We Know Your Nature – 2019 Cubs Player Reviews: Kyle Hendricks

Maybe there will come a point where I can just fully enjoy the work of The Cerebral Assassin and not have this niggling little voice in the back of my head that fears when the bottom will drop out on him. I’m not the only one, I know. You see the stuff and wonder just how long the magic can go on, even though it’s gone on this long. When will I not worry that the tiny margins of error Hendricks has will be eaten up by just a tick of a loss in velocity or movement, and suddenly he’s going to be crab meat for everyone. It’s been four years of this. Four years of being one of the best pitchers in baseball. No, seriously, he is. If you go by WAR he’s 14th. If you go by ERA he’s ninth (ahead of Chris Sale if you can believe it). FIP he’s 23rd. WHIP he’s 12th, nestled between Zack Greinke and Madison Bumgarner. You have to ask yourself how much longer this has to go on before I and others relax. Anyway, over the river and through Hendricks’s 2019…

2019 Stats

30 starts  177 innings

3.46 ERA  3.61 FIP

7.63 K/9  1.63 BB/9   1.13 WHIP

41.3 GB%  10.4 HR/FB%

79 ERA-  4.1 WAR

Tell Me A Story: Quite simply, it was Hendricks’s best season since his Cy Young finalist season of 2016. He set a career-low for walks, and he did all that while actually getting the least amount of grounders he ever has. And that was seemingly by design, which at first you would think is insane from a pitcher whose fastball couldn’t break wind. And yet, Hendricks himself said he was trying to go high in the zone and above it more often, given how hitters had adjusted their swings. The charts are there for all to see:

And it clearly worked. Hitters couldn’t do much with any of Hendricks’s offerings up, as they didn’t manage an average over .220 in any of the three sections of the upper part of the zone .

Hendricks also upped the use of his curve, especially on first pitches to lefties (18% to 24%) and overall to righties, going over 10% for the first time when ahead or with two strikes. He had never really used it as an out-pitch before, but wasn’t afraid to do so this term. I don’t know that Hendricks’s curve is all that good, and maybe now that it’s entrenched in scouting reports and hitters will be looking for it it could be a problem. I also know that Hendricks will probably keep working on it and turn it into more of a weapon than it was, because that’s just kind of what he does.

Durability might be something of a question. This is the second year in three that he’s had some IL time, and he’s only been over 180 innings twice in five seasons. That could also be due a little to Joe Maddon’s itchy trigger finger with him at times, but it’s not a concern until it becomes one.

As seems to be a trend with Kyle, he had a rough start with an ERA over 5.00 in April, and his career mark is around 5.00 as well in the season’s opening month. Maybe it just takes him a little time to find the feel for everything or adjust to the cold. If he ever dominates an April to go with the most of the rest of his work, he’ll probably contend for a Cy Young again. Kyle had a rough August, but that’s mostly to do with giving up six of the 19 (!) homers he gave up all season in that month and some fiendish BABIP treachery.

Contract: Four-year extension begins at $12M.

Welcome Back Or Boot In The Ass: For the deserved kvetching over the Cubs and their payroll, it has to be said that the four-year, $55M extension they signed Hendricks to last spring training is an absolute steal. Again, if you look at the pitchers Hendricks ranks among the past four season, almost all of them are at least $20M pitchers and some are near or over $30M. He might not have any of their stuff or flash, but he has their results. Which in the end is all that matters.

It’s hard to say if Hendricks’s new gambit of going up in the zone will work over time, but the thing about Kyle is he’s always ahead of the game. He’ll adjust back down the zone or something new before hitters have caught up to his elevated ways.

Yeah, there’s worry about the loss of velocity, as even Kyle probably can’t dodge, duck, and dodge his way around hitters if he’s only throwing 85 MPH. His fastball is down a mile and a half per hour since 2016, and his sinker has lost nearly two. But we’re probably a few years from really having to worry about it.

We should just relieved that will all of the variables on this roster going forward, Hendricks is a known known. Even if my brain will never let me fully accept that about him.

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