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Heath Hembree: Worst of the worst?

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The 2020 Phillies employed some awful relievers, and Hembree might have been the worst of the lot

Washington Nationals v Philadelphia Phillies
There’s a fairly good chance this pitch resulted in a home run
Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images

The numbers (with the Phillies)

11 games, 9.1 IP, 1-0 W-L, 12.54 ERA, 9.6 K/9, 4.8 BB/9

The background

Leading into 2020, Hembree had a fairly successful career. He was never a star during his seven-year career, but was reliable enough in the middle innings, and performed well in the Red Sox 2018 title run. Still with Boston, he started out 2020 on a strong note, carrying a 1.86 ERA through his first ten appearances.

His eleventh appearance didn’t go so well. Facing the Phillies, he allowed four runs without recording an out. Most of the damage was done via a three run home run by Bryce Harper.

The Phillies should have viewed that outing as a warning sign. Instead, they traded for Hembree and his fellow Red Sox reliever Brandon Workman in order to shore up their shaky bullpen. In hindsight, that was not the greatest trade the Phillies have ever made.

The good

Hembree pitched well in his first appearance with the Phillies. He contributed 1.2 scoreless innings in a win over the Braves.

The bad

Everything else.

Hembree made ten other appearances with the Phillies, and allowed runs in eight of them. He only pitched 9.1 innings with the team, but he somehow managed to cram a season’s worth of awfulness into them. He walked five batters and gave up seven home runs, and his bWAR was an impressively bad -0.5.

His season was cut short by a mid-September elbow injury, and if there were any Phillies fans upset by his absence, I have yet to encounter them.

Considering how many bad relief pitchers the Phillies employed this season, its tough to declare any one of them to be the absolute worst. But if you wanted to award that title to Hembree, I wouldn’t argue against it.

The future

Hembree was waived, and his track record is solid enough that some team will write off his struggles to either injury or the unusualness of the 2020 season. With the Phillies in such dire need to relievers, it isn’t completely unthinkable that they might try to bring him back on a cheap deal. Perhaps they identified what went wrong and think it was either a fluke or fixable. They also might try to salvage the trade which has been a disaster and was likely the final blow for Matt Klentak’s tenure as general manager.

That said, I think its best for both sides if Hembree moved on and the Phillies sought out other reclamation projects.