Boston Red Sox: Who from the bullpen should stay in 2016?

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May 25, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Boston Red Sox pitcher

Heath Hembree

(37) delivers a pitch during the eighth inning against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports

Heath Hembree

If Ross is a typical, middle of the road, somewhat anonymous and totally average reliever, Heath Hembree is basically invisible. I’ve spoken to Boston fans who haven’t even heard of him, something which would be a negative for most bullpen pitchers in the majors, but for the 2015 Red Sox that’s probably as glowing one could be with praise.

Hembree though is only 26 and has an advantage that seems to fly under the radar, if not under the opponent’s bat, his fastball. He throws heat that levels out at 95 MPH but can flash 96 and in Boston the only other reliever capable of reaching such heights is Tazawa.

Fast throwing fire-arms are the norm now in baseball. It’s not unusual to see a bullpen stacked with pitchers ready and waiting to pound the strike zone with 98 MPH as hapless hitters swing their trail. Arguably the Red Sox failed to recognize the shift away from technical hurlers in the pen and suffered for it, with the likes of Breslow, Noe Ramirez and Machi all throwing soft. To have someone capable of providing a little heat late on in a game when the opponent’s bats are likely tired and frustrated enough is at least a step in the right direction towards this. It doesn’t hurt that Dombrowski is well known to be a fan of electric arm pitchers over the alternative either.

That said, Hembree isn’t exactly the shining example of this, hence his failure to build brand recognition in Boston this year. His fastball may be fast, but it also has a lot of ball, as Hembree walked 9 opponents in only 25.1 innings. In that time, a somewhat dismal K/9 of 5.33 and career low percentage of ground balls at 27.2% doesn’t inspire much confidence. This is however, probably unsustainable and is expected to improve due to his yet young age.

Perhaps more debilitating for Hembree is that he is essentially a two-pitch pitcher having only his fastball and slider, neither of which generate a lot of swings and misses. His changeup is used sparingly enough to be moot, but it did see an increase in usage with the Red Sox and can provide an unexpected out or two.

All that sounds pretty negative, but Hembree has a fairly solid reputation of being a fairly solid middle reliever. His ERA on the year of 3.55 is unsightly for a bullpen piece, but in 11 games in September he gave up only 7 hits and 2 runs for an ERA of 1.74. During this month he held opponents to an AVG of a mere .189 and was improving his strikeout rate too, sending 6 in 10 innings to the dugout by way of the K. That’s fairly solid, wouldn’t you say?

Had his year started as good as it ended then perhaps more would have heard of Hembree, but it didn’t, so they haven’t. Even so, he remains one of the more usable pieces in the bullpen for Boston and the value he could provide for bargain basement salary certainly make him difficult for Dombrowski to pass up.

Next: Tommy Layne