Photo Credit: Brian Fluharty / USA Today Sports
It’s hard not to notice the Red Sox love of their reliever, but why does he continue to get opportunities?
When the Red Sox acquired Heath Hembree in a deal for Jake Peavy, they envisioned getting a potential closer in return; however that was not meant to be. Hembree has accumulated a 3.32 career ERA, but has settled into a middle relief role while in Boston.
The interesting thing about the Red Sox reliever is that he often does not pass the “eye test.” It seems that Hembree often struggles either throwing strikes, or giving up base hits to let the opposition climb back into a game. The reality is that the hard throwing reliever often struggles in low leverage opportunities to the tune of a .284 BAA and a .812 OPS against. His career splits reflect his 2018 numbers as well, as Hembree possesses a .291 BAA and a .860 OPS against him in low leverage situations.
The numbers show that either Hembree loses focus in situations that are less-likely to dictate the outcome of the game, or that he falls into a different mix of pitches in these spots. Obviously, that’s a situation that he will need to improve upon, but his value to the Red Sox doesn’t come in low leverage situations.
The Garbage Man
Alex Cora adores Heath Hembree as the Red Sox garbage man. He cleans up his fellow pitchers’ messes on a regular basis – and does the job exceptionally well. The Red Sox reliever has inherited 29 baserunners thus far, but has allowed a mere 5 to score. This percentage is good enough to hold the 4th best in the American League.
Additionally, the Red Sox reliever has posted a .200 BAA in high leverage spots and a .182 BAA in medium leverage situations this season. He’s proved time, and time again, that’s he’s capable of cleaning up the messes that are in front of him.
In an interview with The Athletic’s Chad Jennings, Cora continued to praise the under-the-radar reliever:
“In the beginning, I was trying to get a feel of how to use him,” Cora said. “I do now, and he’s a guy with traffic on, he’ll come in and shut down the door.” – The Athletic
Sure, there are frustrations that come with any reliever. Fans will remember the Shane Robinson debacle against the Yankees, where Hembree walked him in a key situation and ultimately allowed multiple runs to score. It happens, but the reality is that he’s been a very solid option out of the Red Sox bullpen, despite what your eyes may tell you.
Personally, it was easy to point the finger at him over the last few seasons, but he’s emerged as a very valuable member of the Red Sox bullpen and is inching closer to becoming a “lock” for the postseason roster.