A day after Jon Lester threw a complete game and a start after he threw one himself, Kyle Hendricks came up just shy of pulling it off once again yesterday against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
In the end, he was lifted after 8.0 innings pitched, having given up just 2 earned runs on 3 hits, 1 walk and 6 strikeouts. Another dominating performance from an increasingly dominating pitcher.
On the season, Hendricks is now the proud owner of a 2.84 ERA, 2.94 FIP and 3.39 xFIP. That ERA is 26th best in all of baseball, which is great, but not as impressive as his FIP which is 14th best in the league – just behind Chris Sale and just ahead of Jeff Samardzija, David Price, Corey Kluber and Gerrit Cole. By fWAR, Kyle Hendricks (1.7) has been the 16th most valuable pitcher in the entire league.
He’s no longer quietly good. He is just good.
Check out some of the highlights from yesterday’s game:
Across his eight innings pitched, Hendricks allowed just three hits and one walk to the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are not too shabby of a team, I reckon. Indeed, he struck out eight batters on the day, off the strength of 10 swings and misses (7 of which came from his plus changeup). Hendricks strikeout rate remains above 20% and he has continued to refuse free passes throughout the season (5.3%). At this point I believe it’s fair to say that his potential – it would seem – was miscalculated by scouts and analysts throughout his career.
But how has he been so good?
Well, in addition to the Ks and BBs, he’s been the best contact manager in the entire National League. No seriously. Kyle Hendricks has induced a better batted ball profile than Clayton Kershaw, Jake Arrieta, Zack Greinke, Jon Lester, Madison Bumgarner and anyone else you can name in the NL. Here’s what Tony Blengino of FanGraphs had to say on that matter:
As of May 26, Hendricks is the best contact-manager in the NL. He’s posted the second-highest grounder rate in the league, and the lowest fly-ball rate. He has also yielded the lowest average fly-ball velocity (84.5 mph) to date, posting a 67 fly ball Adjusted Contact Score. His K and BB rates both sit in the average range, capping his ultimate ceiling somewhat, but Hendricks projects as an above-average starting pitcher thanks to his contact-management ability.
If that tickles your fancy, just brace yourself for what comes next. In at least one significant and positive way, Kyle Hendricks has been exactly like Clayton Kershaw. Again at FanGraphs, Neil Weinberg writes that Hendricks shares a surprisingly similar ability to Kershaw in their proclivity to induce pop-ups and infield fly balls.
According to Weinberg, the next best outcome a pitcher can hope for after a strikeout, is an infield fly ball. In fact, because of how little damage they tend to do, infield fly balls are counted the same as strikeouts in FanGraphs calculation of WAR. With that said, regular fly balls can do a fair amount of damage (because they often leave the park or go for extra bases) so limiting those, while increasing infield fly balls is a winning combination.
… A combination shared by Clayton Kershaw and the Cubs’ very own Kyle Hendricks. In fact, when looking at the two graphs compiled by Weinberg (Infield Fly Ball v. Fly Ball and Pop-up% v. Non Pop-up Fly Ball%), Kershaw and Hendricks are almost indistinguishably close and among the best in baseball. Although Hendricks ceiling will always be capped because of his lower strikeout rates than the extreme elite tier, he has very clearly shown the ability to be a middle to upper tier pitcher based on his many other skills.
And, hey, it’s not everyday that a Cub is compared to the best pitcher in the universe. So, I say enjoy it.