Executing pitch location will make or break Hendricks’ season
There are few pitchers in the game better than Kyle Hendricks when it comes to putting a ball exactly where he wants it.
This attribute has led to more than a handful of Chicago Cubs’ fans comparing Hendricks to Hall of Fame Greg Maddux, which seems more than tad premature. That being said, both rely heavily upon pitch execution for success.
Such a comment probably seems a given, but pitchers like Aroldis Chapman can miss badly with location and get away with it because of nothing other than velocity.
When pitchers lack velocity (keep in mind, Hendricks’ fastball averaged just 89 MPH last season), they live and die with pitch location. Pitches up in the zone tend to be problematic, while anything below the knees seems to induce weak contact, at best.
One of the best ways to break down how effective a pitcher is in a certain area of the zone is studying heat maps. The first one that seems especially relevant to Hendricks is contact percentage.
Studying the numbers
Opponents hit Hendricks hard when he left pitches middle-in, especially to right-handers in 2016. Their contact percentage sat north of 85 percent.
When he located his pitches in the bottom-third of the strike zone and even below the zone, hitters’ contact percentage plummeted. It ranged from 70 percent, which was by far the best in the zone, all the way down to 30 percent when Hendricks worked the low, inside corner on both left and right-handed hitters.
When that chart is overlaid with a heat map centered around opponents’ average, an almost identical picture emerges: leaving pitches middle-in is the worst-case scenario for Kyle Hendricks.
Below the knees, opponents’ average ranged from .000 to .047; showcasing just how dominant the right-hander can be when he gets batters chasing out of the zone on his off-speed stuff.