Obviously, the Cubs 91st victory of the season was the most important thing to happen on a baseball field yesterday, but the reasons for excitement and praise extend well beyond that.
On an individual level, Kyle Hendricks put a real stamp on his season (and career!), with his 32nd start of the year. That ties a career-best, and he’s likely to get one more before the season is through. But even if he doesn’t – maybe the Cubs clinch quickly and he gets a rest – Hendricks has already set a new high in innings pitched (191.0), and, yes, that means with a complete game his next time out, he can eclipse the 200 IP threshold (not that I want him to, given how much the Cubs will likely lean on him in the postseason).
But it wasn’t just longevity and consistency that made last night great for Hendricks. His 7.2 innings of one-run, four-hit, no-walk baseball did wonders for his season numbers, too. Let’s quickly relive the success and dive on in.
Hendricks has now allowed 2 or fewer earned runs in seven consecutive starts and has done so in 18 of 32 starts this season. And thanks to this most recent stretch, his ERA has dropped down to 3.49! That’s the 23rd best ERA in all of MLB and the 13th best in the National League. Meanwhile, thanks to his wicked 6.85 K/BB ratio since July 3rd (just barely behind Jacob deGrom’s 6.94 during that stretch), Hendricks’ FIP has dropped to 3.77 – which is lower than last season and among the top 25 marks in MLB.
I don’t want to distract from how good his overall season is looking now, because it’s been a perfectly solid year, but I do want to point out that since that July 3rd cutoff, Hendricks has a 2.82 ERA, 2.69 FIP, 89 strikeouts and 13 walks in 99.0 IP. He’s been good in 2018, but he’s been dominant since half-way through the season.
And when you add everything up, Hendricks has earned 3.1 fWAR this season, which is more than the 2.4 he posted last year and nearly on par with the 3.4 WAR he posted in 2015. And thanks to this late-hot stretch and another 3.0+ WAR season, Hendricks has now jumped into the Cubs top-40 all-time with 14.8 career WAR. Next season, he’ll likely jump into the top 30, passing Lee Smith, Bruce Sutter, Mark Prior, and Jon Lieber along the way. That’s fun.
As for what was working last night specifically, Hendricks was keeping the ball on the ground (50%) and allowing a very little hard contact (27.3%). When you do that without walking anybody and striking out five batters, you’re usually in store for a good night.
It’s easy to sleep on Hendricks, even after his near-Cy Young win two years ago, but we have to remember just how good he is. This is a sure-fire number 2 starter with the ability to shut an offense down on any given night, and a very consistent track record of success. (Bonus: he’s still just 28 years old and is under team control for another two more seasons after this one.)
Moreover, and most importantly, you have to just LOVE that he’s turning up the volume just as the Cubs approach the postseason. Depending on how Cole Hamels and Jon Lester wrap up their years, Kyle Hendricks might have an argument for whichever postseason game the Cubs play first. Every starting pitcher is going quite well right now, but Hendricks has been doing it consistently for three months now.
I’ll tell you what. As of this moment, Hendricks has my vote to be that Game One starter. How about you?
[Brett: I think I agree. The only caveat is if you wanted to split up the lefties or if there was a significant match-up advantage by front-loading the lefties in the series. But in the abstract, without those considerations, Hendricks is the guy.]