Kyle Hendricks' Great Outing Reminds Us That He's Still Kyle Hendricks

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Kyle Hendricks’ Great Outing Reminds Us That He’s Still Kyle Hendricks

Chicago Cubs

Last night, Kyle Hendricks made his fifth start of the season, and it was his best one yet – his velocity was where it should be, he generated a ton of weak contact, and his changeup was absolutely filthy (as it often is).

So when he was finally lifted from the game before the start of the 8th inning, no one was surprised to see a beautiful stat line: 7.0 innings pitched, 4 hits, 0 earned runs, 0 walks, and 5 strikeouts.

Here’s a quick highlight reel, in case you missed it:

Hendricks needed just 94 pitches to get through those seven innings, and 56 of those pitches fell in for strikes. He didn’t generate a ton of whiffs overall (7), but his changeup got six swings and misses, and each one is more beautiful than the last:

No one can freakin’ touch that pitch (and for what it’s worth, he said he felt much more natural last night). Indeed, Hendricks is only just getting started, but his 3.1 changeup pitch value ranks 8th best in baseball, sandwiched between Chris Sale and Max Scherzer.

As for his velocity, Hendricks was routinely working between 87-88 MPH last night, which is right in line with his season-average (87.92 MPH), which, itself, is better than all of 2017 (86.59 MPH). But perhaps most importantly, his overall 88.0 MPH average this April is actually higher than what he posted in April of 2016 – the year he went onto finish as a NL Cy Young finalist.

I know burning fastballs by people isn’t Hendricks’ thing, but creating more separation between that pitch and his wipeout changeup is crucial. So the better his fastballs look, the better his changeup will be.

Going back to last night, sure, Hendricks only had seven whiffs, but he used them wisely, racking up five strikeouts and exactly zero walks – something he’s been doing a lot of lately:

Currently, his 19.5% strikeout rate won’t strike fear into anyone’s heart, but 1) strikeouts, alone, aren’t how Hendricks dominates (more on this in a second), 2) he’s walking so few batters (5.7 BB%) that his K/BB is still an extremely solid 3.43, and 3) his strikeout rate over his past three starts is up at 25%.

So, basically, he’s killing it in this arena, too, and, really, it was his second start of the year (when he struck out just one batter, despite facing 26 guys) that’s really dragging his strikeout rate down.

What *is* a critical part of Hendricks’ game, however, is inducing weak contact on the ground, and that’s something he did extremely well against the Brewers last night. According to FanGraphs, Hendricks recorded a 68.4% ground ball rate yesterday, with a teeny-tiny 5.3% line drive rate and 26.3% fly ball rate. On top of that, he managed to generate soft contact 26.3% of the time with a hard-hit rate to match it – both are much better than average.

(Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)

But that’s not something he just did well last night. In fact, while the strikeouts have come and gone, the weak contact on the ground has been there all year for Hendricks:

Batted Ball Profile:

Ground ball: 51.7%
Fly ball: 29.2%

Soft Contact: 30.0%
Hard Contact: 26.7%

Those are all VERY good numbers. Hendricks’ 30.0% soft-contact rate this season not only ranks fourth best in baseball (between Chris Sale and Dallas Keuchel), it also represents – by far – the best mark of his career … and he’s pretty much known for inducing weak contact. Meanwhile, Hendricks’ 26.7% hard-hit rate ranks 18th best in MLB right now and is exactly equal to his career rate – which, again, is usually near the top of the league by the end of the season.

All the while, Hendricks is allowing almost exactly as many fly balls as he ever has (which is a better than average rate to start with), and he also subtracted from his line drive rate to give to his groundball rate (51.7%), which now stands at the highest level of his career.

In short, Kyle Hendricks has always been the sort of pitcher to outperform his peripherals because of a superb batted ball profile, but that may be more true this year than ever before (3.10 ERA, 4.69 FIP).

If he just keeps doing what he’s doing (grounders, weak contact, no walks, good velocity), he’ll be in store for a another truly excellent season. It may not have looked that way out of the gate, but five starts in and it’s looking like: Kyle Hendricks is still Kyle Hendricks.

Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami