Cubs need Kyle Hendricks to bounce back to compete in 2022

(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) /

The Chicago Cubs have come a long way in terms of solidifying the rotation heading into 2022. They added two proven veterans in Wade Miley and the ever-consistent Marcus Stroman to round out what could be a solid top three. One caveat to that though is the status of Kyle Hendricks.

Hendricks had his first crack at being the ace of the team last year and it didn’t go well. While he still came away with a good win-loss ratio, it was all smoke and mirrors with nearly every stat from ERA (4.77) to WHIP (1.348) coming in at a career-worst with Baseball Savant’s expected numbers backing all that up. Moreover, he led all of MLB with 200 hits allowed.

A repeat of 2021 or something similar could spell disaster even if the Cubs go big once the lockout ends with a Carlos Correa-esque move. Hendricks is being asked, once again, to carry a significant load going forward and outside of him, Stroman, and Miley, there aren’t any guarantees in the rotation. Moreover, the division comes with other formidable rotations the team will compete against, especially up in Milwaukee.

Were Hendricks to struggle, the Cubs could find themselves in a similar situation to last year with an overtaxed bullpen. Going deep into games was not a strong suit for the 2021 rotation, but a powerful relief core anchored by the magical trio of Craig Kimbrel, Ryan Tepera, and Andrew Chafin kept the team afloat when starters faltered early on. The offseason isn’t over and there are promising arms to develop, but none so far match that level of pitching prowess. Every bit of depth starters can produce will be crucial.

Hendricks, at his best, is a bullpen lifesaver. Throughout his career prior to 2021, he averaged just a hair under six innings per start and, in his absolute best year in 2016, it was closer to 6 1/3. In 2021? 5 2/3 innings per start. It might not sound like much, but having a starter that can get you through six consistently and put you in contention for a quality start nearly every time they’re on the mound pays dividends.

Kyle Hendricks needs to bounce back for the Cubs to compete in 2021

On the bright side, the stuff still looked as good as ever for Hendricks. One look at his spin rates, average exit velocity, and chase rate shows he’s still among baseball’s elite, ranking in the high 80 to low 90 percentiles in these categories. There’s no reason to necessarily be worried that he can’t replicate the results of his previous seasons because of health or general decline. It’s the location in the zone that he needs to figure out to avoid another home run-heavy performance.

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Ultimately, what version of Hendricks we get in 2022 could determine a lot about this team. A return to form will leave the team with two of the best ground ball pitchers in the game between him and Stroman plus another solid soft tosser in Miley. Another down year leaves the team overmatched with an overtaxed bullpen that lacks the tools to stem the bleeding.