Like a lot of folks, I’ve certainly noticed – and spent a fair bit of time pondering – Kyle Hendricks’ performance at home and on the road in recent years. It’s become impossible not to think that, of late, every “I have concerns” performance has come on the road, and every “OK, he’s still awesome” performance has come at Wrigley Field.
It has indeed happened a lot. *Some* of that is just confirmation bias, though. For example, he had a rough outing at Wrigley a couple weeks ago against the White Sox, and a couple weeks before that, he was fantastic in Cleveland. So, up front, let’s note that it’s not a perfect 1-to-1 issue.
But it’s certainly noticeable, and it’s led to a really stark set of splits between last year and this year. At home, he’s got a 2.10 ERA over 128.1 IP (2.95 FIP), and held batters to a .207/.241/.310 line. He’s struck out 21.8% while walking just 3.1%. On the road, by contrast, he’s got an ugly 5.06 ERA over 106.2 IP (4.38 FIP), allowing batters a .296/.333/.485 line. He’s struck out just 18.6% and walked 4.9%
Even the batted ball profile has been starkly different. At home, he’s putting a whopping 47.4% of the balls on the ground, and allowing just 30.9% hard contact. But on the road, that groundball rate shrinks to a deeply meh 38.0%, and the hard contact rate balloons to 36.8%. He’s yielding just 0.6 HR/9 at home these past two years, but on the road it’s more than double, at 1.4.
To the eye test, the explanation for these numbers is command. Generally speaking, at home, Hendricks has REALLY had it the last two years. On the road, he’s been much shakier, which impacts every single one of those numbers above.
Maybe it’s a fluke over a small-ish sample, but I’d point out that his home road splits hold true to some extent for each of his past seasons except one. None are as stark as the last two years, but it’s noticeable in the data.
Making something of this is pretty difficult. It’s not as if Wrigley Field is simply always a pitcher’s park, and Hendricks’ results merely reflect that. Because of the unique nature of the weather at Wrigley, it fluctuates wildly from year to year in terms of its Park Factors, so that wouldn’t be the sole explanation for the Hendricks stuff, though it could be a factor in the last two years: in 2019, Wrigley Field rated as the 8th most pitcher-friendly park, and this year so far, it’s tracking as the most pitcher-friendly park in baseball.
Those park factors wouldn’t really explain why the strikeout and walk data looks like it does for Hendricks, but it could absolutely amplify the extremes in the numbers.
So maybe we’re looking at something where there’s just something about Wrigley Field where Kyle Hendricks feels most comfortable and effective, which is why we see some splits for his career? And then the last two years, the weather at Wrigley Field has tracked much more pitcher-friendly than usual, so we see even more extremes?
I’m not sure how much that would comfort you, given that Hendricks has pitched so poorly on the road. Then again, maybe you can take some solace in knowing that he’s really only had two truly ugly blow-up starts on the road this year, and they both came in Cincinnati, where the ballpark is famously hitter-friendly, especially for the long-ball – it’s Home Run Park Factor this year is COMICALLY higher than any other ballpark in baseball. So maybe you can have a small amount of comfort?
… especially since the Cubs are finished playing games in Cincinnati this year?
OK, now you can enjoy the Hendricks highlights and stat notes from last night’s excellent performance, at Wrigley, against the Cardinals:
Kyle Hendricks has the third-lowest ERA at home among active players. (Min. 500 IP) pic.twitter.com/w0cY51kj3D
— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) September 8, 2020
Kyle Hendricks sets a new franchise record – 38 consecutive starts with two or fewer walks! pic.twitter.com/AA7rk6qtwy
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) September 7, 2020
Since the start of 2018, Kyle Hendricks has the most starts (8) of 8+ IP & allowing 1 run or fewer. pic.twitter.com/Xya6tPPZwt
— MLB Stats (@MLBStats) September 7, 2020