Red Sox Thoughts: Heath Hembree’s role slowly fading away

SEATTLE, WA - JULY 25: Relief pitcher Heath Hembree
SEATTLE, WA - JULY 25: Relief pitcher Heath Hembree /

Despite a strong start to the 2017 season, the Red Sox reliever has struggled mightily. His poor performances may leave him on the outside, looking in.

Heath Hembree compiled a very solid start of the season, solidifying himself as a reliable option in the Boston Red Sox bullpen. Despite contrary belief, Hembree posted a 1.42 ERA in April. The strong start earned him the favor of manager John Farrell, and rightfully so. The early dominance was short lived though, as he posted an ERA over 5 in May. Despite that, he managed to post a 3.57 ERA in the first half of the season.

If you merely look at Hembree’s numbers, you would think that he has had a solid season. Which numerically – he has. The right handed reliever possesses a 3.59 ERA for the Red Sox, but ERA is not necessarily the telling stat.

It is important that a reliever doesn’t give up his own runs, however, it is even more crucial that they don’t allow inherited runners to score. Hembree has allowed a staggering 18 runners to score out of 38 opportunities (47%).

ERA may not be the most important statistic, however it is a stat that many fans use to reference effectiveness. At a quick glance, Hembree looks like he has had a solid season with the mid-three earned run average. If you adjust that ERA and charge all of his inherited runners to him, he would have a 6.67 ERA – not exactly effective.

For reference, he has left 20 runners on base and the relievers following him have only allowed five to score. Closer Craig Kimbrel has inherited 13 runners and only one has scored. Inherited runners are absolutely crucial for relievers.

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Hembree was acquired by the Red Sox from the San Francisco Giants in 2014 in exchange for Jake Peavy. At the time, he was ranked as the #7 prospect in the Giants system.

Heavily regarded as a future closer, Hembree has shown glimpses of his potential by showcasing a mid-to-high 90’s fastball and occasionally a sharp slider.

The primary issue though, is that Hembree’s stuff truly doesn’t fit in the hitter friendly Fenway Park, as well as the high powered AL East. The right hander records two thirds of his outs via the fly ball or line drive. In Fenway, the more balls put in the air, the worse it usually is for the pitcher.

Part of Hembree’s demise is that Farrell hasn’t properly utilized him. He can be effective in clean innings and against the lower part of the order; however he, like Matt Barnes, struggles on the road and in high leverage situations – owning a 4.30 road ERA.

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The reality is, the Red Sox have limited space in the bullpen and will open the return of Carson Smith with open arms. Hembree has no minor league options left – meaning he will be DFA’d, if sent down. Despite his poor track record in Boston, he will certainly land on a big league team – just like former Red Sox reliever Noe Ramirez. However, his days in Boston are numbered and his role should reflect that.