Kyle Hendricks Wasn't at His Best Last Night, Which is a Huge Compliment

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Kyle Hendricks Wasn’t at His Best Last Night, Which is a Huge Compliment

Chicago Cubs

Last night, Kyle Hendricks wasn’t at his best. I know. I know. It’s so frustrating. The wayward right-hander managed to go just 7.0 innings of one-run baseball, with 8 hits, 0 walks, and 3 strikeouts. A real travesty.

By game score (65), that wasn’t even one of his top five starts of the season. What a bum.

Kyle Hendricks Top-5 2019 Games: 

  1. 5/03: 9.0 IP, 4H, 0ER, 0BB, 3Ks (88 GS)
  2. 4/19: 7.0 IP, 3H, 0ER, 2BB, 11Ks (82 GS)
  3. 5/29: 8.0 IP, 4H, 1ER, 1BB, 7Ks (81 GS)
  4. 5/08: 8.0 IP, 5H, 0ER, 0BB, 7Ks (81)
  5. 5/14: 8.0 IP, 3H, 1ER, 1BB, 7Ks (77)

Last night: 7.0 IP, 8H, 1ER, 0BB, 3Ks (65 Game Score)

I kid, of course – the only reason Hendricks’ absolutely beautiful start against the Cardinals last night wasn’t one of his best of the year, is because he’s been so freakin’ unbelievably good this season. Despite a relatively awful start to the year, Hendricks now owns a 3.00 ERA (15th best in MLB) and 3.11 FIP (14th). And with 2.4 fWAR overall, he’s been the 8th most valuable pitcher in MLB this season – one spot ahead of Justin Verlander.

Yet despite all of that, the craziest thing might be the fact that he’s now down to a 4.1% walk rate for the season, which is the fourth lowest mark among all qualified starting pitchers in MLB. Hendricks has always been known for his command, of course, but this is a whole new level of dominance, even compared to his career (5.7%). And not for nothing, but if you take out his first start of the season, Hendricks’ walk rate trickles down to 3.5%, which … lol. That’s really great.

But if you couldn’t guess, last night wasn’t just about the lack of walks. And it wasn’t about strikeouts, either (he didn’t have many, though it’s worth remembering that Hendricks has made six starts with at least 7Ks this season, including two with double-digit strikeouts). Instead, it was about weak contact.

Last night, Kyle Hendricks allowed plenty of balls in play, but he also got plenty of soft contact (28% – his third best rate for a single game this season). He also managed to get a 12.5% infield fly ball rate, a good indicator of poor contact, pulling his season-average up to 12.0%, which is the 17th best mark in MLB. There weren’t a ton of ground balls (37.5%), but that’s not terrible, and with that much weak contact overall, it doesn’t really matter.

So, basically, in all the ways we’ve grown accustomed (great command, poor contact), Hendricks was very good last night. If he had (1) squeezed out a few more whiffs, (2) gotten a few more balls on the ground, or (3) gotten a little luckier with his BABIP, which was unusually high, especially with that much weak contact, he probably would’ve turned in yet another truly excellent outing instead of just a really, really good one. You gotta love impossible standards.

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

But if you’re looking at the bigger picture and wondering why, exactly, Hendricks has been looking so much better lately and, in a lot of ways, largely better than most of last season, I wonder if there might be something here with his resurgent velocity (courtesy of Brooks Baseball):

I don’t know if this explains everything, but that sure is something.

After dipping down at the beginning of the season, Hendricks’ velocity on his four-seamer and sinker are both slowly re-approaching those sweet, sweet 2016 levels. He’s got some ways to go yet, but you can see pretty clearly that when he was at his best (2016, and this most recent stretch here in 2019), he was closer to 89-90 MPH. So if he can simply stay in the range he’s been lately, I don’t see any reason why Hendricks can’t continue to have a fantastic season and career. Boy am I happy the Cubs locked him up.

Author: Michael Cerami

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