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kyle hendricks iowa cubsMore often than not, starting a conversation with a major league ballplayer about advanced statistics will lead to their eyes glassing over as they find a way to wriggle out of such a tedious conversation. Some will laugh mockingly, pointing out that they don’t need to know those types of things to succeed at their jobs.

The fact is, they’re right.  Delving into the numbers isn’t a player’s job. In most cases, it’s more likely to confuse a player than to enlighten him. Their job is to go out and perform on the field to the best of their capabilities, and leave the number crunching to the guys with Ivy League degrees in the front office. Filling a player’s heads with statistical information may not be the best way for the vast majority of players to reach their potential.

Of course, there are exceptions, like Max Scherzer, Brandon McCarthy, Craig Breslow and a few others around the league. But the fact is, they’re few and far between, and, outside of a few months of Scott Feldman, there haven’t been many in the Cubs clubhouse in the recent past.

That could change this summer if Kyle Hendricks gets his way. Hendricks, who wrapped up a degree in economics from Dartmouth this offseason, immediately lit up when the topic of advanced stats was brought up to him at the Cubs Convention this past January. However, he did admit it’s certainly not for everyone.

“It can definitely be too much,” Hendricks said. “But what you basically gotta do is go through it and see what works for you. It’s kind of like with a pitching coach, they’re gonna give you mechanical things and you gotta find what works for you with that. It translates over to scouting and reading hitters and all that kind of stuff. And it just helps me, makes me feel more prepared, it helps my mind. With other guys that’s not how they work necessarily and there’s nothing wrong with that, I mean, whatever works for you.”

While Hendricks hasn’t yet done much exploration into sabermetrics – he admitted he didn’t really know much about specific advanced statistics – he’s eager to explore the subject as more information becomes available to him. At the Cubs rookie camp in January, Hendricks sat through a meeting where the pitchers were given detailed statistics and advanced scouting on Jay Bruce. For Hendricks, the lesson was a treat that he quickly embraced.

“In the minors, we don’t have that advanced stuff on a sheet of paper,” Hendricks said. “We have to do it all on our own, kind of. We have to go into the video room, pull up the video of the hitters who I’ll see in my next start and figure out on my own how to pitch that guy. I think it helped a lot having to do it on my own going forward. And now they’re just giving us additional information to kind of verify what I would have been thinking.”

Hendricks said he and Northwestern grad Eric Jokisch were delirious with the amount of information provided, joking that they both knew what they could do once their baseball careers had ended.

Of course, Hendricks hopes it’s a long while before he has to decide what his post-baseball life looks like. With all the advanced scouting and information provided at the major league level, Hendricks feels his game will only improve when he takes the next step.

“I’m hoping I don’t survive, I’m hoping I thrive,” Hendricks said about someday reaching the majors. “With my stuff up there, it just comes down to pitching. It’s what I’ve had to do my entire career. Even going back to high school, I’ve never had overpowering stuff. That’s why I gotta know how to pitch and maybe that’s why I have to look into those stats and know hitters more in-depth. I don’t have the pure stuff to overpower guys in the majors. I have to mix pitchers, expand the strike zone, everything I’ve kind of been learning from all my coaches throughout my career.”

Hendricks joined the Cubs organization along with third base prospect Christian Villanueva in July of 2012 in a trade that sent Ryan Dempster to the Texas Rangers. Hendricks didn’t do much in his 17 innings with High-A Daytona the rest of that season, but he posted gaudy numbers at two levels (2.00 ERA, with 128 strikeouts and only 34 walks in 166 1/3 innings) in his breakout 2013 season.

While Hendricks’ fastball isn’t weak, it’s hardly overpowering, sitting in the low-90s. The recent development of a cutter, which he introduced to his arsenal while he was with the Rangers High-A Myrtle Beach affiliate, could be the difference for Hendricks as he searches for ways to ensure that major league hitters stay honest on his fastball.

“I think that’s what my change-up is for, primarily, at this point,” Hendricks said about keeping hitters off his fastball. “I can throw my two-seam, which I get good movement on and I can spot it. And then my change-up has been good enough. [But my cutter] is coming along great, I only learned it two years ago. It takes a while to master a pitch and I don’t know if you ever really master a pitch, to be honest. I’ve been working hard at it and throwing it every day. Hopefully it can be a third pitch that’s good enough to play at the major league level.”

