The Philadelphia Phillies bullpen has been shaky of late. After shutting down opponents for much of the summer, the relievers have been scuffling as they have been walking more batters and allowing more runs to score.
One relief pitcher who has been steady out of the bullpen is Jeff Hoffman. Hoffman was signed as minor league free agent right as the 2023 season began. His contract was selected by the Phillies in May as he could have chosen to opt out of the minor league deal and seek a Major League contract elsewhere.
The Phillies have to be content with their choice to keep him within the organization as the right-handed reliever is having a career-best season. Hoffman has pitched for three different teams over parts of eight seasons. His career ERA is 5.26. Last season was the best of his career in terms of ERA (3.83) and WHIP (1.41). The 2023 season has last season beat by a mile.
In 2023 Hoffman has posted a 2.20 ERA and a sub-1.00 WHIP. His K/9 rate sits at 12.12 K/9— surpassing his previous best at 9.74 K/9 in 2021. So, what has made the difference for Hoffman this season?
Perhaps the biggest improvement that the Phillies' reliever has made is his four-seam fastball velocity increase. In 2023, Hoffman is averaging 97.2mph on his four-seamer— which is three miles per hour faster than his previous highest average. Over the past two seasons, Hoffman has also increased the usage of his slider— throwing the pitch 47.8% of the time this season— while also improving the spin rate on the pitch.
Hoffman has not allowed an earned run in his last 12 appearances. Since the start of September, the reliable right-hander has a 0.00 ERA and has allowed just one hit. He has also struck out 13 batters over eight innings logged this month.
Heading into the final two weeks of the regular season, the Phillies will need Hoffman to continue pitching at this caliber. The club also needs other relievers to step up and keep inherited runners from reaching the plate and keeping runners off base. Something that Rob Thomson may want to consider is using Hoffman in a high-leverage situation or two prior to the start of the postseason to test his pedigree in higher pressured situations. The team will need clutch bullpen performances from their most trusted relievers if they want to go on a deep playoff run.