Coming off of two stellar campaigns under former pitching coach Chris Bosio, Kyle Hendricks struggled to replicate his success with Jim Hickey in the first half.
Despite posting a somewhat respectable 3.92 ERA before the All-Star Break, few questioned that Chicago Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks was out of sorts. He had already given up 17 home runs while his K/9 sat at a measly 6.8, including just 2.68 strikeouts per walk.
But as has typically been the case throughout his career, Hendricks rebounded in the second half. He posted a 2.84 ERA in 14 starts, upping his K/9 to 7.9 while his strikeout-to-walk ratio drastically improved to a 6.00 clip. And though common thought may point to Hendricks simply needing time to establish his rhythm, his progression last season says otherwise.
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As David Kaplan reported for NBC Sports Chicago in August, Hickey and Hendricks noted that there were mechanical flaws in his delivery. Hickey and assistant pitching coach Mike Borzello noticed that Hendricks was not standing tall enough on the mound, and a lack of body rotation in his delivery was causing a drastic decrease in spin rate and command.
For a finesse pitcher such as Hendricks, command of his arsenal -particularly the change-up, which Hendricks throws to both sides of the plate with sinking and cutting action – is absolutely pivotal. The recognition of reductive mechanical flaws that were causing much of the frustration in the first half were equally important.
Any time a new coach comes in to lead a group and make adjustments to their skill set, it is naturally going to take time to gel. Unfortunately for Cubs hitters, they could never seem to get on the same page as Chili Davis. This does not seem to be the case with Hickey, who oversaw one of the most significant rotational improvements across the board in the second half of the season.
Hendricks did not just figure things out with Hickey – he dominated down the stretch. The former MLB ERA champion had his best month in September, going 4-1 with a 1.79 ERA in six starts and logging 40 1/3 innings, his highest total for any month.
Consider the historical context with Hendricks. He burst onto the scene in the second half of 2014, his first season with the big-league club, going 7-2 with a 2.18 ERA. But he struggled to match this success over the course of a full season in 2015, posting a 3.95 ERA.
But after one full season with Bosio, Hendricks blossomed into one of the best pitchers in baseball in 2016, when he posted a 2.13 ERA, including a 1.68 ERA in the second half before ending his 2017 campaign with a 3.02 ERA.
Given his second-half performance in 2018, Hendricks has every chance to reestablish himself as one of the best pitchers in baseball next season.
According to FanGraphs, Hendricks posted a 17.0 value with the changeup in 2018, his highest since 2016. If he can find success with the fastball next season, the sky is the limit.
And after a full season with Hickey under his belt, things are certainly looking up.