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All signs pointing to Hall call for Hoffman

MLB.com @boomskie

SAN DEIGO -- Trevor Hoffman is on the cusp of election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

In the early tabulation of votes made public by eligible members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, one of the premier closers in Major League history so far appears to have made up enough ground to reach the 75 percent threshold for election.

SAN DEIGO -- Trevor Hoffman is on the cusp of election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

In the early tabulation of votes made public by eligible members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, one of the premier closers in Major League history so far appears to have made up enough ground to reach the 75 percent threshold for election.

Last year, Hoffman fell just five votes short. Of the 163 ballots counted, Hoffman already has gained 12 votes, losing only three for a nine-vote pickup. He's at 78.4 percent.

The voting ended on Dec. 31 and, of course, there are some 280 ballots still to be counted. Last year, Tim Raines, Ivan Rodriguez and Jeff Bagwell were elected, and 442 ballots were cast.

Hoffman's peers -- the guys already in the Hall of Fame -- certainly believe he's going to get in simply because of the stellar job he did in the role he was assigned to fulfill.

"Trevor had a tremendous impact on the back end of a baseball game," said Tom Glavine, a 305-game winner as a starter with the Braves and Mets. "And certainly, the number of saves that he has speaks for itself. I think Trevor's going to get in, whether it's this time around or the next. Whatever the case is."

Results for the Class of 2018 will be announced on Jan. 24 via MLB Network and MLB.com at 6 p.m. ET. According to the public ballots, as many as five candidates are in position right now to be elected: Hoffman, Vladimir Guerrero, Edgar Martinez, Chipper Jones and Jim Thome, the latter two in their first years.

Hoffman, in his third year, has been caught in the vortex of how some voters perceive the role of the closer and the value of the save in a diminished sense. Hoffman had 601 of them, the most ever in the National League and second only to the Yankees' Mariano Rivera, who finished with 652.

Rivera will be on the ballot for the first time for the Class of 2019 and is considered to be a no-brainer.

Current Hall of Famers think Hoffman is also a no-brainer. They believe you can't place a metric on the value of an elite closer like Hoffman and Rivera, who did their jobs at an elite level for decades, Hoffman for 18 seasons and Rivera for 19.

"I think a lot of the times closers are underrated until you have one on your team," said Glavine, who had Mark Wohlers behind him on the Braves and Billy Wagner on the Mets. "Then you realize how valuable they are, you realize what kind of asset they are to have a guy like that looming in the ninth inning and what that does to the psyche of an opposing team."

Gaylord Perry, another Hall of Famer with a rich resume, said that he wouldn't have made it without some high-class relievers behind him.

"I completed a lot of games, but I had some great relief pitchers in there helping me," said Perry, who completed 303 and had 314 wins for eight teams in 22 seasons, winning the Cy Young Award in both leagues. "Rollie Fingers was one of the best of them. He would say, 'If you have a two-run lead and you go seven don't go back out there.' He was going to be there. He did that for me in San Diego and I won a Cy Young because of him [in 1978]."

Perry, Glavine and Rodriguez were made available in a conference call earlier this week promoting next weekend's Diamond Resorts International celebrity golf tournament in Orlando, Fla. Glavine and Rodriguez are among 11 former and current baseball players competing in the tournament.

Fingers, a multi-inning closer with 341 saves, was elected to the Hall by the BBWAA in 1992. But since then, voters have had a hard time trying to figure out what to do with relievers. Rich Gossage and Bruce Sutter, who also pitched in the era of multiple-inning saves, were subsequently elected. Dennis Eckersley and John Smoltz had stellar careers as starters and closers. Both were elected by the BBWAA into the Hall.

When Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa converted Eckersley into a reliever in 1987 for the A's, it began the advent of the ninth-inning-only closer. La Russa always gave credit for that move to pitching coach Dave Duncan.

Hoffman and Rivera were certainly cut from that mold. According to Baseball Reference, 852 of Hoffman's 1,035 appearances included the ninth inning. Hitters batted only .220 and whiffed 578 times against him in 692 high-leverage situations. That attributed to his 672 wins and saves in those situations.

Similarly, Rivera pitched in 1,115 games, and 981 included the ninth inning. Opponents batted .228 against him and struck out 585 times in 782 high-leverage situations. Rivera had 734 wins and saves for the Yankees.

It's useless to compare how relievers were used in the Fingers-Gossage-Sutter era or how bullpens are evolving now with the jobs Hoffman and Rivera were asked to do in their time.

The contributions of Hoffman and Rivera shouldn't be taken out of context. Most voters don't. That's why Hoffman is so close to Hall election.

"I'm a big believer and have a lot of respect for how durable those guys were," said Rodriguez, who caught 2,247 games in the big leagues in 21 seasons. "They played in 18, 19 years and had to be in shape to pitch every day. Hoffman had over 600 saves, so did Rivera. We have to put into perspective what these guys did."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter.

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