Posted by: Larry Smith Jr. | March 18, 2010

Gossage vs. Hoffman

Last week there was a bit of a media sparring match going on as outspoken Hall of Fame reliever Rich “Goose” Gossage was up to his old tricks again. In his case, “old tricks” is a reference to his tendency to take a bold stand on an issue, at times even being controversial.

The former White Sox, Pirates, Yankees, Padres, Cubs, Giants, Yankees again, Rangers, A’s, and Mariners reliever pitched in the league for twenty-two years. Roughly half of his career was before my lifetime and the entirety of his heyday was either before I was born or during my toddler years. While I remember him as a reliever for the Padres in the mid-80s, I frankly don’t remember his career after that. In fact, it was a little shocking for me to see that he was still playing in 1994. I last remember him with the Cubs, and looking it up, he only played with them for one season, in 1988. My point here, is that while I remember him as a player and much of his career was during my lifetime, most of his best years were before I can remember and most of the years that I can remember I don’t even recall him being in the league. Therefore, I must admit that I don’t know what he was like when he was in the league. I’ve read about him and teams he played on, and I know that he was considered a very intimidating reliever in his time. Yet I don’t know very much about how he dealt with the media in his time or if he was considered outspoken or controversial because the time when he was a truly relevant player is beyond my memory.

What I am sure of, is that since roughly the start of the 21st Century it seemed that he was constantly promoting himself for the Hall of Fame. I had trouble finding an article that showed an example of this, so perhaps it is more perception than reality, but it seemed to me that every year there was a Hall of Fame vote and he would not be inducted. And then every year he would be on multiple television stations, sometimes on multiple occasions, to talk about how he was an obvious Hall of Famer (which is true, he was) and how it was wrong to keep him out. Note that I’m not making a value judgment about him for doing this, but I just feel that it is important to the narrative of this post to show he did in fact do this (or at the very least, I perceived that he was doing this).

Gossage was finally elected to the Hall of Fame on his 9th ballot in 2008 with over eighty percent of the vote and again appeared to me to really ham it up. And frankly, it was his right to do so: It is truly an accomplishment to be inducted in the Hall of Fame and if some wish to ham it up, they are certainly entitled to. It is their life’s work. Now imbued with the title of “Hall of Famer Goose Gossage”, it seems to me that in the years since he has been inducted he has taken on a de facto role of “the voice of all things relief pitching” in baseball, and is never far away from any major issue relating to the game. I find myself often appreciating his takes, whether or not I agree with them, because he still shows so much passion for the game that he once dominated. Sometimes this passion comes out in the form of either pointed or controversial remarks — Not controversial in a malicious way, but usually more in a “call out” way.

And so was the case when last week he made the implication that Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman couldn’t hold his jock strap. He didn’t flat out say it. In fact, he refrained from making a total value judgment at all in comparing himself to either pitcher. Yet he took a dig at both of them while propping himself up in noting that he made 53 saves of seven outs or more while Hoffman had two and Rivera had one.

While I’ve heard nothing of a response from Rivera, I did hear Hoffman’s response on MLB Radio. I wish I could find an article to link the direct quote to place in this blog, as I like to cite such things as quote to avoid the appearance of hearsay, but all I have is what I heard on MLB Radio so I’m running with it. Hoffman essentially said (paraphrasing): “Well, its nice that Goose thinks that, but he had 300 saves and I have 600 saves so basically I’ve done twice as much as he has.”

I’ll note that he didn’t sound particularly angry, and he seemed to be commenting all in good fun. While he almost certainly was serious, it didn’t seem like he was out to engage in a flame war or was making an enraged, impassioned statement. I feel it is important to note this in order to provide as much context as I can based on what I heard, since nobody reading this heard it (unless you were listening to MLB radio at the same time I was, or the same quote played elsewhere).

Hearing what Hoffman had to say — And ignoring the fact that Gossage included Rivera, since its plainly ludicrous for him to compare himself to a man who is pretty much unquestionably the best relief pitcher of all-time — Led me to pursue this further.

I think Hoffman’s way of looking at it is clearly flawed. He may have twice as many saves, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he had a bigger impact on the games he played or even on as many games. The role played by closers of Hoffman’s era — And two seasons of his career (1993 and 1994) actually overlapped Gossage’s — Is a much more specialized and smaller one than those of Gossage’s era. It’s wholly possible that if Gossage were playing in the mid to late 90s and beyond that he would also have 600 saves, though the fact is that he didn’t and he doesn’t.

Looking at their careers with numbers courtesy of fangraphs and baseball-reference.com, may help provide a little insight on who is in the right here:

 

 

 
GP
 
 

 

IP
 
 

 

SV
 
 

 

Pct.
 
