Kyle Hendricks had a stellar rookie year, pitching to the tune of a 2.46 ERA and a 3.32 FIP over 13 starts. His successful, yet shortened season even earned him some well-deserved Rookie of the Year votes. Given some expected regression (in BABIP (.271), for one example), it’s probably unfair to expect Hendricks to repeat his rookie dominance.
But that’s okay, because Hendricks may be elite in one underappreciated area: consistency. And his consistency could provide benefits to the Cubs that extend well beyond his own starts.
Last week at the FanGraphs community page, Henry Druschel attempted to determine if pitching inconsistently is a) valuable and b) repeatable. The story goes, as Druschel puts it, that you’d rather have a pitcher provide a dominant outing one time out and a terrible outing the next, as opposed to 2 equally mediocre starts. The thinking here is that the first pitcher provides a greater ability to guarantee at least one win out of his two starts than the second pitcher does.
Ultimately, Druschel determines that there is some value in pitching inconsistently, but it is not very repeatable. Moreover, there is much more to gain from a consistent pitcher (even one that is consistently below average) than there is from a guy that throws a gem one day then lays an egg the next. It’s a very interesting read from Druschel.
Enter Kyle Hendricks, and one of the latent values of consistency.
Out of 182 pitchers in Druschel’s study, Hendricks was the fourth most consistent pitcher by Game Score – a Bill James’ stat that evaluates the overall effectiveness of a given performance (read more about Game Score here). If Kyle Hendricks is really one of the most consistent pitchers in baseball, it’s worth pointing out one tangential benefit he provides his team, even without repeating the success of his rookie campaign: bullpen usage.
(Sample Size Alert: Kyle Hendricks was one of the most consistent pitchers in 2014, but he started fewer games (13) than many of the pitchers in the study. Because of this, the variation in his game scores may be depressed. This is not to say that he isn’t a consistent pitcher, but he may not necessarily be in the top 5 again in 2015.)
Specifically, consistent pitchers are more desirable than their counterparts because they provide a greater performance certainty to their managers. That means more predictable and effective usage of the bullpen. Consistent starting pitchers can allow a manager to more effectively and strategically plan the use of his bullpen in the days leading up to, and in the days following, his start.
For one example, if a manager knows that he is likely to get seven innings out of a pitcher on day two, he can more comfortably use more relief pitchers on day one – perhaps maximizing/utilizing match-ups. Given the volatility and youth of the Cubs particular bullpen, some rotational consistency might be an especially valuable development.
It’s entirely possible that Hendricks is going to be the rare guy who maximizes performance at the big league level, even without eye-popping velocity or stuff (though his changeup is pretty ridiculous). Even if he doesn’t quite live up to that level, though, he could be a steady, quality, predictable starter at the back of the Cubs’ rotation for a long time. And that provides a lot of value, including to the other pitchers on the team.