SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies right-hander Jeff Hoffman’s long arms sprout from a 6-foot-5, long-legged frame that, theoretically, can intimidate a batter.
But Hoffman gave up 21 home runs in 70 Major League innings last season. No wonder he has agreed to shorten up his motion -- which is easier to suggest than execute.
The Rockies acquired Hoffman as the key prospect when they sent Troy Tulowitzki to the Blue Jays in 2015. Now, however, Hoffman -- competing for a rotation spot -- is out of Minor League options, so he is full-force and getting good results in throwing sessions.
“It took some time,” Hoffman said. “That longer path was part of my identity. But at the same time, going out and having success, you know, the first real success, sustained success, that I've had in quite a bit made it easier to swallow.”
Compare his bullpen sessions in early Spring Training to those he threw at this time last year, and it’s the difference between basketball and football. That’s how much different Hoffman’s motion from glove to throwing position has become. A sweep well below the waist before circling to throwing position has become a much shorter rise and lift.
It’s much the same motion that Lucas Giolito used in going from inconsistency in the Nationals' organization to a 2019 All-Star with the White Sox.
Hoffman’s current motion is the result of an evolution of changes last year that led to some better location in his final three starts. The home runs still flew -- five in his final 13 2/3 innings -- but it’s difficult to erase a lifetime of hard-wired mechanics in a few starts.
D-backs lefty Madison Bumgarner has had a nice career with a big arm sweep.
“From a coaching standpoint, you never mandate or give a directive to change the way your arm works, your natural throwing motion,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “[But] we’ve seen it done. It’s happened before, and in Jeff’s case he felt he needed to do this for his career.”
Hoffman’s difficulty getting his arm to its release point in time led to missed spots in juicy areas last season, especially with the four-seam fastball -- 18 home runs, a .323 batting average and a .741 slugging percentage, according to Statcast.
On the plus side, Statcast has Hoffman’s curveball average against at just .151 in 2019. But its effectiveness is mitigated if he can’t command the four-seamer.
With no options left, Hoffman could be a candidate for a multi-inning bullpen role.
None of the rotation competitors comes with the label of being a key figure in a deal involving a major star. For now, the Rockies’ biggest benefit from the deal is that it eventually opened shortstop for Trevor Story. Hoffman, who was growing into a big-leaguer until shoulder problems in 2018 scrambled his path, and righty reliever Jesus Tinoco, who debuted last season, are the last players left.
“It was a long time ago now; I don't really think about it much,” Hoffman said. “Definitely there are ways I can use it as motivation. But at the same time, I’m mostly trying to go out and be myself, create my own legacy.”