It seems like it’s been a while since the start of Kyle Hendricks’ season brought with it an undercurrent of fear that he’d “lost it.” We said to each other then that it was too early to have that kind of fear, but, well, we’re all neurotic like that.
The good news is that, over a much longer stretch than he looked not so great, Hendricks has looked great once again.
After three ugly starts to kick off his Cy-Young-Finalist campaign, Hendricks has strung together six straight starts better than any of the first three. All but one have been “quality” starts, and the only one that didn’t qualify came with 5.1 scoreless innings.
During these last six starts, Hendricks has posted a 1.96 ERA, a 3.44 FIP, and a 3.83 xFIP. The groundball rate still isn’t as elite as you’d want to see for Hendricks (48.5%), his strikeout rate has been only around average (20.7%), and his walk rate has been higher than you’d want to see (7.6%), but all in all, the numbers have been solid, and far better than in the first three starts.
Hendricks’ ERA being much better than his peripherals – like last year – has been aided by a sharp drop in hard contact. Over his first three starts, Hendricks was giving up a frightening 40.8% hard contact rate. Over these last six starts, that figure is down to 32.0%. Still not in the elite tier it was last year (25.8%), but improving.
Last night’s start against the Giants, in fact, featured the most soft contact (38.1%) of any Hendricks start this year.
Hendricks’ velocity is still down a couple clicks from last year on all of his pitches, but to be fair, he didn’t settle into his peak velocity for the year until the summer rolled around. Perhaps he still needs a little more time to ramp up. And, in the interim, if he can continue having success – even if not dominate-2016-caliber success – that’s just fine.
Interestingly, the lesser-used curveball that brought Hendricks so much later-season success last year has been trending down in usage here in 2017, almost in perfect tandem with his improved performance (his changeup usage has remained steady, so he’s effectively swapped some curveballs for more fastballs). We don’t yet have enough data to say there’s something there, but it’s worth watching. Maybe he just doesn’t have a great feel for it right now, but has compensated well in other ways.