Last night, Kyle Hendricks made his fifth start for the Cubs since returning from the disabled list in late July and it was his best one yet.
Through six innings, Hendricks kept a good Reds offense scoreless, allowing just five hits, four walks, and netting six strikeouts.
As you can probably imagine, the five hits and four walks in six innings isn’t necessary great, and it certainly required some tight-rope sequencing to get out scoreless, but he was excellent in so many other ways that there’s no reason to get down about some good luck (we’ll hit on this in a second).
So, like I said, Hendricks was fortunate in many ways last night (100% strand rate, 0.00 HR/FB ratio), but from where I’m standing, he sorta earned that good luck.
Take a look at his batted ball data/contact management from yesterday’s contest against the Reds versus his career in parentheses:
- Soft: 33.3% (22.4%)
- Medium: 53.3% (50.7%)
- Hard: 13.3% (33.8%)
Kyle Hendricks has been one of the absolute best contact managers since coming up to the big leagues, and yet last night’s performance blew his career averages out of the water. A third of the balls he allowed in play were softly hit, the league average is 18.8%. And while he allowed just 13.3% hard contact – the league average is 32.0% this season.
With that information in mind, am I surprised to see that he didn’t allow any of his fly balls to leave the park? Of course not. It makes perfect sense. And when you pair that sort of weak contact with an above league average 46.7% ground ball rate and a 24.0% strikeout rate, it’s not hard to see why he was able to strand every base runner too.
Kyle Hendricks was great last night and finally was able to both succeed and last deeper into the ball game. His manager agrees and approves.
“That was more typical of Kyle,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of Hendricks via Cubs.com. “He had greater velocity, great location, every pitch was working.” Maddon went on to compliment Hendricks’ fastball, which was dialed up to 87 MPH (according to Maddon).
And Hendricks was thrilled with his fastball, too, but the command of it, not the velocity.
“Fastball command, No. 1, was good, and that’s always the key for me,” Hendricks told Cubs.com. When Hendricks can command his fastball, it makes his changeup that much more devastating, and his overall ability to pitch efficiently that much more likely. (For what it’s worth, Hendricks also mentioned how well he worked with rookie catcher Victor Caratini – “reading each other’s minds” was the phrase.)
So, after last night’s success, how has Hendricks been since returning?
Through his five starts since July 24 (the 27.0 IP since his return from the DL), Hendricks has earned a 2.00 ERA, which is obviously a bit lower than his 3.32 FIP, but that’s been his M.O. for a while now (limiting the damage by inducing soft contact and limiting hard contact on purpose is not something FIP is good at accounting for). And, in any case, even his FIP in the stretch is WAY better than the league average this season.
Hendricks has also gotten an above average ground ball rate during this stretch (45.2%), though it’s not necessarily anything noteworthy, and his strikeout rate has been a bit low (20.5%), too. But with further diminished velocity, that’s not completely unexpected. He has been successful at limiting the walks overall (7.7%), though to be sure, that’s been trending in the wrong direction lately (7 walks between his past two starts).
But when I look at his overall numbers, including an 8.0% HR/FB ratio (which I think he’s earned with weak contact), I’m pleasantly surprised by his progress returning from injury, and the fact that he’s made his numbers look great despite very low fastball velocity and, at times, weak fastball command.
If Hendricks can continue to ramp up down the stretch (which includes incremental bumps in his velocity), he might look as good as he ever would have this year. I still don’t expect the 2016 version of Hendricks to magically reappear, but there is no reason he can’t be an effective middle-of-the-rotation starter the rest of the way.