Hendricks said the fact that his two primary pitches – the two-seamer and change-up – bear into right-handers, the ability to develop his cutter, which would break away from a righty, could be the difference maker for which he’s been searching.

Hendricks ability to locate his pitches, primarily his tendency to rarely miss with his fastball in the zone, has helped keep his home run numbers down during his time in the minors. However, major league hitters will prove to be more patient and Hendricks, even with his impressive command on the corners, may not get the same calls he has in the past. Meaning, if Hendricks can’t bring the cutter to an acceptable standard, he’ll either have to stay out of the zone or challenge hitters with his fastball. Neither is likely to result in success for Hendricks.

Regardless, it’s Hendricks’ dogged preparation for the game that has helped elevate him into a legitimate rotation candidate in the near future. Even if he develops a quality third pitch, it’s unlikely Hendricks will stand out from the crowd with his stuff. Both coaches and Hendricks attribute his success to his ability to pitch to a scouting report, exploiting the weakness of the opponent and his pinpoint command of the zone.

Hendricks’ ability to take in and properly comprehend so much advanced information about hitters is what sets him apart from most of his colleagues. It’s also what will help get him into the Cubs rotation when the time comes. With Jake Arrieta starting the spring with shoulder issues, the fifth spot in the rotation appears to be up for grabs. Chris Rusin, Carlos Villanueva and James McDonald all have a leg up on Hendricks heading into March, but that doesn’t mean he won’t see time in Wrigley at some point this summer.

“I hope so,” Hendricks said when asked if he expected to be a part of the Cubs rotation sometime this season. “I don’t fully determine that. All I can focus on is what I can control. You always hope it’s a realistic opportunity for you, but I know the opportunity will be there. I’m just trying to work hard in this offseason, get in shape, get my arm feeling good and be ready to go when I go into spring training so I can make the most of whatever opportunity I have.”

  • Edwin

    Low 90’s sounds a bit generous. If he was averaging low 90’s, he’d be just a hair below average, velocity wise. I’ve always gotten the impression that he’s more a high 80’s pitcher. It might not sound like much, but the difference between constantly sitting around 88-89 and 90-91 can be a big tipping point.

    If he can average 91 with his fastball, I’m much more confident in his ability to stick as a back of the rotation guy.

    • Kyle

      Yeah. If he can average 91 mph on his fastball, he’ll be a league-average starter at worst.

    • Coop

      Well, Greg Maddux got by with a below average fastball, so why not Hendricks, too?

      Now i’m going to grab some popcorn and watch Kyle’s head explode…

  • CubChymyst

    He is only a two pitch pitcher? Always thought he had a third pitch.

    • Edwin

      He’s probably primarily a 2-seam/change-up guy, and mixes in a cutter and breaking ball just to show something different now and again.

      • C. Steadman

        from what I’ve read he does have a curve but its probably a below average pitch that he just uses a handful of times in a start

      • CubChymyst

        Makes sense. I just figured with the success he had last year figured he had at least 3 go to pitches to keep hitters off balanced. Speaks of his ability to change speeds and locations with his fastball and change up.

  • Norm

    Keith Law chatting, thinking Rodon is no longer the sure fire 1-1 guy he was a month ago.

    • Kyle

      That’s got to be the third time I’ve heard that, although one of the previous two may have also been Law.

    • C. Steadman

      Did Law say who would push Rodon for #1? Was it Hoffman?

      • Mike Moody

        Probably Kolek. Law absolutely loves him. (With good reason.)

        Hoffman is struggling a bit. He might fall into our laps at #4 which would be incredible luck.

        • J. L.

          Here’s what Law said: “I don’t think there’s anyone who’s clearly 1-1, but I think Rodon’s been passed by a few guys. Could make a cogent argument for him to be behind any of Kolek, Gatewood, Jackson, Hoffman, Beede.”

      • Norm

        Doesn’t sound like there is a consensus 1-1

        http://espn.go.com/sportsnation/chat/_/id/50186/mlb-insider-keith-law

        • C. Steadman

          hmm interesting..thanks for the link

    • http://www.friendly-confines.com hansman

      I wonder how many guys drafted 2-3-4-5 who went on to big league success were pre-season #1 guys.

