Chicago Cubs: In a game of inches, this is what to watch for this season

(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /
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Chicago Cubs
(Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images) /

2. Hendricks’ efficiency deficiency

I’ve deeply enjoyed watching Kyle Hendricks make a joke of every low-ceiling scouting report that predicted nothing better than a AAAA-fifth starter. But last year, Hendricks definitely hit a development wall. His rising pitch-count inefficiency is now his biggest hurdle to becoming that true 200 inning-plus ace.

What happened is the league now has a “book” on him. It says once up in the count, he’ll predictably nibble outside the zone before re-setting-up his change. Just wait him out and take your chances with a 2-2 or 3-2 count. Maybe you hit it, maybe not, but at least you push up his pitch count and get him lifted by the sixth inning or earlier.

As his pitches per batters faced (P/BF) keeps increasing, Hendricks needs to adjust.

Year       Pitches     Batters     P/BF
2014       1,156         321           3.6
2015       2,793         739           3.7
2016       2,888         745           3.8
2017       2,276         570           4.0

To get more early outs, Hendricks must become less predictable mid-count. Two or three times a game on 0-2 and 1-and-2 counts, he should bust someone inside in the zone or drop a curveball in. By making hitters guess more mid-count, more bats will offer earlier in the count – including at those out-of-zone nibblers – and get him deeper into games.