Commentary

Trevor Hoffman isn't a Hall of Famer?

Closer's lack of postseason saves should not keep him out of Cooperstown

Originally Published: January 12, 2011
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

If Trevor Hoffman isn't a Hall of Famer, then Jennifer Hudson can't sing, Kobe Bryant can't shoot and Leonardo DiCaprio can't light up the big screen.

If Trevor Hoffman isn't a Hall of Famer, it's time to evict all the closers from Cooperstown right now -- Rollie Fingers, Hoyt Wilhelm, Goose Gossage, Bruce Sutter, Dennis Eckersley … kick them all right out of town.

I've spent the morning trying to digest some of the hemming and hawing on Hoffman's Hall of Fame credentials, on the day he announced his retirement from baseball. And I'll be honest. I don't get it.

One of the big arguments used against him is utterly ridiculous. But here it is:

He posted 601 regular-season saves.

But just four postseason saves.

Give me a break.

Now it may be true that Manny Corpas has more postseason saves than Hoffman. And so does Ken Dayley. And so does Jason Isringhausen.

But so what?

Not everyone can be Mariano Rivera. And by that, I don't just mean: Not everybody can be that great when the games matter most. By that, I also mean: Not everybody can have his team deliver him an October save opportunity to protect 47 different times.

I was there in Busch Stadium in 2006, the day Hoffman saved a postseason game for the final time in his career. But what was most notable about that, at the time, is that it was his first postseason save in eight years. …

Through absolutely zero fault of his own.

The Padres had made it to the postseason three times in those eight years -- and never took a single lead. In one stinking game. Until they finally delivered the baseball -- and a save opportunity to nail down -- to their closer in Game 3 of the 2006 NLDS.

Whereupon Hoffman blitzed through that Cardinals lineup, 1-2-3. And afterward, he joked: "I got to put my pom-poms away today."

But this wasn't just a day of laughs. We spoke for a long time that day about those eight years in between, those eight years waiting for another of these moments to come along, to allow him to do what he's spent his baseball lifetime doing better than just about any closer who ever lived.

And when I brought up the topic that we're revisiting today -- the temptation of closer-bashers everywhere to use his postseason save totals against him come Hall of Fame time -- this turned into a more emotional subject for Hoffman than I'd ever imagined.

"I'm not going to be defined, 15-20 years down the road, by that," he said, sternly, that day.

Well, it's only 4½ years down that road now. But he couldn't be more right about that. Here, instead, is how we should define Hoffman's career:

• There's only one Mariano Rivera. So there's no reason to try to argue that Hoffman was, in any way, a more dominating closer than the Great Mariano. Nevertheless, I can't help but mention that if Hoffman hadn't kept pitching into his 40s, where the decline phase of his career finally kicked in, he would have finished his career with a better strikeout rate, save percentage, opponent average and WHIP than Rivera. Just sayin'. Rivera will pitch the next two seasons at age 41 and 42. So let's see where his numbers sit when he hangs 'em up.

• But for now, let's stack Hoffman up against the other members of the 350-Save Club. Who leads all of them in save percentage? That would be Trevor Hoffman (at 88.8 percent). Just to put that in perspective, Hoffman blew only seven more saves in his career than Billy Wagner -- in 186 more opportunities.

• You might be surprised to learn that Wagner does beat Hoffman in strikeout rate, WHIP, opponent average and opponent OPS. But we can get into Wagner's Hall credentials some other day. Instead, let's compare Hoffman with the previous all-time saves leader, Lee Smith. Take a look.

So why do I not vote for Smith for the Hall, but consider Hoffman a slam-dunk Hall of Famer? That about sums it up. There's domination in one set of those numbers -- and it's pretty clear whose.

• Meanwhile, Hoffman allowed nearly three fewer baserunners per nine innings than the fifth member of the 400-Save Club, John Franco. And he struck out 2.4 more hitters per nine innings than another one-time career saves leader, Jeff Reardon. And Hoffman wipes out the brilliant Dennis Eckersley in every one of those categories above, whether you use Eck's full career totals or just his numbers as a reliever.

So how, then, is this man not a Hall of Famer? Because of a couple of messy All-Star Games here, or an eight-year postseason save drought there? That's insane.

"I wouldn't have been very successful," Hoffman told me that day back in October 2006, "if I dwelled on unsuccessful things."

And once again, he couldn't be more right. His critics can dwell on those things if it makes them happy. But think how hard they have to look just to find the times this man wasn't successful -- and then try to convince me that Trevor Hoffman wasn't a Hall of Famer.

But just a warning: You can try to sell it -- but I'm not buying. Not now. Not ever.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His latest book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com