Heath Hembree Dazzles In 2016 Debut

The Boston Red Sox did what they could to load up the backend of their bullpen during the offseason, but what about their middle relievers? Middle relievers get little praise, but they can often come in and bail out the team when a starter doesn’t have it, or suffers an injury. Ian York uses PITCHf/x to highlight one such performance by Heath Hembree whose 2016 debut was very impressive.

When Joe Kelly hurt his shoulder after recording just two outs in the first inning of Tuesday’s game, Heath Hembree (who had just arrived from Pawtucket) had to step in and take over. In spite of the circumstances, Hembree did very well, pitching to the end of the fourth inning and giving up just two hits, no walks, and no runs, while striking out four. He threw 45 pitches in his 3.1 innings of work well over his previous maximum for the season, 2 innings and 24 pitches on April 13.

Hembree has a closer’s simplified repertoire: fastballs and sliders. He located his pitches very well, mainly keeping his mid-90s fastball on the edges of the strike zone and drawing called strikes, especially to left-handed batters, with his deceptive slider, which (at least on Tuesday) has a wide range of speeds.  

Hembree IMG 1

(The polygon in each chart is the strike zone, as umpires called it in 2015.)

A nice example of Hembree’s approach was the fourth-inning at bat against left-handed batter Brad Miller. Hembree started him off with a pair of sliders near the bottom of the strike zone, both for called strikes. A third slider, just below the strike zone and much faster than the first two at 87 mph, was too close to take, and Miller fouled it off, as well as a fourth slider. These four sliders neatly outline the bottom of the strike zone, and to re-set Miller’s eye and timing, Hembree now showed him a 94-mph fastball, well over the top of the strike zone. Miller didn’t offer at that one, but swung at the next pitch, another fastball that was very well located right on the inside edge of the strike zone.  It might have been a ball, but like the third pitch it was much too close to take.  Miller missed it altogether and struck out.

Hembree IMG 2

Hembree pitched fairly well for the major-league Red Sox in 22 appearances last year (25.1 innings pitched, ERA of 3.55, 1.342 WHIP) and his first outing in 2016 gives us reason to hope he may have continued to improve.

Ian York uses the PITCHf/x to monitor the strike zone, highlights great performances, monitors league-wide trends and tracks the performances of some interesting young hitters.

Follow Ian on Twitter @iayork.

All data compiled from PITCHfx and Baseball-Reference.com.

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