  • DocPeterWimsey

    I’ve long thought that a big failure of the general education system is to fail to teach basic statistics and probability. (Of course, I just might be a little biased on that topic…. :-)) To a big extent, I think that players would benefit enormously from understanding “advanced” statistics. A lot of sound tactics in baseball are based on an understanding of probability and statistics, but by the time it gets to the players, it’s just “do /don’t do this.” Knowing a fact is OK, but it’s no substitute for understanding the theory.

    • Danny Ballgame

      Doc – Why don’t you get a job within the organization teaching things of this statistical nature, an bending, of course.

      • DocPeterWimsey

        Because I have tenure?

        • http://www.friendly-confines.com hansman

          Translated means:

          Doc REALLY enjoys being able to teach classes when he feels like it and in his underwear.

          Man, if tenure had been explained to me in high school, there is a small chance I would have not been a teacher.

          • Danny Ballgame

            Pants are wildly overrated. Avg at best. Now tenure on the other hand….

            • http://www.friendly-confines.com hansman

              Pants on other guys are necessary. Pants on me…optional, at best.

              • Funn Dave

                (Simpsons driving down the highway)

                Lisa: Dad, you’re speeding!
                Homer: Oh, Lisa, speed limits are just a suggestion. Like pants.

                • Danny Ballgame

                  Well done everybody

          • DocPeterWimsey

            Actually, I prefer full Victorian era garb: it lends a certain air of mystery. (Or is that senility? I forget….)

    • CubChymyst

      I think math as a whole needs to be overworked. Students reach for calculators for simple math problems to often

      • Sandberg

        The problem is that math is taught as a proxy for logical/critical thinking. Most people don’t need anything beyond addition/subtraction/multiplication/division.

        • CubChymyst

          Even simply addition/subtraction/multiplication/division could be better understood and taught differently. Seen quite a bit of trouble with algebra and simple number manipulation.

      • Funn Dave

        Why shouldn’t they reach for their calculators? Mental math is no longer necessary, or even particularly useful. Remember all the time you spent memorizing multiplication tables in grade school? Now you can memorize something that technology hasn’t made redundant instead.

        • http://www.friendly-confines.com hansman

          Using your brain to do something isn’t always a bad thing.

          Sometimes, it’s quicker to use the brain, too!

          • Funn Dave

            No, it isn’t bad–in fact, it actually excercises the muscles in your brain and can lead to longer life. It just isn’t necessary anymore. There are other ways to exercise one’s brain that involve more critical thinking and problem-solving and less memorization.

            • davidalanu

              I don’t know. I use basic math skills every day at work, and it would make me bonkers every time I had to do some simple cost formulas if I had to reach for a calculator.

        • CubChymyst

          I should rephrase then, The problem isn’t so much that they reach for calculators, it is that they can not do it without. It goes back to what Doc says about there is no substituted to understanding the theory.

          • Funn Dave

            I have read and accepted your amended statement. Your Funn Dave Certificate of Approval should arrive next week.

    • Sandberg

      Statistics and exponential growth are entirely unintuitive to the average person. I’d settle for basic critical thinking skills.

      • mjhurdle

        I agree. In my line of work (programming), it is rare to find someone (even with experience) that has the ability to troubleshoot something. If you lay out exactly what is expected and a blueprint for how to accomplish it, they are fine. But when things break, and you have to figure out what is wrong and why, most of the people we hire seemed to really struggle. The ability to look at a problem and logically progress towards a solution seems to have become a lost art.

        • http://www.friendly-confines.com hansman

          Is that programmers or the users?

          • Funn Dave

            Sounds like he means the programmers.

          • mjhurdle

            I was referring to the programmers.

            Users are hopeless, i expect nothing out of them and they never fail to deliver on my expectations.

            • Funn Dave

              “Users are hopeless”

              Ain’t that the truth. I’ve got a number of friends who work in I.T. and they all say that the main solution to calls they get is to turn it off and then back on. People are just so quick to call for help instead of trying things themselves.

      • Funn Dave

        This.

    • http://deepcenterfield.mlblogs.com/ Jason Powers

      Well don’t weez got that new fangled Dominican Academy to teach dem youngstas hows to know when to do thangs, and da theory y’all be talkin’ about here? Cos wez gotsta be cer-tain they’se know how to run dem bases right, swing at da right balls, and such. No tellin’ when dats important.

      Humor from a former Hillbilly.

