When I woke up this morning, I had an idea for a silly TikTok video about Kyle Hendricks being a “baddie,” because I’m desperately clinging onto my youth. So I set out to find the requisite footage, combing through the archives of his career on Twitter and YouTube. And before I get to the point of this post, let me just … MAN! This guy has had a lot of really amazing moments as a Chicago Cub!
His big league debut was the game Anthony Rizzo charged the Reds dugout in 2014. He threw an 81-pitch(!) complete game shutout of the Cardinals in 2019. He tossed a three-hit, nine-strikeout complete game shutout against the Brewers on Opening Day in 2020. And he even threw a pitch 90 MPH one time!
But you know what Hendricks doesn’t really get enough credit for? Being an absolute stud in the postseason.
For his career, Kyle Hendricks has made 11 playoff starts (plus one appearance in relief), including, of course, Game 7 of the 2016 World Series. And in those 57.2 innings pitched, he’s posted a 3.12 ERA, while walking just 6.6% of the batters he’s faced, and allowing a .238 batting average against.
But Game 7 of the 2016 World Series wasn’t his most dominant postseason performance, and probably not even the most memorable. At least not in my opinion. His very solid Game 7 outing might have been the start that helped complete the Cubs comeback and bring a parade to Chicago, but two starts earlier, he dominated Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Wrigley Field in Game 6 of the 2016 NLCS to send the Cubs to the World Series.
That’s the performance I’ll always remember most. And that’s why I brought you here today.
Bring yourself back to that night. Do you remember the incessant live-stream footage of Clayton Kershaw warming up in his cutoff? And how seemingly every analyst scoffed at the idea that Hendricks was any match? Yes, the Cubs were the favorites that year overall. But that night, all eyes (outside of Chicago) were on Kershaw. And all eyes were wrong.
Kershaw: 5.0 IP, 7H 5R, 4ER, 0BB, 4Ks
Hendricks: 7.1 IP, 2H, 0ER, 0BB, 6Ks
All in all, Hendricks allowed no runs on just two hits and no walks against six strikeouts. It took Hendricks, who never allowed a runner to reach second base, just 88 pitches to get that far. Stealing from myself five years ago: “Hendricks’ game score of 86 was the highest by any Cubs starting pitcher or opponent throughout the 2016 postseason. It was better than Lester (83) and Johnny Cueto (83) in Game 1 of the NLDS, better than Matt Moore (78) in Game 4 of the NLDS, better than Clayton Kershaw (82) in Game 2 of the NLCS, it was better than everyone. In fact, Jake Arrieta’s no-hitter against the Reds earlier this season (89) was the only higher game score by a Cubs starter in 2016.”
I think the standing ovation as Joe Maddon took him out of the game says it all:
Given the dominance of Jake Arrieta in 2015 (NL Cy Young award winner) and Jon Lester in 2016 (NL Cy Young runner-up), it’s a little too easy to forget that Hendricks ranked third in the Cy Young voting that season, and was the ERA-leader of MLB (2.13 ERA).
But if it were up to Ben Zobrist, he would’ve won that award:
“It was incredible,” Ben Zobrist said. “That was the easiest postseason game we’ve had yet and it was the clincher to go to the World Series.
“He’s just so good, so mature for his age. He just has a knack to put the ball where he needs to. He’s smart and he’s clutch. He deserves to win the Cy Young this year.”
• Jed Hoyer added that “Kyle didn’t even give them any air or any hope.”
• Jason McLeod said “That was one of the best pitching performances I’ve ever seen …. Ever.”
• “The unsung hero of this team,” Kris Bryant called him.
• “He was unbelievable, phenomenal,” catcher Willson Contreras said. “I just put my fingers down. He executed the pitches.”
Kyle Hendricks has spent his entire big league career with the Chicago Cubs. And so far, that’s meant 206 regular season starts (10th in MLB since 2014), 1228.1 innings pitched (11th), a 20.2% strikeout rate (112nd), a 5.4% walk rate (19th), an 86.5 MPH average exit velocity allowed (6th), a 3.37 ERA (20th), and 22.2 fWAR (16th).
Next year will be his ninth season in Chicago, but likely not his last. Back in Spring Training of 2019, Hendricks signed a four-year, $55.5M extension with the Cubs which pays him $14M next year, $14M in 2023, and comes with a $16M club option for 2024 ($1.5M buyout).
If he plays those years out in Chicago, he’ll hit hit free agency entering his age-35 season, after pitching 11 seasons as a Chicago Cub. But regardless of what happens then – or, really, from here on out – Hendricks should be remembered as one of the greatest Cubs pitchers of all-time. His career in the postseason has been truly special so far, and that 2016 NLCS Game 6 performance stands out above the rest.