Kyle Hendricks wasn’t the last Cubs starting pitcher to take the mound, but – with apologies to Jose Quintana, who was very good yesterday – he is the one we’re going to talk about today.
And that’s because after a slow start to the season and a trip to the disabled list, Kyle Hendricks has been nothing short of fantastic for the Cubs down the stretch, and his dominance is impossible to ignore.
Naturally, that includes Saturday’s gem against the Cardinals (the highlights of which, you can see right here): 7.2 IP, 6H, 1ER, 1BB, 5Ks.
According to Brooks Baseball, Hendricks got just seven whiffs on the night, but unlike usual, it was his fastball (3 whiffs out of 22 pitches), not his sinker (1 out of 47) or changeup (1 out of 25) doing most of the damage. And, like we’ve explored through many of his recent starts, that’s probably not wholly unrelated to the rebounding velocity:
Fastball: 86.5 MPH Avg., 89.3 MPH Max
Sinker: 86.8 MPH Avg., 88.6 MPH Max
As you can see, the velocity climb continues to be unmistakeable (and extremely encouraging):
And, as we’ve discussed many times already, Hendricks doesn’t necessarily use/need his velocity to blow pitches past batters, but rather needs the added difference between those two pitches and his changeup to keep batters off-balance. Of course, he also needs to be able to command those pitches for the same reason (something he struggled with earlier this season), but fortunately, he’s mastered that lately, too.
Since returning from the disabled list on July 24th with his hand issue, Hendricks has made eleven starts while keeping a solid 6.3% walk rate (league average is 8.5%). And when you zoom in on just his last five starts alone, that number shrinks all the way down to 4.7% – which would rank among the top five in baseball over the course of a full season.
And when Hendricks is both commanding his fastballs and throwing them (relatively) hard, he can be as dominant as he was during his 2016 Cy Young Campaign. And, frankly, he nearly has been.
In the second half of the season, Kyle Hendricks’ 2.42 ERA ranks sixth best in all of baseball, ahead of guys like Zack Grienke, Chris Sale, and Madison Bumgarner. His 3.77 FIP ranks a bit lower down the list (29th in MLB), but of course, by now, we all know that’s his M.O. thanks to all the soft contact.
Indeed, just like last season, Hendricks’ second-half has been filled with a ton of soft-contact (23.4%, 9th in MLB) and almost no hard-contact (23.9%, 5th in MLB). On top of that he’s getting a solid 49% ground ball rate (though that’s up at 55% during his past five starts), and a 30.7% fly ball rate – both of which rank among the best 25 in baseball.
Just look at what he did to the Cardinals on Saturday:
This is incredible: look at the low end of the exit velocities for yesterday's game. Almost exclusively Kyle Hendricks. pic.twitter.com/BSu7rUPUhI
— Brett Taylor (@BleacherNation) September 17, 2017
In almost any way you slice it, Hendricks has been one of the single best starting pitchers in baseball during the second half of 2017, and that’s after being one of the very best pitchers in baseball for all of 2016. I know it’s easy to overlook someone like Hendricks, who doesn’t have flashy stuff and missed time/struggled in the first half of the year, but it’s possible that he really is this sort of near-the-top-of-the-rotation guy.
And if he keeps pitching this way down the stretch, you have to love the Cubs chances for the rest of September and into October.