Chicago Cubs: Kyle Hendricks has been solid since the All-Star break
The 2017 season has been a tale of two halves for Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks. But the right-hander has found his stride since the All-Star break.
After leading Major League Baseball with a 2.13 ERA in 2016, Chicago Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks, affectionately known as ‘The Professor’ by fans, has had a roller coaster 2017 season. Having had such a phenomenal season a year ago, expectations, naturally, were high coming into this year.
Hendricks isn’t alone, though. The rest of the Chicago Cubs’ starting pitching staff has been shaky for much of the year as well. But Hendricks has turned a corner since the halfway mark of the season.
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Looking at the numbers
Hendricks’ 7-5 record and 3.22 ERA to this point looks just fine, but things weren’t so easy-going to start. In the first half of the season, Hendricks recorded a 4.09 ERA over 61 2/3 innings pitched.
So, what was the cause of Hendricks’ regression early on? Well, one issue was obvious from the start. His velocity is down. With an average fastball velocity of 88.9 mph in 2016, Hendricks was already on the slow side. But you can get away with a lack of heat when you’re able to consistently nail the bottom edge of the strike zone, and with movement. That’s what he did last season.
The first few months of this season were a different story. Hendricks’ average fastball velocity in 2017 is down to 86.2 mph. This combined with the 27-year-old leaving too many pitches over the heart of the plate resulted in a number of poor outings.
It’s not how you start, but how you finish. Since the All-Star Break, Hendricks has looked more like his former self. The velocity is still down from where it was, but he seems to be hitting his spots more frequently. His walks per nine innings pitched is down to 2.28 in the second half from 3.06 in the first half.
In the second half, Hendricks is 3-2 with a 2.42 ERA over 67 innings pitched. Another big reason for his second-half surge? Opposing hitters’ hard contact rate against Hendricks is down significantly. According to FanGraphs, hitters were making hard contact 36.3 percent of the time against Hendricks in the first half. That number is all the way down to 23.9 percent in the second half. Again, that’s a good sign Hendricks isn’t catching so much of the plate.
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After managing a league-leading 2.13 ERA and an incredible 0.98 WHIP in 2016, Hendricks was bound to fall back to earth this season. That fall was a bit harder than expected to start the season, but he’s now found his groove. And it couldn’t have come at a better time, as the Cubs are looking to secure their spot atop the NL Central once again and make a playoff run.