The Boston Red Sox have reached an agreement on a one-year deal with right-handed reliever Heath Hembree to avoid arbitration.
An uncertain bullpen gained a bit more clarity with the Boston Red Sox agreeing to a one-year deal with reliever Heath Hembree to avoid arbitration.
You have to wonder how they came to that figure. Imagine Hembree’s representatives telling Boston’s brass, “Sorry, $1.3 million isn’t enough. Throw in an extra $12,500 or we’ll see you at the arbitration hearing!”
Hembree has been a reliable option out of Boston’s bullpen the last few years, tossing at least 51 innings in three consecutive seasons and topping 60 in each of the last two. Unfortunately, his production has also declined over that span.
Following a breakout season when Hembree posted a 2.65 ERA in 2016, his ERA jumped nearly a full run to 3.63. He regressed further this year with his ERA rising to 4.20, his highest since a brief six game sample in 2014 when he first came to Boston.
Oddly enough, Hembree’s strikeout rate has increased in each of the last four season, from a dismal 5.3 K/9 all the way to an impressive 11.4 K/9 this year. The uptick in punch-out potential also came with bouts of wildness as his walk rate ballooned to 4.1 BB/9.
Those free passes are particularly troubling for a pitcher prone to the long ball. Among American League relievers, Hembree’s 10 home runs were the 17th most allowed and his 1.5 HR/9 was the 14th highest rate.
Hembree showed interesting reverse splits this season. Right-handed batters knocked him around to the tune of a .262 average and .847 OPS but lefties hit only .186 with a .551 OPS against him. That doesn’t follow his career trend and may be a fluke that we can’t count on carrying over to next season.
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However, Hembree was one of the reasons why the Red Sox were able to get away with a lack of left-handed depth in their bullpen this season. He certainly wasn’t treated as a specialist to attack lefties with but he also wasn’t someone that needed to be pulled when a left-hander stepped to the plate.
He was seldom used in the playoffs but Hembree did appear in each of the three series during Boston’s run to a World Series title. He made four appearances for a total of 4 2/3 innings without allowing a run. This was his first taste of postseason action after the Red Sox had left him off the postseason roster the previous two years.
Hembree is the second of the dozen arbitration-eligible players the Red Sox have reached an agreement with. The team avoided arbitration with reliever Tyler Thornburg by signing him to a one-year, $1.75 million deal last month. While Hembree’s deal is slightly more than expected coming off a down season, the Red Sox managed to sign Thornburg for a notable discount from the $2.3 million he was projected for.
The Red Sox are still looking for a top-notch reliever to fill their closer void. Hembree doesn’t fit that profile but he’s a dependable arm who can eat some innings in middle relief.