Most of us remember the drama of the 2016 World Series. But Kyle Hendricks made it easy on Chicago Cubs fans three years ago in the final game of the NLCS.
It’s hard to believe it was three years ago on this date when the Chicago Cubs won their first pennant in 71 seasons at Wrigley Field against the Dodgers. It feels like just yesterday when the final double play ball of Yasiel Puig nestled into Anthony Rizzo‘s glove, sending the sell-out crowd into a raucous frenzy at the Friendly Confines – an experience we’re all hoping for again sooner rather than later.
The 5-0 Chicago win that night saw contributions from a number of players, but the biggest player in that game was the man on the mound. Kyle Hendricks, who led all of Major League Baseball in ERA that season, turned in what can be considered the greatest postseason pitching performance in Cubs history. His dominance made what could have been a nail-biting affair into an easy-going and, frankly, enjoyable game.
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To really remember just how good of a performance that was, we can look at the numbers.
Diving into Hendrick’s start.
The final line itself can tell a lot: 7 1/3 IP, 0 ER, 0 R, 2 H, 6 K, 0 BB on 88 pitches.
Those two hits came off the first and final batters he faced that evening, both singles. Both of those runners would be erased by double-play balls. Outside those two guys, only one other Dodger reached base, as Josh Reddick reached on a Javier Baez error in the second. The Cubs later picked off the veteran outfielder to end the inning.
So with a pickoff and first inning double play, Hendricks faced the minimum through seven innings while retiring 17 in a row before giving up his second hit of the game to Reddick in the eighth. In terms of balls in play, virtually nothing was hit hard. 10 ground balls, seven fly balls and one line drive against. 57 of his 88 pitches (68 percent) were strikes with nine of them being swinging strikes, 19 strikes looking and 29 contact strikes. Only six of the 23 batters faced got to a three-ball count.
Too look at some other metrics, Hendricks recorded a Game Score of 80. This was a stat created by Bill James (made famous by “Moneyball”). To put that in perspective, a score of 50 is average and this was 30 points higher. His WPA (Win Probability Added by a Pitcher) was a + .257. Worth noting that the Dodgers had better than a 50 percent chance to win the game only after the leadoff single by Andrew Toles. That was it.
Comparing to other Cubs postseason starts.
There are few starts by a Cub in the postseason era (1969 – present) that can be argued were as good or better. Some can come close, and a few are probably better, but this was still an all-time performance. Here are a few notable ones:
Rick Sutcliffe in Game 1 of the 1984 NLCS: 7 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 5 BB, 8 K – Game Score of 76 and WPA of +.195
Kevin Tapani in Game 2 of the 1998 NLDS: 9 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 6 K – Game Score of 76 and WPA of +.327
Mark Prior in Game 3 of the 2003 NLDS: 9 IP, 2H, 1ER, 4BB, 7K – Game Score of 82 and WPA of +.493
Kerry Wood in Game 5 of the 2003 NLDS: 8 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 7K – Game Score of 73 and WPA of +.398
Jake Arrieta in the 2015 Wild Card game: 9 IP, 5 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 11K – Game Score of 88 and WPA of .333
You probably cold easily say that Arrieta’s Wild Card game performance was truly the best. A complete game shutout with double-digit strikeouts and zero walks? Hard to beat that. One can also make an argument about Prior’s Game 3 performance in 2003, but that also was a lot more of a labor for him than Hendricks in his game plus the walks. However it is clear Hendricks’ outing was top-notch, regardless.
There were way too many heart-pounding innings during that 2016 postseason run. It was very nice of Hendricks to give Cubs fans some relief in a game. The pace he was going was so smooth there was no reason to begin to panic. Especially in a scenario where Cubs teams of the past fell apart in epic fashion.