Chicago Cubs have two ace-caliber pitchers in Lester and Hendricks

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(Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images) /
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Chicago Cubs
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Chicago Cubs’ Kyle Hendricks is a rising star in his relatively young career

Though his career began over a decade after Lester’s debut, Kyle Hendricks has quickly grown into a dependable and effective part of the rotation. “The Professor,” as he’s affectionately known, was drafted out of Dartmouth College by the Rangers in the 2011 MLB Draft. After starting his career in the Rangers’ farm system, Hendricks was traded to the Cubs, along with Christian Villanueva, in exchange for Ryan Dempster.

Hendricks made his Major League debut on July 10, 2014 and was immediately impressive; he struck out seven in six innings and gave up four earned runs. The Cubs ended up beating the Reds in that game 6-4 in extra innings, though the rookie Hendricks received a no-decision.

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Since his debut in 2014, Hendricks is 55-37 with a 3.06 overall ERA. He’s racked up 709 strikeouts compared to 195 walks, amounting to a 3.64 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

His third season, 2016, was a breakout season for Hendricks as he went 16-8, leading the Major Leagues in ERA with 2.13. That season he finished third in Cy Young voting, right behind aforementioned teammate Jon Lester.

Like the rest of the Cubs roster, The Professor got off to a slow start in April. He went 1-4 and gave up 15 earned runs in 25 1/3 innings; he only made it past the fifth inning in his one win during the first full month of the season. His defense did him no favors in his first start, committing an embarrassing six errors in the 8-0 loss to the Braves.

But again, like the rest of the team, Hendricks has really turned it around in May. He’s started three games and earned two wins and a no-decision. In each of these three starts this month, he’s lasted at least eight innings. On May 3, Hendricks pitched an absolute gem; he threw a complete game shutout against the Cardinals in just 81 pitches.

Hendricks, who is 29, seems to be in the prime of his career. Some have even called him a modern-day Greg Maddux.

Cubs Insider’s Brendan Miller writes that Hendricks’ success comes from his ability to “tunnel” his pitches. Tunneling is explained below:

"“Tunneling” is the ability to throw pitches consistently through the same imaginary column of space. In other words, it means replicating the same release point across different pitches so that hitters can’t distinguish pitches (e.g., changeup vs. sinker)."

As Miller states, Hendricks’ ability to tunnel pitches is better than that of any other big-league pitcher. When he is firing on all cylinders, and as long as he can effectively tunnel, Hendricks has the ability to be on the same level with the likes of Max Scherzer or Chris Sale.

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The only thing keeping Hendricks from being considered the ace of the Cubs staff might be Jon Lester. If we must choose just one of the two to be the ace, Lester’s greater career success would likely lend him that title. However, if there is room for two aces on a staff, then both Hendricks and Lester have the capability to lead a pitching staff to great success.