Chicago Cubs Gradeout: Kyle Hendricks shows he’s for real


B+. 8-7, 3.95 ERA, 180 IP, 3.36 FIP, 3.88 SO/BB, 8.4 SO/9, 1.161 WHIP. SP. Chicago Cubs. KYLE HENDRICKS

Kyle Hendricks grew up in Mission Viejo, California—an affluent, tree-lined suburban community. His dad is a professional golfer. He went to Dartmouth College—a high-priced Ivy League school known far more for academics than athletics. Sounds like a life of privilege and good fortune.

And yes, Hendricks would probably admit that he has been fortunate, though it has taken quite a bit of hard work for him to find success as a starting pitcher for the Chicago Cubs.

The soft-tossing right-hander first came to the Cubs organization from the Texas Rangers in 2012 as part of the Ryan Dempster deal. At the time, he was not generally regarded as the key player the Cubs got in return—that honor more often than not going to Christian Villanueva.

But Hendricks’ work ethic showed through the Cubs system and he made his major league debut last year. Hendricks prepared extremely well for games, and it translated well onto the field as he pitched effectively in his short time in the majors in 2014, posting seven wins to just two losses to go along with a sterling 2.46 ERA.

Due to Hendricks’ small sample size in 2014 (he pitched just 80 innings), it was difficult for the Cubs to predict exactly what kind of pitcher they had on their hands heading into 2015. He works hard and prepares well, but has not been noted as having overwhelming stuff.

In fact, Hendricks had to fight for a starting role through spring training. Entering the regular season, Hendricks was, at best, thought of as a back of the rotation starter. The club hoped he could eat some innings while keeping games close and winable.

Hendricks met expectations. He turned in 32 starts, pitching 180 innings. Though his ERA fluctuated greatly through the season, being as high as 5.15 in mid-May and as low as 3.44 in mid-July, his final ERA of 3.95 suggests that Hendricks gave his team a chance to win games.

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These numbers look pretty good for a back-of-the-rotation pitcher. In fact, according to FanGraphs, Hendricks’ Wins Above Replacement (WAR) for 2015 was 3.4. That’s pretty darn good–good enough to rank 27th amongst starting pitchers, ahead of guys like Jordan Zimmermann, Felix Hernandez and Michael Wacha. Not bad for a guy who had to fight for a spot in the rotation.

It took work, though. Hendricks experienced issues with his pitching mechanics for much of the season, resulting in some inconsistent performances. Going to work with pitching coach Chris Bosio, Hendricks poured over video tape, going all the way back to his time in Double-A ball to identify what makes his delivery work. After reclaiming his old arm angle and balance transfer, Hendricks turned in some good performances.

For what they expected from him, Kyle Hendricks definitely gave the Chicago Cubs a good season. Especially as he gave his team some quality starts from late July through early August—a time when the Cubs were making their playoff push. It is fair to suggest the Cubs can expect more of the same from Hendricks in 2016, giving some peace of mind at the back-end of the rotation behind the likes of Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester and (hopefully) an ace yet-to-be signed.