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The Maddux-Hendricks debate: Why both sides have it right...and wrong.

The Maddux-Hendricks debate:  Why both sides have it right...and wrong.

A little less than 30 years since the debut of a skinny 20 year old RHP named Greg Maddux made his debut, it seems Cubs fans are hopeful for a second coming in the form of 24 year old Kyle Hendricks, another pitcher with good command and a cerebral approach.

That has brought about a rather polarizing debate.

One side says, "If Maddux could succeed, then so can Hendricks!"

The other side says, "Sacrilege! Maddux was a Hall-of-Famer!  He had great stuff!  He threw harder!"

I say you're both right and you're both wrong.  I say things aren't always so black and white.  I say you both have points and you both take some liberties in your argument.

But let's get one thing out of the way first.  I think it is fair for someone to say that  Hendricks' command and cerebral approach on the mound reminds them of Maddux.

Why wouldn't it?

Where we draw the line is that it necessarily means they are also similar elsewhere in terms of things like stuff and athleticism.  They are not.

I also draw the line when people overreact and say, "How dare you compare the two!"  I think those people need to chill out.  Someone can say Hendrick's cerebral approach and fine command reminds them of Maddux and it doesn't necessarily mean they think he will one day be anywhere near as good.  Those are two different things.

Then there is the stuff/velo argument and this is where things really start to diverge.  Sometimes one side will bring down Maddux as purely a finesse guy with fringy stuff who got by on his wits.  So the argument that follows is, "Well if he was able to pull it off, then Hendricks should too".  That is an inaccurate and unfair portrayal of Maddux early in his career.

The other side says Maddux stuff was better and he threw low 90s (I even heard 95 a few times) when he was younger.  I agree with the first part, but some liberties are being taken with the second.  I know that Maddux himself talked about how he used to throw mid 90s when he was young, but Hendricks hit 95 according to his manager  (or at least 93 according to scouts).  Being able to hit something and throw it consistently are two different things.  Both early Maddux and Hendricks can reach back and throw at least in the low 90s with their 4-seam fastball, but neither is that kind of pitcher, so I think the velocity aspect of this argument is overblown.  I'm throwing that out as I think the pro-Maddux crowd took some liberties there.  Maddux could throw in the low 90s, but he really didn't do it all that often.

Here are excerpts from two scouting reports, one of early Maddux and the other is of Hendricks.  I will leave out the names and let you decide who is who.

Pitcher A

Report 1

 He mostly pitches in the 85-92 mph range, reading hitters’ swings and disrupting their timing.

He throws his changeup to all hitters and has shown the ability to pitch to the inside and outside corners and down with both his fastball and change. He throws both a slider and a curve, both fringe-average, and most scouts prefer the curve, which he throws with some power in the upper 70s. Some scouts give him 70 control grades.

Report 2

He has a fringe-average fastball in the 87-91 mph range. He’s dominated hitters in the minors due to above-average control and command of his four-pitch repertoire (fastball, curveball, cutter, changeup).

Although his fastball lacks premium velocity, he did a nice job of changing speeds and mixing his pitches. He used his heater to get ahead in the pitch count and then mixed in his other three offerings.

Pitcher B

Report 1

 He throws 86-89 consistently with very good movement. His movement isn’t a gradual tailing type but (instead has) a quick, bat-breaking kink. He has a big league CB right now although he needs to be a little more consistent with it. He threw a couple this day that were 79 mph, tight, down-breaking, well-located pitches.

Report 2

(At Iowa) 88 mph fastball tails when up, sinks when down.  Pitches inside very well and (has) good command.  Good curveball but needs more consistent bite.   Change only fair and doesn't have good command of it.  Needs 1 more year to work on curve and change, but very good potential to be a consistent winning starter.

Okay, some of you may have astutely guessed that Hendricks is pitcher A and "early" Maddux is pitcher B but the point here is...where is that velo difference?  They both sit/sat most comfortably in the high 80s.  We also see that they are similar in terms of their approach and command.

