Last night, Kyle Hendricks tossed 8.0 innings against the Marlins, allowing just two earned runs on six hits, no walks, and three strikeouts. That’s the third time this season he’s refused to walk a single batter (he’s delivered just two walks in his past four games), and the third straight game he’s gone at least 7.0 innings.
Here are the highlights, in case you missed it:
With an extremely taxed bullpen from a 14-inning marathon game on Sunday, Hendricks delivered a quality, lengthy start at just the right time. And he did it by pitching smart, not hard.
Some fans might look at Hendricks’ start last night and be a bit disappointed by just seven whiffs and three strikeouts over 8.0 innings/28 batters faced, but I’m fairly certain that was by design (and I don’t mean because Hendricks typically loves to get by generating tons of weak contact (he does do that, too, but there was more thoughtfulness to it than that).
Given that the bullpen was taxed on Sunday – and very well could be taxed again today with Yu Darvish hitting the DL – Hendricks absolutely needed to pitch deep into yesterday’s game (while also pitching well, *eh hem* because of the five-game losing streak) and he did so by pitching right into the Marlins bats.
“You have [the state of the roster] in the back of your head for sure,” said Hendricks after the game, per Cubs.com. “The only way to do that is to make good pitches, pitch to contact, make quick outs. That’s what I try and do anyway. I take the same mindset and make good pitches. If you do that, got some contact, make some plays, you get deep in the game.”
It certainly helps that Hendricks has a good defense behind him, but that was an extremely artful and masterful performance. Before yesterday’s start, Hendricks had generated a 27% soft-hit rate and 28.8% hard-hit rate by nibbling and bitting at the corners, and getting a little cuter than normal (42.1% zone percentage). But last night, Hendricks was in the zone 50% of the time and got no soft contact – in part – because of that desire to go right after a thin Marlins lineup. At the same time, he managed to keep his hard contact rate below leave average, which limited the amount of damage the Marlins could do.
Seriously, think about how tricky that balance is. Hendricks needed to last deep into the game, so he hit the zone at a rate about eight percentage points more often than he’s used to, which means batters had more opportunities to hit him hard, and yet … they couldn’t do it consistently. Just a lot of medium contact.
In the end, Hendricks needed just 98 pitches to get through 8.0 IP and he allowed just two earned runs (and one of those earned runs could’ve been saved if Kris Bryant made a better throw to Javier Baez, who could’ve turned a double play and ended an inning before the first run scored).
So how do you manage to stick in the zone and still stop batters from doing anything? Have pitches that look like this:
Those pitches looked identical … except the last one came in much slower and fell off. What on earth are you supposed to do with that? Swing at the first two, I suppose, but the best you’re going to do is hit them weakly somewhere.
But that’s not all.
As I mentioned, Hendricks didn’t walk a single batter last night. It’s possible he might’ve been trying especially hard to keep his command, because his velocity was down slightly from where it was in his last start, and down from where it’s been all season. It’s not like dropping velocity for better command is anything new, but doing it while remaining successful and balancing it against your other pitches is the sort of tight-rope walk not many pitchers can pull off.
So now, Kyle Hendricks has a 3.02 ERA for the season, which ranks 28th in MLB and 13th in the National League, while also boasting a 5.0% walk rate (t-14th in MLB, 5th in NL), 50.7% ground ball rate (19th, 12th), and a 22.1% soft-hit rate (23rd, 15th), all while averaging over 6.0 innings pitched per game. He’s good.
Also, it’s not like this is new for him:
Since he entered the league in 2014, just 9 starting pitchers have a better ERA than Kyle Hendricks. Their names?
Kyle. Hendricks. Is. Elite.
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) May 8, 2018