It is our duty as Cubs fans to remind the world how good and underrated Kyle Hendricks is at pitching. And usually, he makes that pretty easy.
Like last night:
Don't look now but Kyle Hendricks has 10 Wins…tied for the most in MLB! #PSA
— Cole Wright (@ColeWright) June 23, 2021
Kyle Hendricks is 8-0 with a 2.25 ERA in his last 8 starts. He has 40 K vs. 7 BB in 52 IP in that span, lowering his season ERA to 3.84 from 6.23 in the process.
Last Cubs pitcher to win 8 straight starts in same season: Arrieta from Aug. 4-11, 2015.
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) June 23, 2021
Kyle Hendricks ties Jack Flaherty winning his 8th consecutive start while throwing a season high 76.3 percent of his pitches for strikes.
He's the 4th Cubs pitcher in the Divisional Era to be the first in the NL to 10 wins joining Greg Maddux, @Sut_40 and Ken Holtzman.
— Jesse Rogers (@JesseRogersESPN) June 23, 2021
Last night, Kyle Hendricks threw his 8th consecutive quality start, lowering his ERA down to 3.84 for the season, while adding five more strikeouts and no walks during a great overall performance against the Cleveland Indians: 6.0 IP, 4H, 0BB, 5Ks.
As Jordan Bastian pointed out in one of the Tweets above, Hendricks has a 2.25 ERA over his last eight starts, which is 12th best in MLB during that stretch. And if you exclude only his two starts against the Braves, he’s got a 2.62 ERA over 13 starts this season. That’s a BIG difference on how you perceive his year, right? I know you can’t just throw away data you don’t like, but ignoring context is just as bad. Consider all of the information and you can’t escape the fact that Kyle Hendricks has been very good this season. His normal self, I mean.
Oh, and hey: The additional six innings from last night also leaves him tied for 18th most innings pitched in MLB this season (86.2 IP), which is a skillset and benefit this particular Cubs pitching staff needs more than just about anything else at the moment. So he’s not just good, he’s good in the way the Cubs need him to be.
In case you missed the actual game, here’s a video recap of his performance:
The reason we often have to remind the world that Hendricks is underrated is partly because of his lack of velocity and stuff, yes, but also because the way he succeeds (lots of soft contact on the ground, not a ton of strikeouts, etc.) is both against the grain of the modern pitcher and not the favorite child of certain advanced analytics.
For example, in every season besides 2015 (the first year it was available), Hendricks’ actual ERA has out-performed his expected ERA by quite a wide margin.
ERA v. xERA 2015-2021:
2015: 3.95 ERA, 3.40 xERA
2016: 2.13 ERA, 2.55 xERA
2017: 3.03 ERA, 3.78 xERA
2018: 3.44 ERA, 3.68 xERA
2019: 3.46 ERA, 3.69 xERA
2020: 2.88 ERA, 3.08 xERA
2021: 3.84 ERA, 5.12 xERA
I could do the same thing with FIP, but to an even greater extent.
And here’s the crazy part: Until I actually dug into the data from last night, I was actually going to concede that Hendricks wasn’t his sharpest last night. My gut told me he was allowing way too much hard contact and line drives, not just relative to his usually elite self, but just in general, but … it’s not really true. Sometimes your eye test is wrong.
Hendricks did allow a less-than-ideal average launch angle last night (29.6 degrees, his highest of the season), which led to his second lowest groundball rate and highest fly ball rate, but his line drive rate wasn’t completely out of whack for him this season. More importantly, his 88.2 MPH average exit velocity and 41.2% hard hit rate (while not ideal) were both only the seventh worst of his season. Again, that’s not what you want – and not normally what you see from Hendricks when he’s at his best – but I just thought they were all going to be much worse than that.
And while he wasn’t elite in that respect, he did do some other stuff really well. For example, he threw 93 pitches last night, 71 of which were strikes. That includes his highest swinging strike rate of the season, his highest first pitch strike rate of the season, the most swings on pitches out of the zone of the season and his second lowest contact rate on pitches in the zone of the season. Hendricks attacked the heck out of the Indians last night (with some of his best velocity, too) and sure, they made some contact, but they were also very certainly fooled and off-balance.
After a rocky start to the year, I have no doubt he’s back on track as one of the best pitchers in baseball … even if he’s still not being recognized that way from afar.