Reds: Forget Michael Lorenzen, Jeff Hoffman should remain in the rotation

GOODYEAR, ARIZONA - MARCH 03: Jeff Hoffman #23 of the Cincinnati Reds delivers a pitch. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
GOODYEAR, ARIZONA - MARCH 03: Jeff Hoffman #23 of the Cincinnati Reds delivers a pitch. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images) /

When Jeff Hoffman was acquired by the Cincinnati Reds in a deal that sent Robert Stephenson and outfield prospect Jameson Hannah to the Colorado Rockies, I don’t think anyone anticipated Jeff Hoffman competing for a starting role. Instead, after injuries to both Sonny Gray and Michael Lorenzen this spring, Hoffman earned a chance to start for Cincinnati and has impressed thus far.

Hoffman had potential to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 MLB Draft before falling due to injury concerns. He was electric with the Jays before being moved over to Colorado as a centerpiece to the deal that sent All-Star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki to Toronto. Regarded as the No. 35 prospect in baseball in 2016, Hoffman could never put it together for the Rockies.

Hoffman was given his opportunities in the pitcher’s nightmare that is Coors Field, but never succeeded and was moved to the bullpen for 21-plus innings in 2020, where he put up a brutal 9.28 ERA. The Reds had hoped that pitching coach Derek Johnson could help him go back to the basics that made him such a highly-regarded prospect; so far so good.

Jeff Hoffman has found early-season success with the Reds.

Jeff Hoffman got his first win as a Red on opening weekend against the Cardinals, pitching five innings and allowing one run before getting more roughed up in 4.1 innings as part of a no-decision in Arizona.

Hoffman rebounded last Friday night in a win over the Cleveland Indians. He was able to work around a couple big jams in the first two innings, and pitched six innings, allowing just one run and striking out four.

Compared to previous years, Hoffman’s fastball usage and velocity both remain around his career norms, but his other offerings could be the answer. According to FanGraphs, Hoffman is throwing his slider at a 15.7% rate, which is the second-highest of his career after abandoning it completely in 2020. He is also using a cutter and curveball significantly less while throwing fastballs 58% of the time.

In terms of pitch values, Hoffman’s fastball runs above-average and is a career-best 0.5. His slider, curveball, and changeup also are close to career-bests. Hoffman is also generating a far and away career best in O-Swing% (the number of pitches outside the zone at which batters are swinging) at 37.6%, while his first-pitch strike percentage at over 60% also establishes a new career-high.

With the announcement last week that Michael Lorenzen was headed to the 60-day IL with a shoulder injury, Hoffman has cemented his spot in the Cincinnati rotation for now. Might he maintain his standing as a starter beyond beyond the end of May when Lorenzen is eligible to return?

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With Lorenzen’s injury coming following Cincinnati’s attempt to insert him into the rotation, you have to wonder if the Reds will even try the right-hander as a starter when he returns. The chips are lining up for Jeff Hoffman to get a real shot in the Cincinnati Reds rotation, and there is reason to believe he could capitalize on it.