But there is a key difference here: Notice how the Maddux report focuses on his pure stuff while Hendricks' report talks about how he depends on mixing and matching.  Both had/have cerebral approaches but Hendricks is more dependent on it to succeed.

The biggest differences are the movement on the fastball, the much higher regard for Maddux's curve and (in a part I left out so as not to give it away too easily), his superior athleticism.  We talk about athleticism a lot here when it comes to pitchers and the reason is that athletic pitchers can repeat their deliveries better and thus very often develop better command.  Hendricks, however, compensates to some degree for his relative lack of athleticism with a very simple delivery that is easy for him to repeat -- and thus far it has enough deception to where it isn't too easy for hitters to pick him up.

So what we have here is that the Maddux throng has it partially right.  Yes, he has better stuff, but no, he did not throw harder.  He did, however, have a better fastball because it had much more movement - one with quicker break on two different planes.  That is enough to make it a plus pitch despite the lack of velo.  Again, Hendricks has had to compensate.  He has made up for his relative lack of movement by developing a cutter, which costs him some velocity (mid 80s).  So even if we generously equate his cut fastball to Maddux's everyday fastball in terms of movement, we can now in effect say that Maddux had more velocity.  The difference here is significant.  No matter how you try to finesse it in favor of Hendricks, Maddux clearly had the better fastball.

When we look deeper and compare/contrast early Maddux with early Hendricks there is enough to make one a top of the rotation starter and other more of a #4 type.

#1 starters are defined by scouts as pitchers with two plus pitches, an average 3rd pitch and plus-plus command.  Early Maddux meets this criteria because of that curve and because we consider his fastball plus because of it's movement.  He would add, adapt, and/or improve his repertoire as he gained experience, but we are talking early to prime Maddux for this particular piece.

Hendricks does not really have an out pitch.  His change has plus potential but it is not quite there yet on a consistent basis,  It is getting there, however.  At any rate, he will not have a second plus pitch barring a drastic change.  He more aptly fits the 4/5 description which is command of at least two major league  pitches, average velocity. and a consistent breaking ball.  He is not an exact fit, of course.  Few pitchers are because these are general guidelines, but there is enough give and take where it balances out.  He has a potential plus change, but fringe velocity.  He has the potential for plus-plus command but that is mitigated by the lack of a consistent breaking pitch, which is only fringe average to begin with.  He does some things better than your average 4/5 starter, but there are also things he doesn't do as well.  You really have to stretch the imagination to make him a mid-rotation starter, much less a top of the rotation type arm.

But Hendricks fans, take heart.  There were also some doubts about Maddux, as in this report.  There are also enough similarities in terms of positives where Hendricks can at least be an effective MLB starter for years to come.  They both  have good command, cerebral approaches and are more pitch to contact types than they are guys who rear back and overpower hitters.  There are also significant differences in terms of the quality of their stuff.  When we take everything into account, Hendricks isn't Maddux, but he doesn't have to be to be effective or for us to enjoy his artistry on the mound.  Let Maddux be Maddux and let Hendricks be Hendricks.

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Filed under: Analysis

Tags: Greg Maddux, Kyle Hendricks

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  • I posted this in another thread:

    All throughout his upper MiLB career, scouts, etc labeled Junior Lake as a 4th/5th OF'r. He gets called up and blows up... people were adamantly bashing those of us who reminded them of his scouting profile and that his success was small sample, etc... Some even went so far to label him the second coming of Sammy Sosa... Look how that's turned out.

    Hendricks is sort of the same thing. Does that mean he can't defy what scouts have labeled him as? of course not. Nor am I predicting he will struggle like Junior Has in his sophomore season... But after 3 MLB starts, I'm not ready to anoint him the second coming of Greg Maddux. Let's enjoy his success and hope for the best... even if my logical brain says the best is a #4 MLB SP.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Agreed. We can talk about how pitchers profile but it doesn't mean they can't beat that profile. It's rare, but it happens. If Hendricks change turns into plus-plus along with his command, suddenly everything else plays up and maybe he can prove scouts wrong, but for now we err on the side of probability because history says that that sort of things just doesn't happen very often.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    How about if we put him in the HOF after every win, and call him a bum after every loss?

