What Have We Learned About Kyle Hendricks?

It was said in “It’s a Wonderful Life” that every time a bell rings an angel get’s its wings. Well, I think that every time a scout, expert, or saber-loving fan spouts reasons that Kyle Hendricks can’t keep up his current performance, Hendricks gets another quality start. Every time he goes out there we expect the other shoe to drop, and he keeps making us wait.

Has he been perfect? Far from it. He gave up four earned runs in 5 2/3 innings in Toronto and allowed nine hits in 5 2/3 innings against Milwaukee while striking out zero. Of course, he follows those starts with an eighty-pitch masterpiece, going seven innings and allowing one run, striking out four, and walking none against Cincinnati.

It’s been twelve starts already so come on, please, somebody tell me who this guy really is. With a fastball that averages 89 mph to go with an 80 mph changeup and a cutter, he doesn’t have pitches with a ton of movement (or “average stuff,” if you will). I did find a quality scouting report on Fangraphs that lays out some of why he is so successful.

Man he throws slow. He has one huge set of balls to keep throwing his fastball in their, which he does with confidence. His sinker was 86-87 in the game I watched. He just isn’t going to strikeout many batters as seen by his 15% K%.

He seemed to get by on two traits, he threw strikes (5.4 BB%) and lived throwing to the U-shaped zone on the edge of the strikezone. With the borderline strikes, he was able to generate weak contact. This can be seen by his 49% GB% and .246 BABIP.

As for his other pitchers, a curveball and change, they weren’t good in the game. His change has been good this season with a 15% SwStr% and a 48% GB%. Both are above average. His curve has acceptable swing and miss (9.5%), but has a great GB% (57%).

Final thoughts: I just have not seen enough of him to convince me he can keep up the results. I would not be surprised one bit if his ERA from now to season’s end was near 4.00 (which is where his ERA estimators are hanging out).

The fact that he has such tremendous control and attacks the zone in the U-shaped pattern described in the report is the key to his success. It’s not like he sports a super-heavy-duty sinker, a la Brandon Webb of 2007, which helps him induce poor contact. He relies on the fact that he only throws pitches in tough spots for a hitter to handle. The positive to this is that he induces a TON of bad contact. The negative is that sometimes bad contact falls for hits.

But so far, it hasn’t. Hendricks’ BABIP against is .276; league average is anywhere from .290-.310, depending on the player. Of course, a lot of hitters have BABIP’s that ride higher than .310 from year to year for various reasons, and some hitters also have BABIP’s that are lower. It makes sense that some pitchers would carry lower BABIP’s as well.

The question we should be asking is: Is there precedent to suggest that pitchers can be successful this way? I mentioned that he doesn’t walk many guys, but he doesn’t strike many out either. His 5.2 K/9 is pretty low, but his 1.7 BB/9 is dazzling. While I was over at Fangraphs, I looked for a list of guys from 2011 to 2014 with stats in a similar range* to Hendricks, and here is the list I found:

Tim Hudson, 3.51 ERA 3.53 FIP

Kyle Lohse, 3.33 ERA 3.82 FIP

Rick Porcello, 4.19 ERA 3.76 FIP

Eric Stults, 4.00 ERA 4.13 FIP

Mark Buehrle, 3.73 ERA 4.00 FIP

Bronson Arroyo, 4.18 ERA 4.70 FIP

I think when you compare styles, you can take out a few guys like Arroyo, Buehrle, Porcello, and Hudson, simply because the pitch types and stuff don’t match what Hendricks does. Stults and Lohse are the best comparisons of the bunch, in my opinion. Considering velocity and pitch type, Stults is more like Hendricks than Lohse, as he throws fastball-changeup as his primary and secondary pitches. His fastball also sits in the upper-80’s, and he doesn’t walk or strike out many guys. But being that Stults is a left-hander, it’s hard to compare him.

Lohse is an older pitcher that has learned as time has gone on. His best seasons have come in what most consider his post-prime age. He also throws upper-80’s at best and features a fastball and a changeup, but his secondary pitch is definitely his slider, which has some pretty decent movement. That makes this comparison imperfect as well, but most comps are oversimplifications anyway.

So what have we learned about Hendricks? Can he keep this up? Is this for real? The answer is probably not, but I don’t think he’s the “fringy fifth starter” that Keith Law once projected either. Kyle Lohse is a decent comp for a career, if we ignore the fact that Lohse pitches differently than Hendricks and focus more on stuff like getting the best out of lesser velocity, inducing weak contact, and not walking guys.

Hendricks may not be the guy that starts in Game 1 of the NLDS for you, and as time goes on his ERA will go up. I think because of the nature of how he pitches, we will see a lot of quality performances with good control sandwiched around some stinkers where he can’t locate as well.

But so long as he has his control working, he’ll be a fixture in the Cubs rotation. But will it be at the top? Nope. Bottom? Probably not there either. So again, who is Kyle Hendricks? He’s a quality, innings-eating, bullpen-saving, cost-controlled starter with a good head on his shoulders and the ability to get guys out.

And that’s all the Cubs need him to be.

*The range I chose was between 5-6 K/9 and anything under 2.3 BB/9, minimum 75 games started.

Back to top button