 

 

aLI
 
 

 

ERA+
 
 

 

FIP
 
 

 

Gossage 1002 1809 1/3 310 73% 1.632 126 3.18
Hoffman 985 1042 591 89% 2.010 147 2.99

 

 

 
K/9
 
 

 

BB/9
 
 

 

WHIP
 
 

 

WPA
 
 

 

WPA/LI
 
 

 

Pull
 
 

 

HLG*
 
 

 

Gossage 7.5 3.6 1.23 31.40 16.54 262 569
Hoffman 9.5 2.5 1.04 35.49 17.76 165 636

A few explanations are in order here, as some of the things in the above charts are not in the glossary and I don’t have the time at the moment to add them. aLI (sometimes notated as “LI”) stands for “Average leverage index”, and is a metric designed to determine how high pressure the situation is while the pitcher is in the game. While it exists for all pitchers, it is most useful for relievers. The number 1 is representative of “average” leverage situation (i.e. bases empty, no outs, 0-0 in the top of the 1st inning). Less than one is a low leverage situation (Pitching with an 8-0 lead in the bottom of the 9th, for instance), and more than one is a high leverage situation. WPA/LI is basically the win probability added divided by the LI. The utility in this metric is that it shows how much the pitcher contributed to the wins relative to how high pressure of a situation he pitched in. “Pull” is just short for pulls, and it is representative of how many times the pitcher was pulled from the game for another pitcher. HLG is not an acronym that is in use anywhere and is unlikely to reappear in this blog (and if it does I‘ll make a similar note about it). I simply didn’t have room to write out “High Leverage Games”, so I abbreviated. This is the number of games that each pitcher entered into a high leverage situation.

Frankly, I was surprised pulling this up. When I first thought of writing this post, it seemed to me that I would find that Gossage was the better pitcher and that even if it weren’t very obvious, I could at least build an argument that he was the better pitcher. Yet, the facts speak loud and clear and I’m very surprised. Hoffman has apparently been a much better pitcher over his career than not only Gossage ever was, but than I’ve personally given him credit for. He is literally better — And in some cases much better — Than Gossage could ever have hoped.

The two pitchers played in roughly the same number of games. While Gossage did pitch many more innings — Nearly twice as many as Hoffman — That is about where his advantages end. The innings that Hoffman has given his teams (mostly San Diego) have been of far greater quality. The very fact that they are lower in quantity may be a cause of this, but that aside, Hoffman has more saves and has converted them at a far greater rate. Not that I have a ton of respect for the save statistic, but facts are facts. The most surprising number of these charts is their aLI number, as I would’ve bet a large amount of money that Gossage would’ve had a much higher number than Hoffman, but apparently over his career it is Hoffman who has pitched in the tougher spots in games. Even when you omit the entirety of the 90s for Gossage — When he no longer was an elite reliever and his career clearly was in decline — His aLI from 1972-1989 was 1.695, well below the pressure cooker situations that Hoffman has found himself in during his career. Hoffman not only had a better ERA (2.73 to Gossage’s 3.01), but his ERA+ was 21 points better, showing that after adjusting for his era and park (remember that Hoffman played in a high offense era while Gossage played most of his career in the 70s and 80s) Hoffman’s run prevention was 21% better. His better FIP shows that he pitched better than Gossage even when you take their fielders out of the equation. He struck out far more, walked far less, gave up fewer base runners, contributed far more to wins (despite playing 17 less games and pitching 800 fewer innings!) even relative to the situation, was pulled from the game considerably less often and entered more games in tough spots.

The record speaks loudly and clearly in favor of Hoffman on this one. Gossage is one of the greatest relievers of all-time and one of the first truly great and feared relief pitchers. He was on one World champion (1978) and two World series losers (1981 and 1984) while Hoffman has only pitched in one World Series game in his career, and he pitched horribly in it. So certainly Gossage can feel better about himself for being a great pitcher who reached the highest heights in his sport. However, when it comes to who is and was the better pitcher, he’s best served keeping his mouth shut. Trevor Hoffman is far superior to Gossage in every way. His retort was well earned and Gossage doesn’t have the record to go marching down that road.

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Responses

  1. Larry:

    You’re right, Goose does love to shoot off his mouth. I am old enough to remember Gossage in his hay-day with the Yankees. I remember sitting at Tiger Stadium for a game, it must have 1981-82, and watching him warm up. He threw so hard I couldn’t see the ball when he released it. All you heard was the pop in the catcher’s glove.

    Goose was a great relief pitcher. But I’d take Marino Riveria over him in a heartbeat. Trevor Hoffman? I’d probably call it a wash, eventhough his stats are better. Gossage pitched in a different era. Had he pitched in the same timeframe, I think he would have put up similar stats.


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