While it would be inaccurate to say the Chicago Cubs are counting on Kyle Hendricks being a key member of the 2023 starting rotation (they have to proceed this offseason as if he won’t be there), it would also be inaccurate to say that it is impossible to envision Hendricks contributing.
Yes, the decline has been evident the last couple years, and yes he’s turning 33, and yes his margin for error was always much smaller as a command/control guy at a lower velocity. But having had so much success in his career, and having perhaps now an opportunity to fully get over the shoulder injury, I could envision a scenario where he comes back next year as a capable fifth starter for a big chunk of the season.
And to whatever extent it is within his control to see that a productive 2023 happens, he is taking the bull by the horns:
From the piece:
“Hendricks also didn’t pitch after the All-Star break this year. That might have been a different story if the team had been in the playoff race. Instead, the Cubs shut down Hendricks early, essentially trying to create an offseason during the season, according to sources familiar with the club’s thinking, so that he could have a longer runway to rest his right shoulder, focus on strength and conditioning, then start a Driveline-style program designed to boost his velocity ….
Of course, getting healthy this winter is the priority, but there are other goals. Getting stronger can have various benefits, with one of them hopefully being a jump in velocity. Even getting to 88 mph regularly could have a big impact on Hendricks’ performance. There’s also a consensus that his delivery isn’t where it once was, less fluid and aggressive. Proper training in the offseason could address that issue and also result in a better-performing changeup.”
It’s wild to think about a 33-year-old Kyle Hendricks going through a hardcore offseason program designed to add velocity, but obviously it’s something the Cubs have done with prospects with great success. Why not try at this point, right? It’s kind of a high-risk, high-reward situation for a guy who might otherwise not contribute in 2023 anyway. It is the final guaranteed year of his deal with the Cubs.
A Kyle Hendricks that can touch 88 mph with regularity would be a guy – from a velocity perspective – that we haven’t seen in years. He was still succeeding a great deal in 2019 when the average velo was down to 87 mph, but we saw it continue to dip the last few years. Get that back up a bit, and you’ve at least started the process of putting back together a productive Hendricks. Of course, as noted, that’s not the only issue (and I would add that simple wildness has increasingly become an issue – Hendricks’ 38.7% zone rate last year was by far the worst of his career, and, incredibly, was BELOW league average).
The plan for now is for Hendricks to start throwing next month, and build up from there. We could have a sense of how things are going by the time pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training in mid-February. For more on Hendricks and the plans ahead, read the article at The Athletic.