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Kyle Hendricks: The Cubs “X” factor

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Kyle Hendricks is in a good spot right now with the Chicago Cubs.  With the addition of Jon Lester, the Cubs have their ace of the pitching staff.  Lester will also be a leader and a mentor for some of the young pitchers already with the Cubs.  And then there is Jake Arrieta – expected to pick up where he left off from last year – will slide right into the second spot.  This now leaves Kyle Hendricks or Jason Hammel to compete for the third spot with the other as the forth.

Either way, Hendricks will flourish in the role the Cubs put him into.  With only a small sample of what the young right-handed pitcher has – he impressed a lot of people.  One of those impressed was former Chicago Cubs’ All-Star and Cy Young Award winner Rick Sutcliffe.  While invited to sing the seventh inning stretch at Wrigley Field last season – Sutcliffe spoke with the Comcast SportsNet announce team about Hendricks.  Sutcliffe was impressed with what he saw in the Cubs’ new pitcher – so much so he compared him to Hall of Fame pitcher Greg Maddux.

"“It’s all about makeup, I was here in ’86 when a guy named Greg Maddux showed up. I was in Baltimore in ’92 for Mike Mussina‘s first year. It’s not the same stuff – it’s not the velocity or whatever. But it’s the same kind of makeup. The tougher the situation, the less you will see the catcher’s glove move and the better pitch he’s gonna make.” – Rick Sutcliffe via CSN Chicago."

That is high praise coming from one former Cubs pitcher to a current Cubs pitcher.  Hendricks does compare to a young Maddux.  Neither one had an over-powering fastball, but relied on control and accuracy of their other pitches. The young pitcher has a nice arsenal of pitches that he uses to keep the hitters guessing.  Chicago’s 25-year-old hurler uses a curve, change-up, cutter, slider, and a very good sinker.  Hendricks’ season stats were very good – posting a stat line of a win/loss record of 7-2 over 13 games started, with a 2.46 ERA, 1.08 WHIP.

A lot like Maddux – Hendricks doesn’t throw a lot of strikes.  But the young right-hander does his job by hitting the spots set-up by his catcher and lets the seven players behind him do their jobs.  In 2014 the right-handed pitcher had a 47% ground ball ratio – this was probably caused by Hendricks use of his sinker.  His sinker – which averages a velocity of 88 MPH – was his pitch of choice 53% of the time.

"“He’s taking advantage of opportunities, I just think the guy just works the (strike) zone, nothing overpowering. He just hits his spots. He’s fun to play behind. He has a great tempo.” – Chris Coghlan via Chicago Tribune."

I’m not saying Hendricks is the next Greg Maddux – he doesn’t need to be.  But compared – their pitch selection and mechanics are very similar.  Both rely on accuracy and their defense behind them.  Maddux had the most success with Atlanta which saw him with two other stars – John Smoltz and Tom Glavine.  Again like Maddux, Hendricks has his own two stars in Lester and Arrieta.

Why do I think Hendricks will be the key to this rotations success? Simple, he is the kind of pitcher that you can rely on to make his starts.  He will be able to go up to six or seven innings in his starts and they will be a solid six or seven innings.  He prepares himself well for every game, studies the hitters and listens to his coaches and catcher.  Hendricks knows what kind of pitcher he is and isn’t going to try to be anything he’s not.  His whole career, he’s been overlooked and again he will be this year.  That is why he’ll be successful again this year – no pressure, just go out and do your job.

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