We’ve heard the comparisons for the Chicago Cubs starter. Cerebral. A thinking man’s pitcher. Greg Maddux-like. Now in his third year, is Kyle Hendricks ready to evolve from the promising young talent into a top rotation arm?
Late in the season in 2015, Chicago Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon put his faith in Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester and was quicker with the hook on Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks. Hendricks is still yet to go beyond the seventh inning, but it’s not for a lack of faith in his ability. He ended the last season with 12 consecutive shutout innings with 17 strikeouts to two walks.
The biggest change from the scuffling Hendricks to the final two games were the adjustments he made late in the season. He worked on his mechanics–something critical to a guy who doesn’t throw mid 90’s–and the late season changes worked. He’s carried that into 2016 and has looked more like the pitcher from his rookie year than the lost No. 5 starter from last season.
While Hendricks hasn’t cracked the eighth inning, he’s gotten more dominant in many cases later in the game. When facing hitters for the third time in a game, he’s holding opponents to a .242 average but a SO/W ratio of 13. Even though his BAbip jumps to .400 it’s his ability to strikeout hitters late in the game that’s keeping him effective.
Another aspect of the new Hendricks is he’s keeping the ball in the yard. In 2016, he allowed 17 home runs in 180 innings pitched. Only one has left the yard in 35 2/3 innings this year. Oddly enough, he’s finding the strike zone more often, up 8% from last year (42.8 to 50.8).
A general assessment of these numbers shows his ability to hit his spots is making a huge difference. Hendricks is hitting the zone when he wants to, not when the count dictates he should. Is his ability to locate his pitches enough to overcome the fact that he’s not a Stephen Strasburg type pitcher?
Absolutely. If Hendricks continues to be as effective as he has been early, Maddon will give him the ball later in the game more often. The thought of saving his pitchers applies to Hendricks as much as it does Arrieta and Lester. Hendricks’ 180 innings last year were the most he’s thrown in a season. Hendricks may be “the professor”, but Maddon is “the Dean” and is very clear on how to run Cubs University.
Hendricks has gone from promising rookie to a sophomore slump–but now looks ready to continue his evolution and look to take the next step to fulfilling some of the Maddux comparisons.