I saw a couple GIFs yesterday of Cubs righty Kyle Hendricks that merited a little attention here for folks who didn’t see them out on the twitters.
First, an older GIF that got recirculated yesterday and fawned over by the likes of another Major League pitcher:
That’s quietly ridiculous right there, and I’ll let Astros righty Lance McCullers sum it up:
But he… that was a slider out of his hand….uhhh.. wait… dumbfounded
— Lance McCullers Jr. (@LMcCullers43) March 12, 2018
You can see in the GIF the way Hendricks manipulates his hand, which creates the appearance of a slider out of the hand – and the start of movement to the glove side! – before the more traditional two-seam movement to the arm side takes over. Hence the batter looking mystified by a pitch that more or less winds up middle-middle. Incredible.
And now a look at how supremely good Hendricks is at tunneling his pitches. The idea of pitch tunnels – whether you use that name or not – is wholly familiar to you. The idea is that a pitcher will have more success if he can make his pitches (1) look the same coming out of his hand, and (2) move in the same plane for a long as possible – past the point where a hitter has to trigger his swing – before diverging. If your arm movement looks the same, if your release point looks the same, and if the pitch itself looks the the same for 30 feet or so, the batter is more or less screwed (to use the technical, baseball term).
Here’s a perfect example from Hendricks:
Kyle Hendricks, 2 seam Fastball/Changeup tunnel. pic.twitter.com/xQJDe5jUFo
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) March 11, 2018
Don’t blame yourself, Yoan Moncada. There’s only so much you can do.
In all seriousness, those pitches look *IDENTICAL* all the way through the red ring before the changeup dives further and harder away from the batter. How do you even handle this? In truth, you have to guess at which pitch it is, because you’re not going to be able to adjust based on the movement of the pitch. It’s too late by then. So, in that regard, Moncada seems to have done the right thing – he simply guessed wrong both times.
Such is (one part of) the mastery of a pitcher like Kyle Hendricks. To the extent he can keep doing things like this, he’ll continue to have success without premium – or even average – velocity.
On that front, by the way, it’s been nice not to hear about him slowly getting things up in the mid-80s. Instead, the only velocity reports I’ve heard have had him in the 86-88 mph range, which is extremely acceptable for this time of year. He can thrive at 87-89 mph in the regular season.
With his new finger-protection plan in place, hopefully he’ll come right out of the gate his usual self, and won’t have to deal with the depressed velocity and command that gave him troubles before he hit the DL with middle finger tendinitis last year.
Good luck, hitters: