In the past, I’ve discussed the possibility of an actual competition for the final spot in the Cubs rotation this Spring.
With Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, John Lackey and Jason Hammel seemingly locked into the front four spots in the rotation, the story goes, Kyle Hendricks might have to fight for his.
Now, when that conversation comes up, it’s not a slight against Hendricks – who finished last season with 3.4 fWAR – but rather a compliment towards some of the other options available in camp. For example, Adam Warren projects to be quite good as a starter in 2016, and Trevor Cahill has always had the stuff to be a successful starter, before his transition to the pen.
That said, the fifth spot in the rotation is probably Kyle Hendricks’ to lose, and for good reason.
Yes, his entire first full season was a success – but the last month was even more than that.
Through six regular season starts from September 6 to October 3, Kyle Hendricks threw 32.2 innings. During that stretch he kept a 3.03 ERA, with an insanely impressive FIP (2.58) and xFIP (2.20). He struck out hitters at an enormous rate (32.0%) and walked batters even less than before (4.9%).*
Most pitchers tire as the season lingers on, because they aren’t used to pitching that late into the year. But Hendricks, well, he got much, much better down the stretch. So what changed?
In an article at FanGraphs, Eno Sarris tries to explain why Kyle Hendricks was so much better down the stretch and it is your must read of the day.
To my surprise, Sarris discovered that there was no change in his pitch mix, usage, velocity, or grips. Instead, Hendricks worked on his arm path and posture on the mound. Check out Sarris’ article for some side-by-side gifs, as well a more in-depth explanation of what Hendricks and pitching coach Chris Bosio did to address this problem.
*[Brett: I don’t disagree with any of this, and I, too, found Sarris’ read a really fascinating and informative one. I do think, however, that it’s only fair to point out that the six starts came against the Royals (without a DH), the Pirates (he lasted just three innings and got knocked around), the Diamondbacks, the Phillies, and the Brewers twice. The latter teams, especially in the expanded roster situation of September, were especially terrible at the time. Hendricks exceeded six innings (6.2) just once during that stretch. Again: I’m totally on board with the Hendricks love as a general matter, I think he was very underrated last year, and I think he can once again be an especially fantastic pitcher for the Cubs this year in those first six innings. But I thought it only fair to point out that his opponents may also have played at least some small part in his success late in the year.]