Welcome to the 2017 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back at the in-season contributions of every player to don the purple this past season. The goal wasn’t and isn’t to quibble with order. Instead, it’s to get a snapshot of a player along with a look forward. For that reason, we simply sorted by Baseball-Reference’s Wins Above Replacement (rWAR) and will start at the bottom and end up at the top.
No. 22, Jeff Hoffman (0.4 rWAR)
To understand Jeff Hoffman’s 2017 season it’s best not to look at his final line. It would be easy to assume that a 5.89 ERA and 1.47 WHIP over 991⁄3 innings meant that the heralded rookie wasn’t quite ready for The Show and just needs some more time and gosh isn’t it a shame that the Rockies rush their starting pitching prospects to the majors? Except that’s not really how it played out at all.
Hoffman came into spring training with an outside shot at breaking camp in the rotation. He didn’t get that much opportunity to make an impression, logging just 52⁄3 innings pitched with the major league team before being optioned to Triple-A Albuquerque. If he had work to do still, the Rockies seemed satisfied with holding the Pacific Coast League to a .222/.281/.325 batting line over the first month, and so they called him up. It wasn’t to join the rotation full time, though: just to make a string of spot starts (and one mop-up game out of the bullpen).
It took three dominating starts—five runs on 12 hits with two walks and 24 strikeouts over 191⁄3 innings—Hoffman took over Tyler Anderson’s spot in the rotation. It seemed that the Rockies had finally gotten their second ace.
Purple Row’s Ted Chaflen suggested (twice) that Hoffman needs to follow the Jon Gray path to major league success: use the struggles from an abbreviated debut cup of coffee to make necessary adjustments. At the time of Ted’s article, that’s exactly what Hoffman seemed to have done; he was the owner of a 4.01 ERA and 1.14 WHIP with 48 strike outs and 14 walks in 491⁄3 innings. In his following seven starts he allowed a 7.13 ERA in 351⁄3 innings, doomed by nine home runs, including four solo shots against the Braves on August 17.
The next day he was optioned back to Triple-A. It was billed as “a break” by manager Bud Black, but Jake Shapiro of BSN identified a downward trend in Hoffman’s velocity corresponding with his downward trend in results. Perhaps the young righty, in only his second season back from Tommy John surgery, was wearing down.
The break lasted until after the Triple-A season ended. When he returned, Hoffman worked exclusively out of the bullpen in mop-up duty (the average leverage index when he entered the game was a well-below average 0.35). He allowed 11 runs with seven walks and nine strikeouts in 72⁄3 innings. He finished with a 5.89 ERA and 1.47 WHIP over 991⁄3 innings that included 15 home runs allowed.
To understand Jeff Hoffman’s 2017 season it’s best not to look at his final line, or at least not only his final line. Rather, consider the trajectory of his season: from Triple-A, to spot starter, to rotation stalwart, to anchor, back to Triple-A, and finally mop up duty. Perhaps it’s too simple to assume that the workload caused him to break down as the season progressed. After all, he faced the exact same number of batters (659) in 2017 as he did in 2016. Either way, Hoffman has shown Rockies fans the best (three spectacular spot starts) and worst (12.31 ERA out of the bullpen) of what has has.
The competition for the Rockies rotation in 2018 will only be slightly less crowded than it was in 2017. There are five spots for Jon Gray, Tyler Anderson, Chad Bettis, German Marquez, Kyle Freeland, Antonio Senzatela, and Hoffman. Gray, Anderson and Bettis are essentially penciled in, and nobody should try to take away Marquez’s spot. That leaves Freeland and Hoffman to compete for one space. Whether Hoffman gets to break camp with the team this time around likely depends on how he responds to getting an entire offseason to rest.