  • The error has been fixed and I deleted the comments that mentioned it so as not to ruin it for those who haven't read it yet.

    And thank you Dave and Sean for the kind words and looking beyond the error and commenting on the entire article.

  • LOL. I had to check twice to see who actually authored this. Things aren't always black and white? Really?

  • In reply to xhooper:

    Sigh. You're just trolling because I rarely agree with your (often unsupported) point of view.

  • Putting him in the same group as Maddox
    is a great sign of his potential

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    Maddux is a little lofty for Hendricks but even to get your command and approach compared is remarkable.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    john, great job on this article you nailed it. (to be honest I had no clue which player was which)

    Maddux wasnt a sure thing as a prospect. But he was ultra competitive and studied hitters and worked on new pitches and perfected his cutter. As Maddux said for him "the key to pitching is make strikes look like balls and balls look like strikes" In my lifetime there was no one better then Mad Dog at that.

    That being said 2 or 3 years from now we will know what Hendricks is capable of and I for one like his chances of being a 3.00 to 3.50 era kind of guy. Anyone who would think he could have Maddux type of success is reaching. It could happen but only time will tell.

    John, by the way based on the little I have seen I think Hendricks looks pretty athletic to me.

  • In reply to bleachercreature:

    Thanks!

    By the way, I don't think Hendricks is unathletic, but few pitchers were as good an athlete as Maddux was.

  • In reply to bleachercreature:

    I remember that Maddux struggled mightily in the two years before his 1st Cy Young season. One year he tore it up before the All Star break and was awful after it. The other year was completely reversed.

    To put it another way, Maddux wasn't Maddux right away. Hendricks has pitched very well, losing only to Adam Wainwright. It's extremely encouraging to be sure. He may get 10 starts the rest of the year. It will be most interesting to see how he fares.

    Really great stuff, John!!

  • In reply to MoneyBoy:

    Maddux became a much better pitcher after Dick Pole taught him the circle change. Made a huge difference.

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    In reply to mutant beast:

    Really would love to see what Maddux could teach Hendricks. Pitchers are always learning and adapting. I imagine he has the potential to be a star pupil.

  • John,

    Thank you for this article. I think people had harsh knee-jerk reactions once the comparisons came out. I also appreciate the definition of the #1 starter. We all could use a little time for reflection before having those reactions.

  • In reply to Eskimo:

    Thank you. I think sometimes we all forget just how rare true #1 starters are. There may be a handful or so in all of baseball. It is no shame if Hendricks doesn't get there. Most don't reach that level. I think we should be happy if he was like Travis Wood of last season on a year to year basis.

  • Well said, John. Some make the mistake of thinking that people are comparing the two in terms of talent/stuff instead of command/approach, etc. We see similar prospect/rookie to proven vet/HOFer comparisons in other sports like football as well, and sometimes people get a bit carried away on both sides. I didn't realize that my comment from the other day was going to turn into an article lol.

  • In reply to Ricardo:

    Haha! I'm often inspired by your guys thoughts/comments. It was you and many others who commented on the subject so I thought I'd chime in with my thoughts.

  • If the Cubs acquire a #1 and a #3 during the offseason via free agency, pitching will be set for 2015 and beyond. Hendricks will work fine as a #4 and we have plenty of candidates who can fight it out for #5. From that point on they can let their drafting and player development process or trades take over for future starting pitching.

  • In reply to TheThinBlueLine:

    That works for me!

  • In reply to TheThinBlueLine:

    Giving up on T Wood?

  • Right on John - just because you 'compare' two guys doesn't mean that you 'equate' them to each other.

