After last Monday’s start against the Reds, Kyle Hendricks had officially reached the halfway point of his season – in terms of starts (16) and the schedule, as he’ll kick off the second half today for the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
Looking at his last start, it was yet another excellent performance in what has turned out to be a brilliant half season for the 26-year-old starter.
You can watch some of the highlights from his start here at Cubs.com, but the numbers boil down as follows: 0 earned runs, 4 hits, 1 walk and 2 strikeouts over 5.1 innings pitched. It wasn’t the longest outing of his career, but it was effective and served to underscore just how darn good he’s been in 2016. Although his performance is something we’ve discussed a lot already this season, Hendricks is coming in for even more praise from his teammates and coaches at CSN Chicago and Cubs.com, so he’s going to get it from us, too.
Manager Joe Maddon offered some love for Hendricks after that start, insisting that he’s pitched as well as anybody on the Cubs – the team with the lowest ERA in baseball, the 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner (Jake Arrieta), the NL June Pitcher of the Month (Jon Lester) and the veterans John Lackey and Jason Hammel. If Joe Maddon believes he’s been pitching as well as any of them, it’s quite the compliment.
Maddon said (Cubs.com): “It’s so fun to watch from the side, because you see the reaction by the hitter when he makes a pitch that they take, and they know it’s a strike and there’s not a whole lot they could’ve done with it. He’s doing a great job mixing it up and varying speeds and hitting his spots. I don’t think he could pitch any better than he is now.”
For a guy who’s not capable of blowing fastballs by people or breaking batters’ knees with curve ball, Hendricks will need to keep doing that – staying one step ahead of the hitter – throughout his career to continue finding success.
Of course, learning the league and developing a strategy is important to a great many pitchers. For Hendricks, the biggest improvement over 2014-2015 has been what he’s learned about himself. According to Hendricks, he knows himself better now than he ever has in the past, and he doesn’t mean in the spiritual sense. Instead, Hendricks says he’s more locked into his mechanics now than he was last season. While that allows him to perform better off the bat, the real benefit is his ability to pop back into his groove when things start to get sloppy. Last year, according to Hendricks, that was a problem. This year, he says there’s already been times where he wasn’t sharp, but they don’t last long, because he’s able to correct his mistakes much quicker. That is a huge developmental hurdle.
So just how well is he pitching right now, anyway? Well, for the season Hendricks sports the following statistics (with MLB ranking in parentheses, as of right after his last start):
- ERA: 2.61 (8th)
- FIP: 3.45 (21st)
- xFIP: 3.77 (30th)
- K/BB rate: 3.27 (34th)
- GB%: 51.7% (20th)
- AVG: .208 (11th)
- Hard Hit Rate: 23.9% (3rd)
- Soft Hit Rate: 26.8% (2nd)
- fWAR: 2.0 (23)
So, by just about every measure, Kyle Hendricks has been one of the top 30 pitchers in all of Major League Baseball. And, as you can imagine, if you filter that down to just the National League, his rankings shoot up across the board.
Well, except for his hard and soft hit rates, which are among the very best in the league. Hendricks’ ability to induce weak contact and limit hard contact is not a lucky happenstance. It is the expected result of a dedicated approach that makes batters swing at pitches they shouldn’t creating contact they don’t want. It’s something Jake Arrieta does to hitters and it’s something this front office has warned their hitters not to fall into. It is an excellent strategy and it is doing wonders for Hendricks in 2016.
Indeed, Hendricks, 26, has just about pitched like an All-Star in 2016, even if he won’t quite get the credit he necessarily deserves. Heck, he doesn’t even give that credit to himself. “On this team, I definitely am (the fifth starter),” Hendricks told CSN. “I’m the five guy, and that’s where I am right now, which is fine.”
He shouldn’t think about it like that, though, because in half a seasons’ worth of innings, Hendricks has been as good as anyone on the Cubs – and that’s saying quite a bit. His ability to keep up this pace in the second half will be crucial to the Cubs chances for the rest of the season and into the playoffs, and that starts today. But even if the Cubs don’t go all the way this year, at least they’ll have Kyle Hendricks toeing the rubber from now until 2021. That’s something we can all get behind.