Chicago Cubs: Kyle Hendricks, his changeup and his ascension to ace

Riding one of the best changeups in the game, soft-tossing right-hander Kyle Hendricks has quietly become the undisputed ace of the Chicago Cubs.

Years from now, when we look back on this era of Chicago Cubs baseball, maybe then we’ll realize just how reliable Kyle Hendricks has been. Since making his big league debut with the team back in 2014, you’ve never had to wonder what you were going to get every fifth day.

He’s done all this despite lacking the overpowering velocity that most team’s aces boast. Instead, he’s thrived on the tactics long employed by a former Cubs ace, Greg Maddux, in control and movement.

This week, MLB.com had a team of writers pen a piece on the game’s nastiest changeups – and you can be sure Hendricks’ name showed up on said list. Here’s what David Adler had to say about the right-hander’s elite offspeed stuff.

“Hendricks sits at 86.7 mph with his two-seamer (slower than some of the other changeups picked here). But his changeup looks like the exact same pitch — only it comes in even slower, at 78.6 mph. That’s an 8-mph differential between two pitches that follow the same trajectory. The speed difference is significant, but the difference in their running action is nearly zero. Hendricks’ two-seamer moves 12.7 inches from left to right. His changeup? 13.1 inches. You try to tell the difference when he tunnels those two pitches.”

When Hendricks is on, we’ve seen this in action. The guy is near unhittable – and with good reason. If his two-seamer and changeup come out of the hand and tunnel the exact same way, you’ve got little chance of doing damage off him.

His reliance on movement and location could, at least in theory, help him age better than someone who’s sole focus on the mound is blowing heaters past opponents. At least, that’s what Chicago is hoping as they’ve got Hendricks locked up through 2023 with a vesting option for 2024, his age 34 season.

When and if the 2020 season gets underway, the Cubs will be asking a lot of Hendricks – who is irrefutably the go-to guy in the rotation. Fellow right-hander Yu Darvish is certainly capable of making hitters look foolish, but he’ll need to hone in on the consistency we saw from him in the second half of last year, when he made 13 starts and ran off a 111/7 strikeout-to-walk mark.

Tyler Chatwood seems likely to rejoin the rotation after a year of serving in a swingman role, alongside southpaw Jose Quintana and the elder statesman of the group in Jon Lester. It won’t matter what kind of firepower the likes of Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Kyle Schwarber, Willson Contreras and Anthony Rizzo bring to the table if this group can’t keep opponents off the board.

Next: Cubs facing a bleak situation with the luxury tax in 2020

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Thankfully, they’ve got a stalwart anchor atop the rotation in Hendricks. Armed with his devastating changeup and an unshakable quiet confidence, the Dartmouth alum is ready to take his place as one of the game’s most elite aces.

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