Guardians reliever Sam Hentges has emerged as a true force in a young Cleveland bullpen this season.
There has been plenty of talk about Trevor Stephan’s ascension to being a key piece of the Cleveland Guardians’ bullpen, but left-hander Sam Hentges has taken a big leap so far this season as well and has quickly become a dynamic, 6-foot-6 weapon.
After another scoreless outing Wednesday night, Hentges, 25, now sports a spectacular 0.82 ERA with zero walks and 15 strikeouts in his 11 innings of work.
It’s not to say that this has come completely out of nowhere because the former fourth-round pick has always had the talent, but it is a pretty stark turnaround from his 2021 rookie season, when Hentges had a 6.68 ERA in 30 appearances. That also included 12 starts when Cleveland’s rotation was in complete shambles, so Hentges really was thrust into the fire from the start.
Though Hentges struck out 68 batters in 68 2/3 innings last year, he also issued 32 walks and gave up ten home runs. Though his four-seam fastball, his primary pitch, can touch the mid-90s, teams hit .409 against it in 2021, which certainly didn’t help for a guy who was battling control issues at times.
But all that has changed in 2022.
Hentges has been a completely different pitcher to start the season and looks ready to become a major piece of the young bullpen. The four-seamer is still his primary pitch, but Hentges is locating it far better this year, and hitters only have a .214 average against it. Overall, Hentges is striking out nearly 40% of batters faced as well, which puts him in the top 3% of the league.
Hentges has begun to change up his secondary pitches, too. Last season, the curveball was his second pitch, thrown 25% of the time to great effect, though opposing hitters crushed his slider and sinker. This year, though, the slider and sinker have outpaced the curveball and they’ve been far more effective. The slider has been especially lethal for Hentges, as hitters have just a .165 xBA and a 47% whiff rate against it. According to his Statcast profile, it looks like Hentges is getting far better movement on the slider in 2022, which has turned that pitch into a perfect complement to his 95 mph heater.
Interestingly enough, Hentges has better split numbers against right-handed batters, who are hitting just .091 against him in 22 at-bats. Hentges has still been very effective against lefties (a .250 batting average), but it shows he’s far more than just a specialist.
As the young Guardians bullpen continues to evolve, guys like Hentges will start to emerge as part of what the team hopes to be a rock-solid core for the future. And if he stays this effective, Cleveland is going to have something special in the bullpen for years to come.