Chicago Cubs: Kyle Hendricks has a home run problem

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

Two years removed from a third-place finish in NL Cy Young voting, Chicago Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks is struggling to find his groove.

Let me begin with a disclaimer. Saying Kyle Hendricks has a home run problem and considering him a liability in the Chicago Cubs starting rotation is not the same thing. Not even close.

Even after his June 5 start, which was a clunker by just about every measure, the soft-tossing righty has solid numbers. He carries a 3.59 ERA, 1.101 WHIP and 3.35 strikeout-to-walk ratio in his first 12 starts. One number, however stands out in a big way.

Live and die by the homer

Across 72 2/3 innings, Hendricks has allowed 12 home runs – meaning he allows 1.5 dingers per nine. That’s a significant increase over his career mark of 0.9 homers per nine. His last time out, he lasted just five innings. The Phillies roughed him up for five earned runs on five hits and three walks.

"I wasn’t repeating my mechanics. I’ve got to get back to work this week,” he told the media afterwards."

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He repeated that multiple times – stressing how he needs to really hone in on getting in a rhythm. For Hendricks, fastball location is everything. With his offspeed arsenal, everything comes off that heater – despite its lack of velocity.

So what’s gone wrong for the former Ivy Leaguer? He’s falling behind hitters. And, unlike in his Cy Young-caliber 2016 campaign, he’s not working out of those situations.

Getting ahead in counts

For example, when Hendricks gets ahead with a first pitch strike, opponents hit just .199 against him. When the count moves to 1-1, still just a .202 mark. But let’s flip the script. In a 2-1 count, opponents are clobbering the right-hander to the tune of a .364 average and 1.281 OPS. When it’s 3-1, things get even worse: .438/.583/1.000.

That’s right. Batters are slugging 1.000 against Hendricks in 3-1 counts. Not exactly what you want from the guy who is supposed to be the ace of the staff.

It hasn’t taken opponents long to take him deep either. Seven of his 12 home runs allowed have come in a hitters’ first plate appearance or within his first 25 pitches of the game. Looking at the numbers, it sure seems like settling in is a concern with the right-hander. At least at this point.

When he’s hitting his spots and locating down in the zone, he’s been the same great Kyle Hendricks we all know and love. But when he isn’t – and batters get under his stuff and hit it into the outfield, it’s a whole different ballgame. Balls hit beyond the infield have resulted in an opponent OPS north of 1.500.

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Simply put, that’s not sustainable.

I expect Hendricks to figure it out. He’s too analytically driven to simply be content with his current mechanical inconsistencies. But expect him to focus on keeping the ball in the yard. If he doesn’t his 4.48 FIP may prove to be closer to the reality than his current ERA.