Meet the New Kyle Hendricks, Much like the Outdated Kyle Hendricks

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Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports activities

The Cubs are in playoff competition on the finish of August, and Kyle Hendricks is getting hitters out with a tasting menu of exquisitely situated mid-80s funk. (Grabs nearest passerby) “The date! I would like you to inform me the date!…God Almighty, my time machine works!”

For many of the late 2010s, Hendricks was not fairly an ace however was a bankable no. 2 or no. 3 starter. Even in his relative youth, he by no means threw arduous; the quickest pitch of Hendricks’ complete profession was 93.1 mph, and he hasn’t even hit 91 since 2016. Individuals who apparently by no means watched Greg Maddux liked to stamp a “subsequent Greg Maddux” label on any bookish right-hander with nice command, and of these, Hendricks most likely got here the closest to dwelling as much as the comparability.

After a dominant COVID-shortened 2020, Hendricks struggled; he acquired blasted to the tune of a 4.77 ERA and 4.89 FIP in 2021, then put up comparable numbers in 2022 earlier than a shoulder damage put him down for the season.

However since coming back from that damage round Memorial Day, Hendricks has been superb: a 3.80 ERA and three.97 FIP in 104 1/3 innings over 18 begins. That efficiency isn’t going to make Hendricks a Cy Younger contender, as he was in 2016, however it’s the very best he’s pitched since earlier than the pandemic.

And the timing for the Cubs has been fairly good; high free agent signing Jameson Taillon has been underwhelming, and putative no. 1 starter Marcus Stroman is on the IL with fractured cartilage in his rib cage. We in baseball turn out to be inured to torn ligaments and infected capsules, however “fractured rib cage cartilage” is a extremely gross-sounding damage. Like one thing out of Predator.

Till and except Stroman returns, the highest two pitchers in Chicago’s rotation are All-Star left-hander Justin Steele and Hendricks. So is that this really the identical Hendricks who was entrusted to start out Sport 7 of the 2016 World Collection? Form of.

Of the 99 pitchers who’ve thrown not less than 100 innings this yr, 93 throw a four-seam fastball. Of these, Hendricks’ is the slowest, averaging 87.7 mph. Rich Hill has him by half a mile an hour. Sixty-six of these pitchers throw a sinker; Hendricks’ is the second-slowest of these at 87.4 mph, forward of solely Hill. He has the fifth-lowest strikeout price of pitchers with not less than 100 innings this season.

So the stuff isn’t superb in and of itself. Along with rock-bottom velocity, Hendricks’ two fastballs and changeup usually have below-average motion:

Kyle Hendricks’ Pitch Velo and Motion

PitchVeloIn. of Dropvs. AvgIn. of Breakvs. Avg
Fastball87.721.0-1.64.9-0.8
Sinker87.429.01.312.1-1.7
Changeup80.533.8-0.810.3-2.3

SOURCE: Baseball Savant

There additionally isn’t an enormous velocity differential between Hendricks’ fastballs and his most-used secondary pitch, the changeup. The speed delta between Hendricks’ hardest fastball and his changeup is 7.1 mph, which is middle-of-the-road. Of that pattern of pitchers with 100 or extra innings, 83 throw a changeup. Of these, Hendricks’ fastball-changeup velocity differential is forty eighth.

Perversely, these three pitches, which make up about 96% of Hendricks’ complete output this season, are so intently grouped collectively in motion and velocity that they entice opponents to swing however make Hendricks tough to sq. up. Opponents are nonetheless crushing Hendricks’ fastball (.480 wOBA), however the .213 opponent wOBA he’s getting on his changeup is the bottom of his profession.

Hendricks’ total opponent wOBA is Twenty fifth-best out of the 106 pitchers who qualify for Baseball Savant’s leaderboard. He doesn’t strike anybody out, however he additionally doesn’t stroll anybody. Hendricks would little doubt wish to run a whiff price like Spencer Strider’s, however he’s capable of reside with the dearth of strikeouts. With the ability to find in addition to Hendricks does helps, positive, however he’s additionally inducing weak contact. His opponent wOBACON is ninth-best in baseball, and his xwOBACON is eleventh.

The best way he’s doing that is by throwing the ball in locations the place the hitter can attain the ball, however can’t hit the ball arduous. Hendricks has thrown 26.6% of his pitches within the chase assault zone, the very best price out of 117 pitchers with not less than 1,500 pitches thrown this season. That’s the world simply exterior the strike zone. And although the ball is out of the zone, opponents have swung at 30.7% of the pitches Hendricks has thrown in that area this yr, the fifth-highest mark in baseball.

Because of this, Hendricks is prospering on this space simply past the frontiers of the strike zone. Total, Hendricks has held opponents to a .217 wOBA within the chase zone, Thirteenth-best within the league. When hitters swing, that quantity goes all the way down to .111.

That’s one of many large modifications for Hendricks this season; when he was getting romped in 2021, he was leaving the ball within the strike zone an excessive amount of. Now, he’s throwing it down and out of the zone extra, and hitters are chasing.

The opposite change is that Hendricks has all however junked his curveball. He’s nonetheless throwing it 3.8% of the time, however that’s simply 61 pitches all yr. That’s principally nothing. Go house and inform your accomplice or your roommate or your dad and mom that you just did 3.8% of the dishes and see how they react.

The curveball has at all times been one in every of Hendricks’ weaker pitches, and he’s by no means thrown it greater than 20% of the time. However again in 2016, he was working with a curve and a cutter fairly continuously. Now, he’s solely throwing pitches with arm-side motion.

Simply 4.5% of the pitches Hendricks has thrown this season have had impartial or glove-side motion. Among the many 117 pitchers with not less than 1,500 pitches thrown this season, that’s the second-lowest proportion. Right here’s a enjoyable little bit of trivia: The pitchers at each extremes of this checklist are each Cubs. Steele throws extra pitches with glove-side motion than some other pitcher within the league; Drew Smyly has probably the most arm-side-heavy repertoire.

As you recognize, most beginning pitchers attempt to have each arm- and glove-side break of their repertoire as a result of it permits them to fight each left- and right-handed hitters with pitches that break in on their palms. Hendricks has a pitch that breaks in on righties, however he solely throws it thrice a begin. In truth, Hendricks has thrown three curveballs to lefties this yr for each one he’s thrown to righties. It’s a digital nonentity. And given the way it’s been hit lately, ditching it looks like a sensible transfer:

Kyle Hendricks’ Curveball

YrUtilization%BAXBASLGXSLGWOBAXWOBAWhiff%
20233.80.3330.3930.3330.4730.2940.37342.9
202211.90.4210.290.7890.5040.5170.33733.3
202111.70.2210.310.4550.5080.2980.36421.3
202016.70.1470.1740.1470.2310.1460.19330.3
20199.80.2170.2130.2390.2750.2180.22928.6
20187.60.4830.280.7590.3740.5290.28524.6
20177.90.4380.3830.6880.6160.4880.43521.6
20167.80.250.2140.3570.3660.2760.26315.8
20157.30.1820.2260.3180.3760.2240.27216.3

SOURCE: Baseball Savant

And he doesn’t appear to overlook his breaking ball in any respect:

Kyle Hendricks’ 2023 Platoon Splits

AVGOBPSLGwOBAOkay%BB%HR/9
vs. LHB.239.279.361.27815.95.50.67
vs. RHB.257.291.411.30215.52.81.24

It’s a noticeable reverse platoon cut up, however not a extreme one. And with the shoulder damage behind him, Hendricks is having his greatest season in three years. It’s not fairly a return to 2016 — for him or the Cubs as a crew — however it’s progress.



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