Kyle Hendricks, like the Chicago Cubs on the whole, got off to a terrible start. On April 14, the Cubs found themselves with a 5-9 record and Hendricks had given up 14 runs in 13 1/3 innings. By the end of April, Hendricks added a great start and an atrocious outing to his campaign, and he ended the month with a 5.33 ERA.
Since then, Hendricks has been untouchable. He’s looked like 2016 Kyle Hendricks again spinning an 81-pitch complete game shutout and backing that up with a pair of one-run, eight-inning gems. Altogether, he’s only allowed two runs in 25 innings while striking out 17 and walking just one.
Hendricks and Hyun-jin Ryu (who deserves his own article) each have active streaks of three games started with eight innings pitched and one run allowed or fewer in each game. The last time a starter had such a streak was Jacob deGrom in June of 2016.
Hendricks has always been an anachronistic kind of pitcher. Pitchers around the majors are dropping their sinkers in favor of the four-seamer or the slider, but he has stuck with the two-seam grip.
While everyone else is prioritizing velocity and spin on their fastballs, Hendricks thrives with command and tunneling. His fastball ranks in the first and second percentile on velocity and spin rate respectively. While other pitchers try to avoid contact, He wants the batter to hit it because he seemingly knows how to induce soft contact.
When Baseball Prospectus unveiled their tunneling metrics, Hendricks was the valedictorian of the Greg Maddux school of tunneling. Hendricks aims to have all of his pitches look the same from as long as possible until they separate. This is one of the things that helps his high 80’s fastball succeed where others would get pummeled.
To left-handers, Hendricks will mostly come after them with his four-seamer and his changeup. He prefers to keep the four-seamer on the outside part of the plate while keeping the changeup down at the knees. This combination was working with deadly efficacy last week against the Marlins. (Here’s the obligatory caveat than most major league pitching is deadly against the Marlins.) Here’s a perfect example of how the pitches work in conjunction with one another.
Kyle Hendricks, 87mph Fastball and 79mph Changeup, Individual Pitches + Overlay. pic.twitter.com/Aqz0lOSqI0— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 8, 2019
On the changeup, Hendricks got Neil Walker out front as Walker identified the pitch as a fastball. Why wouldn’t he? The pitches look awfully similar coming out of Hendricks’s hand.
Hendricks’s inconsistent results show just how delicate his system is. If anything goes wrong, things fall apart quickly. When he’s on, though, he can be among the best in the majors. For the last three starts, he’s been on. He’s putting the ball exactly where he wants it.
Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and McCovey Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter @KennyKellyWords.