Exploring Heath Hembree’s Value to the Red Sox Bullpen

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Heath Hembree

Right-handed middle relief pitcher Heath Hembree appeared in 38 games for the Red Sox in 2016, ending the season with a 4-1 won-lost record with six holds and two blown saves. His 2.65 ERA (173 ERA+) looks pretty good, but his 3.83 FIP and 1.333 WHIP suggest that he wasn’t really as good as all that. Although he tended to be used in some higher leverage situations, as the season progressed, he was mostly a medium-leverage pitcher. His fairly extreme platoon split (right-handed batters had just a .591 OPS against him, while lefties batters had an .890 OPS) also limited his usefulness. In 2016, he started the year in the minors before being called up in mid-April, but since he is out of options in 2017, he is likely to spend 2017 with the major-league club. Overall, Hembree was a decent, but not great relief pitcher, whose main use was to soak up innings without wasting higher-quality (and higher-paid) pitchers’ arms.

What he throws. Hembree throws a mid-90s four-seam fastball (“FF”, average velocity 94.6 mph), a slider (“SL”), and a curve (“CU”). He also threw a literal handful of changeups (“CH”):

Pitch usage and trends: Hembree threw 60.3% fastballs, 28.1% sliders, and 11.1% curves. He threw more curves, and fewer sliders, to left-handed batters than to right-handed batters. A relatively high percentage of his curves started at-bats (23% of his 0-0 pitches), and he threw very few (3.7%) when behind:

His changeups were spread out over four games in May and June; all five of them were thrown to left-handed batters, and none were hit (two balls, both leading to walks; one swinging strike, one foul tip, and one groundout):

Pitch value. Hembree’s pitch values (as measured by total bases per 100 pitches) are all just around league-average. His fastball and curve were both significantly better against right-handed than left-handed batters, while his slider was about equal to both sides – marginally worse against righties. As noted, there were no hits against his five changeups, but there isn’t much predictive value in that:

Pitch location: Hembree’s pitches don’t form tight clusters, but do show distinct preferences. Both his fastballs and his curves tended to be outside to left-handed batters. His fastballs were less predictable to right-handed batters, mostly in the inside third of the plate but with a reasonable minority targeting the outside edge. His sliders typically targeted the bottom edge of the strike zone, inside to left-handed batters and outside to RHB:


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Featured image courtesy of the Boston Red Sox.

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Ian is an immunologist and virologist who lives in Atlanta with his wife and two sons. Most of his time is spent driving his kids to baseball and soccer games, during which he indoctrinates his children on the glories of Pedro Martinez, the many virtues of the Montreal Expos, and other important information.

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