Low Profile Hoffman Battles Way to Success

Matt Hoffman has followed an interesting career path. A 26th round pick by the Tigers in the 2007 draft out of Owasso High School in Oklahoma, he wasn't what one would call a high profile prospect – coming into the 2011 season, TigTown.com had him rated as the Tigers' No. 31 prospect.

Even more interesting, he started his professional career starting games in the Detroit organization. However, after three seasons of inconsistent performances, Hoffman has finally found a niche in the Mud Hens' bullpen.

"Just changing what I did, coming out and throwing strikes," Hoffman said. "Last year I came [to Toledo] trying to do more than I was capable of and I paid for it, but this year I'm just doing my job and it's paid off so far."

Being a mid-round pick like he was doesn't carry as much of a negative stigma when you are drafted there coming out of high school as opposed to college. Hoffman said that signing with the Tigers was the right situation for him to come into.

"It was a tough decision … I was a high school kid so I had a little bit of negotiating room," Hoffman said. "I didn't sign until the day before the deadline, and I was ready to go to school, but they made the right offer and I couldn't turn it down."

While he has never been much of a command pitcher, as he is the owner of a 1.75:1 career minor league strikeout-walk ratio, he has shown improvements in that department.

During his first professional season in 2008, where he appeared in 17 games with 12 starts, he averaged 4.77 walks per nine innings.

After a 23 appearance, 13 start 2009 season, where his walk rate dipped to only 2.52 batters per nine innings, it climbed back up to 4.41 last season, his first as a full-time reliever.

Now that he has become more acclimated to the role of a reliever, his walk rate has slightly regressed, down to 4.14 batters per nine innings. However, Hoffman's strikeout rate also has dropped, and he confirmed that he has been pounding the strike zone more this season.

"[I've been] attacking hitters more, not being afraid," he said. "Coming in here as a 21-year-old, you're looking at these guys who have big league time, and now I just go after them like any other hitter."

While Hoffman throws with his left hand, he has actually found more success against right-handed batters this season.

In 24 2/3 innings against righties, he has a 3.65 ERA, a 1.45 WHIP and a .263 opponent batting average against. In 14 1/3 innings against lefties, he has a 3.77 ERA, a 1.63 WHIP and a .288 opponent batting average against.

"With lefties, it's been the arm angle and with righties it's just been attacking them, going after them, getting ahead of them and being able to throw what I want, when I want," Hoffman said. "If you miss [at the Triple-A level] they hurt you, but so far I've been pretty good, but now I have to change up to adjust."

Despite the success he has had this season, Hoffman's career path was at one point unclear. Early on he was a man without a defined role, splitting time between the starting rotation and the bullpen.

Hoffman called the transition to a reliever "different" and that there was a bit of a learning curve for him.

"When you're a starter, you're used to going out once a week or so and then sitting around the rest of the games; when you're a reliever, you always have to be focused on the game because you never know when you're going to get the call," he said. "As a full-time reliever, you're studying the hitters every time they come up, seeing what they're swinging at, where they're swinging at … it's not that hard [to get used to] but I like relieving a lot better."

And even though he had some struggles in late June, Hoffman has earned the confidence of his manager in late game, close situations.

"He's been throwing the ball great … from this point last year when I first got him [in Toledo] to now, it's night and day," Mud Hens manager Phil Nevin said. "Last year, putting him in some heavy action at the end of the game, it wasn't something that he handled well. Now I'll put him in during any situation, I have all kinds of confidence in him."

Tigs Town Top Stories