Looks Like Service-Time Benchmark Wasn’t End of Kyle Hendricks’ Career After All

Washed. Cooked. Over-the-hill. However you chose to describe Kyle Hendricks at the start of this season, you had plenty of justification to back it up. But just when folks were starting to think the Cubs were doing The Professor a solid by letting him reach 10 years of service time, thus activating his full MLB pension, things took a dramatic turn for the better.

Banished to the bullpen following seven starts with a 10.57 ERA and 10 homers allowed, Hendricks posted a 3.14 ERA with one homer over five relief appearances. His strikeouts were still down and his walks were up, but he appeared to have found a better rhythm. So when Ben Brown and Jordan Wicks went to the IL, Hendricks was more than ready to resume his spot as a starter. All he’s done against the Giants the last two times out is toss 12.2 innings with three runs allowed on seven hits — no homers! — with 12 strikeouts and two walks.

“I learned a ton,” Hendricks told reporters about his time in the bullpen. “Completely different perspective. I learned a lot about myself…Those guys taught me so much down there. I feel like I got better just sitting down there and hanging out and talking to them.

“And my routine has changed now – shorter bullpen, shorter pregame warm-up. I learned that it didn’t take too much to get loose.”

With all due respect to Hendricks, it’s fair to question why it took so long for an aging veteran with recent shoulder issues to come to that realization about his warm-up. That’s less about the pitcher and more about the coaching staff, as I would think they’d be monitoring arm strength and fatigue even without the putrid results earlier in the season. But hey, there are some things you can’t see unless you know exactly what to look for.

I wonder if the Cubs might have been able to help Hendricks with some of those adjustments a little sooner if they had used a Driveline PULSE monitor or an ArmCare.com sensor. They’ve obviously got access to all the best technology, so perhaps the real issue was something less quantifiable. Hendricks admitted that a lack of confidence played a role in his struggles, particularly when it came to throwing his curveball. If his latest performance is any indication, he’s pitching with much greater conviction.

The 26 curves he threw Tuesday night against the Giants were the second-most he’s ever thrown (29 on September 19, 2020) and more than in any two games combined since late 2022. He needs to keep leaning into the breaking ball because it’s been his best pitch this season, even though that’s not saying much given the overall results so far. Hendricks has +3 runs of value with the curve, putting it in the 83rd percentile this season. His fastball is in the second percentile with -11 runs and his changeup is in the seventh percentile with -4 runs, so almost anything would be better.

Keeping himself a little fresher and varying his mix to a greater degree should allow Hendricks to finish out the rest of the season on a much higher note. As for whether and how long he’ll be able to continue into the future, well, I don’t think we should worry about that right now. I just hope he’s able to pitch well enough over the next few weeks that there are no more conversations about how either he or the Cubs should have pulled the plug early.

Hendricks is an all-time great Cubs pitcher and deserves to be thought of as such regardless of how things play out from here, but having him pitch like he did Tuesday night makes it a helluva lot easier to celebrate his legacy.

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