The Cincinnati Reds and Colorado Rockies swapped a pair of former first-round picks earlier this offseason when Robert Stephenson was dealt to the Mile High City. In return, Jeff Hoffman was sent to the shores of the Ohio River and will likely be part of Cincinnati’s Opening Day roster. What will his role be in 2021?
A quick statistical comparison between Stephenson and Hoffman, and you won’t see too much difference. Hoffman, the ninth overall selection in the 2014 MLB Draft, entered the league in 2016 at age 23. The right-hander has a career record of 10-16, including 38 starts, with a 6.40 ERA and -1.7 WAR.
Former Reds first-round pick Robert Stephenson, who figures to operate out of the Colorado bullpen in 2021, was plagued by inconsistency during his time in the Queen City. Stephenson went 10-13 over 104 games, posted a 5.15 ERA and -1.1 WAR.
Following a 2019 campaign where he made the switch from starter to reliever, it looked as though Stephenson was going to be one of the key pieces of Cincinnati’s bullpen in 2020. That wasn’t the case, as Stephenson allowed home run after home run and put up a career-worst 9.90 ERA while allowing eight homers in just 10 innings pitched.
What do the Reds have in Jeff Hoffman?
So, with Robert Stephenson gone, what exactly do the Cincinnati Reds have in the Colorado Rockies former No. 2 overall prospect. Hoffman, according to MLB Pipeline, was the No. 35-ranked prospect in all of baseball. Of course, Stephenson was ranked No. 57 by the same publication that season, and we all know how that turned out.
Hoffman underwent Tommy John surgery prior to the 2014 MLB Draft. Had he not injured his elbow, Hoffman may have been the No. 1 overall pick that year. So, the talent is undoubtedly there. Can Reds pitching coach Derek Johnson help Hoffman rediscover it?
That is unquestionably what the Cincinnati front office is hoping for. Hoffman has a sinking fastball that hits the mid-90s and a wicked curveball as well. Hoffman is more than a two-pitch pitcher, as he has a changeup that he’ll turn to on occasion as well, but it’s easily his third-best pitch.
The Reds are hoping Jeff Hoffman can miss some more bats.
A problem that Hoffman has seen in recent years has been the number of hard-hit balls opposing batters are bashing off the 28-year-old. Since 2018, according to FanGraphs, the number of batted balls with an exit velocity above 95-MPH has only increased.
In 2018, Hoffman’s hard hit percentage was sitting at 34.4%. In 2019, while appearing in 15 games, Hoffman allowed 26 barrels to opposing batters for a 12.4% barrel percentage and his hard-hit percentage jumped to 41.1%.
Last season was the worst for Jeff Hoffman in terms of hard-hit percentage. While his barrel percentage dropped to 9.6%, he allowed a 53.4% hard-hit percentage and an average exit velocity of 92.3-MPH. The bottom line is, Hoffman is going to have to find a way to miss more bats; something he’s rarely been able to do in his career.
Hoffman seems as though he’s slated for the bullpen in 2021, but there’s a chance that he could earn the final spot in thee rotation with a solid showing in spring training. However, he’ll have to unseat Michael Lorenzen, who appears to be the odds-on favorite to win that job heading to Goodyear.