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A tale of two Hendri(c)ks

Two similar pitchers with similar last names.

I think it's safe to say the Cubs have a pitching factory.
I think it's safe to say the Cubs have a pitching factory.
Dilip Vishwanat

It was the best of times in Kansas City. Playoffs are more than just a pipedream. The team is winning. October baseball is on the horizon.

It wasn't exactly the worst of times in Chicago. Playoffs are definitely out, but there is a bright future for Cubs fans. In addition, the team has shown signs that they can win now, and somehow Theo Epstein seems to find pitching wherever he looks.

These two teams are completely unrelated, except for the titular characters. This season, the Cubs have found a nice, young piece for the future in Kyle Hendricks. His strikeout rate is all kinds of terrible, but he gets a lot of ground balls and limits home runs. That can get you far.

The Royals acquired Liam Hendriks in a trade with Toronto this season. Liam Hendriks, while still being fairly young, has more experience but a poorer track record. There is still time for him to figure things out, though.

The differences between the two pitchers go beyond the single letter difference of the name. Observe.

Team IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% GB% HR/FB ERA FIP xFIP WAR
Kyle Hendricks Cubs 62.1 4.91 1.73 0.43 0.260 81.8% 49.0% 4.8% 2.02 3.38 4.01 1.1
Liam Hendriks Royals 180.1 5.79 2.50 1.65 0.321 64.8% 40.1% 14.2% 5.89 5.15 4.56 0.1

Both lines represent their career stats. The things that Kyle Hendricks does well are things that Liam Hendriks does not do well; Liam Hendriks has given up lots of home runs and is a fly ball guy. Liam has also been unlucky a bit so far, but that's what happens when you're a fly ball pitcher pitching in front of poor outfield defenses (Twins, Blue Jays). Hopefully, Kansas City can solve this problem.

You might be wondering why I'm comparing these two pitchers; simply a name does not a comparison warrant. There's more to it. The two fellows share very similar repertoires. Both players throw a four seam, sinker, changeup, and curveball. Liam mixes in a slider while Kyle mixes a cutter, but those two pitches are only a few degrees of supination from each other. With similar repertoires from the right side, how have the pitchers become so different in their stat lines?

It's all about the changeup. Ahead in the count, Kyle breaks out his changeup, especially with two strikes. This year, the pitch has a 21.5% whiff rate, but when batters do make contact, they hit only .158/.246 (BA/SLG), which is pretty bad. Hendricks also shows great control of the pitch with a 29.5% ball rate.

Hendriks, on the other hand, ramps up his four seam fastball when he's ahead in the count against LHH. He keeps a steady mix throughout against RHH, but he relies on his four seam fastball the most. That pitch is a hittable pitch with batters slashing .273/.397 against it and whiffing only 7% of the time. Liam's changeup is not nearly as good as Kyle's (.306/.486, ~6% whiffs), and he has more difficulty throwing it for strikes. Liam's best pitch for limiting hard contact is the curve, but he can't control the pitch (55% ball rate).

It may be the best of times in Kansas City right now, but Kyle Hendricks is a guy who is helping the Cubs now and for the foreseeable future, while Liam Hendriks is probably a spot starter/long relief guy. A good changeup is a valuable thing.

. . .

All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and Brooks Baseball.

Kevin Ruprecht is an Editor of Beyond the Box Score. He also writes at Royals Review. You can follow him on Twitter at @KevinRuprecht.