      • DocPeterWimsey

        To twist a sarcastic note into a serious one, yes, they really *should* do that. A couple of months ago, Brett posted an article about how Dominican coaches criticize batters for not swinging at absolutely everything in batting practice. It seems that the whole “you don’t walk off of the island” aphorism seriously. The tragedy is that this means that there is active selection *against* a trait that is known to be very beneficial in the MLB. It’s not that Dominicans all have lousy batting eyes, but that the ones with good batting eyes are weeded out early.

        A walk might not be as good as a hit, but that teams taking more walks than they allow is the second strongest correlate with winning would be a good statistic to both know and understand.

        • http://deepcenterfield.mlblogs.com/ Jason Powers

          I was half serious there. But Elmore Leonard was a recent read….he was a linguistic type.

          Labeling it an “academy” tends to mean, to me, you should be teaching, learning, and developing them in all manner of being.

          As to the cultural issue, which is what you are suggesting (and I have heard that before) it stems from a deeper root. Cross-cultural MGMT is very important to consider with respect to power-distance and collectivism/individualism for certain areas of the world. Certainly the teachings of early years are doubly hard to unteach with so much at stake – as to the success being the way “off the island.”

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

          Doc, check out the stats from the Cubs DSL and VSL teams last season. If the “you can’t walk off the island” is still the common thinking, the Cubs are attracting a fair number of rebels. It isn’t universal (nor would I expect it to be statistically as players do vary individually), but there are more double digit walk % guys than you’d expect given the prevailing opinions regarding Caribbean academy coaching.

          • Kyle

            The DSL as a whole had a 10.3% BB rate.

            • http://www.friendly-confines.com hansman

              Cubs ranked 4th in BB%, 12th in K% and 7th is isoP

            • DocPeterWimsey

              That is good to learn! Moreover, it suggests that: 1) someone (or someones) has communicated to DR coaches that not swinging at bad pitches is a good thing; 2) they have replaced those types of coaches that were highlighted in the article we were discussing X months ago with those that understand the basic stats; and/or 3) ignorant coaching at low levels is not adversely affecting things at higher levels.

              • Kyle

                My guess is that it indicates that teenage pitchers are terrible and throw balls that no one will swing at a lot.

          • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

            I think that mentality applies more to guys pre-signing these days.

    • Funn Dave

      Something tells me that the general education system doesn’t have baseball players’ interests at the forefront of its curriculum :P

    • MightyBear

      It helps in poker too.

    • Chris

      I don’t necessarily disagree, but the last thing I want Hendricks (or any pitcher for that matter) thinking on the mound is.. “Man.. if I walk this guy/don’t strike out this guy/etc/etc.. my (insert statistic here) is gonna sky rocket.”.

      I’m all for watching video and developing a game plan, but too much going on between the ears is never a recipe for success..

  • MightyBear

    That command, intelligence and preparation is why I’m higher on this guy than most. He had a slider and a curve but neither were very effective, so one of his coaches (either in Texas or Cubs) suggested he combine the pitches and he throws kind of slurve. He commands it better and it has unusual break which throw hitters off. I still think he’s going to be a star.

    • Edwin

      Who knows. Maybe he’ll be the next Doug Fister.

  • MightyBear

    BTW great article Sahadev. I got halfway through it and thought it was you. Well written.

    • MoneyBoy

      I agree MightyBear. Wonderful, wonderful writing! Very nicely done Sahadev.

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

        Sahadev is the bomb dot com.

        • Funn Dave

          I searched for sahadevisthebomb.com but nothing came up. Did you perhaps mean sahadevis*da*bomb.com?

  • Cubsin

    Something tells me that the general education system doesn’t have students interests at the forefront of its curriculum, either. That something is experience with tenured teachers who couldn’t lead a horse to water. I also had several talented and involved teachers, but the difference was striking.

  • Funn Dave
  • Jason P

    They may have already been posted somewhere, but the Cubs were ranked 7th in ESPN’s future rankings. Considering how much the lack of current big league talent, that’s pretty darn high praise.

    According to ESPN the Cubs have:
    -The 3rd best minor league system
    -The 10th best finances (I think (hope) that should rise a few spots in coming years)
    -8th best management
    -10th best mobility
    -28th best ML talent

    • ssckelley

      So now if they can only fix that bottom number………..

  • Diehardthefirst

    Value of his pitches = intersection of the demand for his batting practice fastball and supply of his major league location- Econ 101

  • David

    I think the Baez bomb from last night just stopped rolling.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      It was still breaking windshields at 5pm.

