Liam Hendricks had, from all appearances, a very strong season for the Toronto Blue Jays: 5-0, 2.92, with 71 strikeouts and 11 walks in 64 innings over 58 appearances, He spent the whole season in the majors.
Yet it's quite obvious that Toronto manager John Gibbons doesn't really trust the Aussie. The primary righties to bridge the gap between the starters and closer Roberto Osuna are Mark Lowe and Aaron Sanchez, neither of whom have the raw stats in 2015 that Hendriks does. Hendriks made his first appearance in the ALCS Monday night, coming in for the ninth inning with a seven-run lead. He faced four hitters, three of whom got hits and the other a hard-hit out, and was pulled for Osuna.
As it turns out, spelunking into the numbers, Hendriks built his impressive overall stats in situations that didn't matter much. According to Baseball Reference, Hendriks faced just 39 hitters all season in "high leverage" situations; those hitters hit .359. Hendriks faced 40 hitters in "medium leverage" situations; those hitters hit .389. And he faced 181 men in "low leverage" situations; those hitters hit just .176. He had six holds on the season, none after August 5.
Is that random chance at work or something intrinsic in Hendriks' skill set or psyche? The stat nerd in me says it's baseball's randomness. But I am reminded of Anthony Swarzak, who spent a few years in the Twins bullpen thriving in low-importance situations and struggling when the hitters mattered in games. Put Swarzak in six runs down, and he'd likely provide a couple shutout innings; put him in in a tied game, and he'd likely yield one or or more runs.
I was frequently critical of the Twins handling of Hendriks. They bounced him between majors and minors for three years and, in my estimation, never gave him a clear shot at the rotation. He had 28 starts in his 30 appearances with the Twins, and I'm not foolish enough to say he pitched well in those starts (his Minnesota ERA was 6.06), but a lot of successful major league starters floundered in their first 30 or so starts. It's not like the 2012 or '13 Twins had a lot of obviously better options, or couldn't afford to sacrifice some games to developing Hendriks.
Anyway: The Twins gave up on him as a starter and didn't think him worth trying as a reliever. His 2015 numbers say that was a mistake. His 2015 usage suggests it doesn't matter. He's only 26; we'll see how and if his impact develops.