Remember the good ol’ days a few years ago when we told ourselves, “If Chapman can’t close, we’ve always got guys like JJ Hoover!”
Remember that? That was awesome, wasn’t it?
Now that Chapman is gone and the window on the last great version of the Reds franchise has shifted, it seems that, small sample size errors aside, the window on JJ Hoover’s potential upside might have shifted as well. Perfect timing, right?
What happened? And what might he do to right the ship with the time he last left?
Let’s delve into some stats to see what the numbers tell us. First up: JJ Hoover.
The biggest changes for Hoover this season appear to be pitch selection and fastball velocity. Above, you can see that his slider is now his number two pitch. He’s throwing it almost twice as often as he did previously.
Additionally, his curveball frequency has dropped dramatically, leaving Hoover as essentially a two-pitch pitcher. Where, previously, he had a good mix of sliders and curves after his fastball, now he relies almost completely on his slider and uses his curve sparingly.
The last of variety might have made Hoover a bit easier to read, and that might explain the literal explosion of runs he’s allowed so far this season.
Here, we can see he’s lost a little over 1mph on his fastball, and his change has dropped by almost 2mph. Additionally, if he’s relying more on his slider (which averages 84) than his curve (which averages 74), we have only a 6-8mph variance in speed versus a 16-18mph variance.
This means that, in addition to seeing primarily two pitches, hitters are also seeing pitches that are a lot closer in velocity. They don’t have to worry about timing as much with such a low variance.
Now, we can see the results. The percentage of pitches a batter swings at inside the strike zone (Z-Swing %) has risen dramatically, and contact on pitches thrown outside the strike zone (O-Contact %) has dropped, meaning Hoover isn’t fooling the hitters anymore. They know when he’s going to throw strikes, so they wait on him.
Chapman was always an elite closer. His fastball dominated in ways that continue to make us drool. But he didn’t reach an otherworldly status until 2014 and 2015, when he mixed in a greater percentage of sliders and changeups.
Hoover appears to be on the downslope of his effectiveness curve, but if he takes a cue from Chapman and tosses some variety, he might fool the hitters a little more often. Or, at the very least, prove more effective than a batting tee. Either would be welcome.