The announcement that Indiana will enter the season without reliever Jonny Hoffman, due to a violation of team rules, may seem like a big blow to the Hoosiers. Hoffman was a First-team All-Big Ten selection, led the Crimson and Cream in ERA and was a workhorse in tossing 63.1 innings in relief.
Even though Indiana will be without Collegiate Baseball Newspaper’s preseason Big Ten pitcher of the year, a deeper look into the state of the Hoosiers shows loss shouldn’t be crippling.
What Hoffman did
Hoffman led Indiana with a 2.27 ERA and five saves. Those numbers in themselves would represent a quality pitcher, especially when Hoffman appeared in 29 games. What set the submariner apart from neither every Big Ten relief pitcher, save Purdue’s Blake Mascarello, was the frequency in Hoffman having prolonged outings.
In pitching 63.1 innings, Hoffman recorded 190 outs over his 29 appearances, 6.55 an outing, roughly average 2.2 innings of work every outing. That combined with appearing one out of two Hoosier games, over a given Big Ten series Hoffman was good for 5+ innings of work, enough to qualify for a decision as a starter.
Hoffman’s delivery allowed him to pitch as often and as long as he did. After working 10.1 innings over Indiana’s four Big Ten Tournament games, coach Tracy Smith spoke to the lack of strain and stress relative to a normal delivery that Hoffman’s right arm encounters thus his ability to be used liberally. Why Smith turned to Hoffman as often as he did can be deducted from his .243 opponents average, 8.1 hits per nine innings, 38.1 plate appearances per extra-base hit.
Hoffman was the best Indiana pitcher, relief pitcher by far, in not allowing balls into the field of play, especially balls capable of being yielding extra bases. This is a good quality for any pitcher to have. This quality was incredibly important for an Indiana pitcher.
Taking the necessary grain of salt when discussing errors, Indiana was a bad fielding team, and really one needs no salt to have noticed that. The Hoosiers committed 109 errors to their opponents 71, leading to a Big Ten-worst .955 fielding percentage. More often than any other team, when a ball was put in play, the runner reached based due to a fielding miscue, which makes it of no surprise Indiana led the Big Ten in unearned runs in 81.
What others didn’t do
Hoffman’s breakout season, in the two seasons prior he had ERAs of 6.23 and 8.80, and the manner in which he did it, came at most important time. Already discussed is the shoddy Hoosier defense, now we see Hoffman’s relief pitching peers were several steps behind.
Of pitchers with at least 10 appearances and no more than four starts, only Matt Dearden’s 4.29 ERA was sub-5.00. Ryan Halstead (5.01, 46.2 innings), Walker Stadler (5.57, 21.0), Luke Harrison (5.74, 26.2), and Brian Korte (7.66, 24.2) composed a quartet of consistently used, rarely dependable pitchers for Indiana.
Considering what Hoffman was doing and what others were not, it should be no surprised that Hoffman was worked as hard as he was.
Now let’s really dig into the numbers
So far it looks like Hoffman’s departure is really going to be bad.
When looking at Indiana’s Big Ten contests here are the outings for Hoffman
3/23 PSU 1.0
3/24 PSU 4.1 *
3/25 PSU .2 *
3/30 Iowa 3.0 *
4/6 Illinois .1
4/7 Illinois 1.0 *
4/13 Michigan State 2.0
4/29 Michigan 4.0*
5/6 Nebraska 4.0*
5/6 Nebraska 4.0*
5/12 Northwestern 4.1*
5/13 Northwestern .1
5/17 Ohio State 2.0*
5/19 Ohio State 2.1
Of Hoffman’s 13 games in the Big Ten, nine came with the starting pitcher failing to record six innings. (Denoted by the *). In those nine outings, Hoffman pitched 26.1 innings. Again, according to Smith, Hoffman’s delivery allowed him to be heavily-used, and it doesn’t get more heavily-used for a relief pitcher than throwing four innings at the back of two games in a doubleheader. But even if Hoffman’s arm allowed it, Hoffman’s arm didn’t prevent the starting pitcher from recording six innings in nine of his conference outings. While Indiana did have a shaky bullpen, the infrequency for a Hoosier start to go deep into contests, Indiana’s two complete games was next-to-last, needs addressed with or without Hoffman. Hoffman provided a safety net in this situation, to really be successful one imagines Indiana starters need to go deeper in contests.
Friday-starter Joey DeNato average 6.1 innings a start, freshman left-handed pitcher Kyle Hart average 5.2 innings a start as the Hoosier’s #2, on conference Sundays, Indiana received six innings only twice, the final two of the season.
Slowly we’re finding remedies
So far we have come across two areas that Indiana can do as a team, two areas of quality that are seen universally among good teams, to lessen the loss of Hoffman in fielding better and having pitchers go deeper into starts. (And the latter often is aided by the former.)
But we still have to figure out who will replace Hoffman, right? Well, the Hoosiers still have on their roster a pitcher who holds the school-record for saves in a season.
The right-handed Halstead had a strong, if not great 2011 season. Another California native, Halstead received Big Ten All-Freshman honors in a season in which he tied Indiana’s single-season saves record with nine. As he pitched 31.1 innings over 22 games, Halstead carried a 3.16 ERA in his record-setting debut.
Halstead was relinquish the game-closing role to Hoffman after stumbling out of the blocks in 2012, saves were blown on March 2 against East Tennessee State and again on March 11 against Cal-State Northridge. Mentioned above, Halstead finished 2012 with a 5.01 ERA over 46.2 innings, recording just two saves.
If one looked at just those number, they would think regression, Halstead’s performance undoubtedly dropped off from year one to two. But looking at numbers across the board, Halstead’s performance was nearly the same, if not better from 2011 to 2012.
2011: H/9 10.05, K/9 5.15, BB/9, 2.87, WHIP 1.43, BAA .285, OSLG .414
2012: H/9 9.06, K/9 5.39 BB/9 3.27, WHIP 1.37, BAA .258, OSLG .368
Halstead improved his hits per nine, strikeouts per nine, WHIP, batting average against, opponents slugging percentage, but ERA jumped 1.85 runs. Sometimes the ball doesn’t bounce your way, and when you’re a pitcher on the worst-fielding team in the conference a that bounce may happen to you more often than others.
What does it all mean?
It would be extremely hard to say a team will not miss an all-conference performer, and I won’t do that. The value Hoffman provided in 2012 was more than any other pitcher on the team. (According to advanced metrics from Mike Rogers which will be discussed more in the future.) Hoffman was able to help his team tremendously in having long outings, being used back-to-back and not giving up much to the opposition.
But as discussed, there are internal ways Indiana can improve as a team to not need a workload of similar quantity by any pitcher. There is also history to show IU has a pitcher that can close games, and probably improved from year one to two with no reason to suggest there will not be improvement in year three for Halstead.
This doesn’t hit on the contributions from a freshman class anchored with strong arms or the improvement expect from hurlers Aaron Slegers and Stadler who will be two years removed from injuries that rendered them unusable in 2011.
If Indiana is to end its 64-year conference championship drought, it will need to improve defensively and have its starters go deeper. Those things would be needed with or without Hoffman. His value will be missed, but if Indiana is to live up to preseason expectations, his loss should not hinder them.