The Reds have made their first acquisition of the offseason, trading right-handed reliever Robert Stephenson and minor-league outfielder Jameson Hannah to the Rockies in exchange for right-handed pitchers Jeff Hoffman and Case Williams.
Hoffman was selected by the Blue Jays with the ninth overall pick in the 2014 draft. He was the centerpiece of the Rockies’ return in the Troy Tulowitzki trade in 2015 and quickly made his way to the majors in 2016. But to say the former top-100 prospect has struggled in the major leagues would be an understatement.
He has a disastrous 6.40 ERA, 5.58 FIP, and 5.28 xFIP in 230.2 big-league innings. Home runs have been a huge problem for Hoffman — as they have for many pitchers who call Coors Field home — as he’s allowed 1.8 per nine innings. Hoffman also has a low strikeout rate (18.8%) and high walk rate (10.2%).
While the thin Denver air hasn’t suited Hoffman well, he hasn’t been much better away from Coors Field. He has a career 4.86 ERA, 5.37 FIP, and 5.15 xFIP on the road, although that has some with improved strikeout numbers (21.4 K%). Home runs have plagued him just as much on the road.
The 2020 season was again a struggle for Hoffman, who allowed a 9.28 ERA, 4.69 FIP, and 5.39 xFIP. Although he wasn’t helped by a ludicrously high .414 batting average on balls in play, he gave up a lot of hard contact. One glance at his percentile rankings tells a grim story:
Why, then, did the Reds deal for him? Because he has an arm that undoubtedly appeals to pitching coach Derek Johnson, as shown by the only red circles above. Hoffman averaged 94.4 mph on his fastball in 2020 with an 82nd-percentile spin rate. His curveball has just 55th-percentile spin, but he’s gotten results with it throughout his career, holding hitters to a .222 xwOBA and registering an above-average 35.2% whiff rate.
Welcome back to the bigs, Jeff Hoffman. He's shown this super effective curveball in limited action. pic.twitter.com/QAr4pqMoJe
— Pitcher List (@PitcherList) July 26, 2019
However, he threw the curveball only 17% of the time in 2020. Expect that number to come way up once he’s in Cincinnati.
ESPN writer Kiley McDaniels compared Hoffman to Lucas Sims, another struggling first round pick the Reds were able to convert into a valuable high-leverage reliever.
Jeff Hoffman fits #spincinnati with the high arm slot, high-spin, four-seamer/curveball combination, but mediocre results thus far. This is what Lucas Sims was when CIN grabbed him off the scrap heap and turned him into a setup guy.
— Kiley McDaniel (@kileymcd) November 25, 2020
Of note, Hoffman is out of options, which means he’ll have to be a member of the active roster or be designated for assignment.
Williams was a fourth-round pick by the Rockies in the 2020 draft. The 6-foot-3 right-hander originally signed to pitch at Santa Clara University but signed with the Rockies for $450,000. He wasn’t a highly coveted prospect around the league, largely because his high school season was cancelled. But he was the top-ranked high school pitcher in Colorado, and his hometown team noticed and pounced.
Per a video from THROWformance trainer Sean McCourt, Williams can hit 95 mph with his fastball with high spin and spin efficiency.
— Sean McCourt (@THROWformance) May 15, 2020
Along with the rising fastball, Williams throws a changeup and a curveball, which you can also get a look at in the video above.
Meanwhile, Stephenson’s career with the Reds comes to a disappointing ending. After he’d seemingly established himself as a valuable member of the bullpen in 2019, the former first-round pick and top prospect dealt with a back strain and extreme home run problems in 2020. Stephenson pitched only 10 innings, allowing a 9.90 ERA, 12.19 FIP, and 4.88 xFIP (remember, xFIP normalizes home run rate for every pitcher — Stephenson gave up an unsustainable 50% home run to fly ball ratio). Outside of the homers, he was fine, striking out 30.2% of the batters he faced and walking a career low 7.0%. Unfortunately for Stephenson, Coors Field isn’t an ideal destination for a pitcher who has problems with the long ball.
Stephenson will be eligible for arbitration for the first time this offseason and was a non-tender candidate. MLB Trade Rumors expects him to receive a minimal salary of $600,000, so this is hardly a money-saving move for the Reds.
Hannah was acquired by the Reds in 2019 in the trade that sent Tanner Roark to the Athletics. He had been the Reds’ No. 15 prospect per MLB Pipeline and most recently played in High-A Daytona in 2019.
Photo Credit: Ian D’Andrea