Chicago Cubs: Can Kyle Hendricks repeat his performance in 2017?

Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports /

Big things were expected of the young pitcher, and Kyle Hendricks has not let the Chicago Cubs down. After a breakout season in 2016, can Hendricks continue his success?

It may not have come to a surprise to those in the Chicago Cubs front office, but many fans did not see it coming. The now 27-year old Kyle Hendricks broke through, stunning fans and opponents throughout 2016. It almost earned him the National League Cy Young Award. It was an amazing season to witness.

Another year under his belt, and success to build upon, it is certainly easy to see his performance continuing. Now a top three starter on a potent rotation, the Cubs will lean on Hendricks more this season than before. This new pressure may phase lesser pitchers, but not the stoic Dartmouth graduate. That was evident by his performance in the NLCS and World Series.

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The comparisons to former Chicago Cubs and now Hall of Fame pitcher Greg Maddux may seem like a stretch; however, in a league that depends on power pitching, the finesse of Hendricks makes a bold statement. What is it that makes him so good?

Picture of Consistency

If there were ever a truer definition of the word “consistency,” I would love to know. The performance of Hendricks should be considered by Merriam-Webster for submission. His motion is consistent. As are his emotions. And, therefore, his stats are similar from season to season. They have been since he was drafted. Check out these numbers:

2012, Texas Rangers and Cubs A+: 147.2 IP, 123 K, 18 BB (6.83 K/BB)

2013: Cubs AA and AAA: 166.1 IP, 128 K, 34 BB (3.76 K/BB)

2014: Cubs AAA and MLB: 183 IP, 144 K, 38 BB (3.78 K/BB)

2015: MLB: 180 IP, 167 K, 43 BB (3.88 K/BB)

2016: MLB 190 IP, 170 K, 44 BB (3.86 K/BB)

Sure, in 2012, the number of walks was lower, but he pitched in Advanced Single-A. However, of all NL starting pitchers with 140+ innings pitching in 2015 and 2016, ranked 13th and 9th, in walks respectively. Furthermore, he was top 20 in strikeouts in both seasons, as well as 13th and 3rd in walks and hits per innings. Not a bad start. If nothing else, it is very consistent.

How he does it

Hendricks does not possess the velocity that teammates Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta utilize. His potency is established by movement and placement of pitches. On average, Hendricks achieves over 8 inches of motion per pitch. For example, his slider, which he threw 1300 times in 2016, moves almost 7 inches away from right-handed batters, and vertically almost inches. This gives a full movement value of 8.75 inches (think hypotenuse of right triangle) per sinker.

Starting at-bats with a strike is important, and Hendricks did this 68.6% of the time in 2016. This puts pressure on batters to swing and make contact. Opponents swung at 42.9% of all Hendricks’ pitches, making contact on 76.6% on those swings. However, due to the movement of these pitches, batter make medium contact half the time. And, he forces a ground ball 49% of the time.

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That is a lot of numbers. But, for those who like comparisons, all stats are similar to Greg Maddux for his career. While we do not know if these trends will continue, the consistency Hendricks brings projects well. May not win 16 games in 2017, but pitching 180+ innings with 160+ strikeouts and around 40 walks is what he does. With a more potent offense and the same solid defense, Hendricks is a pre-season candidate for the 2017 NL Cy Young.