup. The result: five runs, "including a leadoff homer to No. 9 hitter Ronny Cedeno and a grand slam to Ryan Doumit."
I'm confident that everyone reading this can remember "Trevor Time" of 2009. Hoffman would calmly throw seemingly-hittable pitches, but batters were completely overmatched against him. His most devastating pitch? A 75 mph changeup that made hitters look silly. It was almost magical to watch. Brewers fans and opposing teams knew that when they heard the "Hell's Bells," the game was over and a one-inning demonstration of pitching mastery was about to begin.
So... what happened?
To help answer that question, I used PITCHf/x data at texasleaguers.com to compare Hoffman's pitches from the month of June 2009 to April 2010.
Yes, there is something wrong with Trevor Hoffman's changeup.
If you want to see the comparison for yourself, here is the data from June 2009. Here's the data from April 2010. There's room for analysis of all of his pitches, but I chose to concentrate on the changeup.
In June 09, Hoffman threw 128 pitches in 9 games: 4-seam fastballs (42.2%), changeups (35.9%), sliders (12.50%), and 12 cutters and curves for the rest.
In April 10, Hoffman threw 147 pitches in 8 games: 4-seam fastballs (68.0%), changeups (19.0%), cut fastballs (11.6%), and 2 curveballs.
- (Another analysis could ask where his slider of June 09 went, but I think that Pf/x might be interpreting his 2010 slider as a cut fastball. If not, it seems he has substituted the cut fastball for his slider, and that might have something to do with his lack of success this year as well.)
From the comparison of the two months, his pitch selection this year is very different. Hoffman is throwing half as many changeups as last year. Why would he do that?
From the Pf/x data, it looks like he is having trouble controlling the changeup. He can't locate it consistently, it is drifting out to the middle of the plate, and he's not throwing the pitch with the robotic consistency of 2009.
The last set of graphs, velocity v. spin angle, is particularly interesting. If you look through Hoffman's career Pf/x data, his consistent mechanics are obvious. He's always been like a pitching robot. This year, he does not seem to have a handle on throwing his changeup. I didn't post his release point, but that appears to be the same. However, the spin angle on his change is all over the place. Hoffman's game is deception, and to accomplish that he must be in complete control of his pitches. He's not in control of the changeup this year, and that's a big reason why he is not throwing it as often.
<Edit: per gene dietzgen's suggestion, the following 3 paragraphs are added from one of my comments below>
What made Hoffman great is that he had equal command of the fastball and changeup, and his delivery was so consistent that those pitches looked identical to the batter. In 2009, the difference in spin angle between the fastball and changeup was about 20 degrees, just insanely consistent throughout the entire season. No batter is going to pick that up, no matter how much tape they watch.
As a batter, if you are seeing the same thing on consecutive pitches, but the speed and break is radically different, you can’t hit. You stop trusting your eyes, because they aren’t giving you information that makes any sense. The cognitive dissonance slows the batter’s reaction time and puts Hoffman in control of the at bat.
This year, so far, that gameplan isn’t working because batters know that when they see a fastball, it’s probably a fastball.
You might be thinking, "If some guy in his living room can find this using data on a free website, why can't Rick Peterson figure this out?" After all, Peterson is supposed to be an expert in using empirical data to analyze his pitchers. Why is Hardricourt getting quotes like this?
[Hoffman] was very evasive when asked why he isn't throwing his changeup much anymore.
Macha seemed just as puzzled as the reporters as to why Hoffman hasn't been throwing his bread-and-butter changeup.
"I asked (pitching coach) Rick (Peterson)," said Macha. "He said he hasn't really talked to Trevor about pitch selection."
I don't buy this act. Macha and Peterson know exactly what is in this post, and probably a lot more. They also know that Hoffman is not locating is 4-seam fastball on the corner, either. His control is gone, and I don't think any of them know why. They can't say that to the ticket-buying fans, so they play dumb for the press.
I feel bad for Hoffman. The man in struggling right now, and needs a little time to work out his mechanics. Maybe he's hurt. Until he gets it worked out, however, he shouldn't be the closer. Macha and Peterson should know better than to keep running him out there.