33-year old Clay Hensley may have just signed a minor league deal to provide depth for the Cincinnati Reds during spring training, but the right-hander was one of the NL’s best relievers only two seasons ago with the then Florida Marlins – good enough to take over the closer’s role late in the season, even.
Fighting for a job as minor league depth probably wasn’t what Hensley envisioned for himself going into 2013, but such is the employment volatility of a MLB reliever, and especially one with an injury history like Hensley’s.
The soft-tossing swingman missed 54 games due to a rib injury and shoulder problems, and never recovered the form that he showed prior. Asked to start in place of the injured Josh Johnson, Hensley showed initial promise with a three-start stretch that saw him give up just five runs on 17 innings, but wound up struggling in that role before finishing one of the worst seasons of this career back in the bullpen.
In the off-season, the Marlins’ one-time closer was unceremoniously DFA’d.
He wasn’t much better last season with the San Francisco Giants, as he showed flashes of his 1.5 fWAR 2010 in April and July, but was never consistent enough to sustain either run. A third DL stint in two seasons did not help his case, either.
Though Hensley has never been a hard thrower, it’s quite possible that the multiple injuries took a serious toll on what velocity he had, as it saw a two-year decline from an 88.5 mph average in 2010 to just 85.5 last season.
You might not think that the extra ticks matter for a pitcher that doesn’t use speed to blow by opponents, but it made a big difference for Hensley, especially because it’s a pitch that he uses some 60% of the time – the fastball was a 4.9 runs above average pitch in 2010; by 2012, it had a negative pitch value at -2.9.
2013 is a new season, however, and for Hensley to get back to where he was at with the Marlins in 2010, he first has to make the big leagues with the Reds. To do that, he’ll have prove that he’s healthy and recovered from the injuries in the past two seasons.
Three miles per hour might not mean that Hensley can suddenly power his fastball by batters, but it’ll make all the difference to whether he can be an effective pitcher in this league again.