  • David

    Let’s get this Schierholtz to Detroit deal done. Corey Knebel is their 7th best prospect via Baseball America – he was a closer at Univ of Texas. Had a great year in single A in Detroit minors. 41 Ks in 31 innings – throws 95. Seems like a good “mid level” prospect the cubs may be able to get for a guy like Schierholtz. The Tigers have 4 pitchers rated higher in their system. Let’s go.

    • Rebuilding

      I like that deal

    • Diehardthefirst

      Add Castro and Castellanos and then you have something worth talking about

      • itzscott

        Yet another 3rd baseman?

        • Diehardthefirst

          Bring him on and move Barney to SS and Baez at 2B- then package Olt with pitcher to Mariners or Tigers-

          • ClevelandCubsFan

            Unless Barney takes a huge step forward this year, he’s not the future of the Chicago Cubs. Eh… even IF he takes a huge step forward, he’s not the future. Castro’s raw skills will give him chance after chance to prove he’s not a perennial All-Star. My bet is he is.

            • Diehardthefirst

              Castro will be a heartbreaker; everytime you think he will be there for you then he will disappoint- at age 30 he is out of baseball or playing utility for another team

              • ClevelandCubsFan

                He might be. I wouldn’t rule that out. But I’d take him over Barney every day and twice on Sundays.

                • Diehardthefirst

                  Twice on Sundays went the way of the dodo bird- wish there were DH every Sunday with Mondays off and Tue nite games to give them rest

  • David

    In 2003, Mike Olt was ranked 22nd overall in the minors – according to Baseball America. Ahead of Kyle Zimmer, Archie Bradley, Kevin Gausman and Francisco Lindor.

    • Drew7

      In 2003, Mike Olt was 15 – according to bb-r.com

    • arta

      no wonder his eyes r bad, he’s old.

  • Diehardthefirst

    FYI Hendricks listed as #100 out of 100 in USA Today of prospects you need to know about for 2014 … Better than 101… Castellanos #5… Highest Cub #43— Olt…. # 93 is Baez

  • mjhurdle

    man, i know it is almost baseball season when i get upset when there is not a Cubs game on every night.
    I need more Cubs baseball

  • http://deepcenterfield.mlblogs.com/ Jason Powers

    A macrosabermetric analysis of the last 16 seasons combined….
    http://deepcenterfieldmlb.wordpress.com/2014/03/14/macrosabermetrics-evaluating-mlb-team-resources-to-produce-wins-1999-2013/

    Oakland, yes! Cubs, no!

    Sorry guys.

    • Eternal Pessimist

      This analysis really explains a lot.

      New York, Boston, and the Dodger’s (Dodger’s more recently so this will probably become more clear) spend wildly, but have such deep pockets that they can have some success with marginally good development.

      Atlanta, Oakland, St Louis, have middling spending (mostly) but are able to succeed somewhat by careful/smart acquisitions (plus St Louis -extra pick for being a “small” *cough* market), spending and development.

      Cubs, Baltimore, Detroit, spend and develop poorly (middling spending, and no results – glad we didn’t go after Cano or get more aggressive for Tanaka as that type of careless spending would keep us on the same part of the chart)

      Pirates, KC not even trying…though more recent history may suggest they have been getting smarter lately.

  • Diehardthefirst

    Garza troubles and Mateo returned — maybe teams don’t trust Theo as to Shark?

    • baldtaxguy

      Mateo obtained via Rule 5 and then returned has what to do with Theo?

      • BT

        Exactly. A free agent pickup (from the Rangers no less!) and a guy TAKEN from a team in the rule V draft. Even for diehard, this is a reach.

        Or I’m falling into his trap.

  • Fishin Phil

    [img]http://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&docid=6FJgbUzDVkeTuM&tbnid=84s0YPbbgAOwMM:&ved=0CAYQjRw&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.colourlovers.com%2Fcolor%2F6D4838%2FITS_A_TARP!&ei=ggMjU461OunuyQGd4IC4Bg&bvm=bv.62922401,d.aWc&psig=AFQjCNGEJ_sP15ZCEMIu8c0MNRc65DoWmw&ust=1394889980393514[/img]

    • Fishin Phil

      Crap, I can’t post images worth a rip. Back to Darth’s School for Image Posters.

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