    My guess - the reality of Hendricks (barring injury) will be somewhere between our estemed HOFer Maddux and a #4/#5 guy.

    Pitchability remains extremely hard to quantify, and is hard to rate. I would argue that both of these two have (or had) a lot of that 'x' factor. Maddux (obviously) had tons of that 'x' factor and was able to continue to use it to pitch effectively long after his raw stuff had deteriorated. My guess is Hendricks can do the same - if to a lower absolute level.

  • Another nice read, John. Good points throughout. I'm high on Hendricks and think he'll be a nice addition to the back of the rotation, but I don't expect him to keep up this level on a consistent basis. As someone pointed out, he'll probably struggle when the ump has a small strike zone and squeezes him and makes Hendricks challenge hitters.

    Also, pitchers seem to (generally) have an advantage early in their career when guys haven't seen their stuff and how it moves, how they like to work, etc, etc, etc. It'll be telling how Hendricks does once he's faced some of these teams more than once. Anecdotally, I remember when I was little watching Jeff Pico throw a shut out and thinking he was going to be an awesome pitcher, but it was only his 2nd or 3rd start (or thereabouts). We all know how that career turned out. Heh heh.

  • In reply to Pura Vida:

    Ha! I had high hopes for Pico too.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Always more of a Steve Wilson fan myself.

  • In reply to Pura Vida:

    Better keep Hendricks away from the Dale Scotts or Chuck Merriweathers of the world.

  • In reply to Pura Vida:

    I had mentioned the ump squeezing him in prior posts.

    It's something every "finesse" will struggle with. When a hitter realizes that the ump's zone is tight, he will also tighten up and force the pitcher to throw him something over the heart of the plate. If a finesse guy doesn't get those close calls... He walks more than normal and get hits hard when he comes in on the plate. It's a recipe for an instant bad, and short outing.

    Like John said, Hendricks lacks a true MLB "out pitch" to go to when he needs to put someone away. Hopefully, after several years of pinpoint control, he will get the reputation like Maddux and avoid those umps from squeezing him.

    Until then, we need more IP to see how he handles it when the league adjusts to him. The thing I like about him is he has this uncanny ability to throw a 2 seam FB and get a groundball when he really needs it. The red flag to me is he appears to struggle vs LHH. In his limited MLB career, his splits are pretty even. But since he struggled with LHH much worse in MiLB, I'd expect that to continue.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Maybe instead of comparing Hendricks to Maddux - we should compare him to Tom Glavine. I wonder how comparable those 2 would be viewed coming up from the minors today?

    I also wonder how Glavine would have turned out if he didn't consistently get strike calls a couple inches off the outside of the plate the last half of his career.

  • I would love to have him as our 5th starter. Anything better than that is just icing on the cake. Let's leave it at that.

  • fb_avatar

    Another great article, John. Thanks for all that you and the team at Cubs Den do!!

    Do you know how scouts view Hendricks compared to how they viewed Casey Coleman when he first came up? Seems like there were comparisons to Maddux for Coleman as he was working his way through the system and had an early run of success at the big league level. Do you view Kyle as having a better chance of sticking than Casey did?

    Thanks!

  • In reply to KC3772:

    Coleman had far superior athleticism to Hendricks (much more similar to Maddux actually). But Coleman never had the command of Hendricks, let alone Maddux, and his pitches did not have the late movement of either. Coleman was never more than a fringe prospect like Rusin.

  • That's definitely the best article I've read on Cubs Den all year. Great job, John.

  • I remember a c ouple of years ago, just after he retired, Greg Maddux saids that during tough situations he actually threw slower pitches, the reverse of what most would expect an average pitcher to do.

  • In reply to mutant beast:

    I remember that, MB. He used a hitter's anxiousness to his advantage.

  • In reply to mutant beast:

    that was the knock on Shark. When he got in a jam, he tried to throw harder and blow it by everyone.

    Maddux focused on location, vs velocity.

  • The bottom line is comparing players is always subjective anyway at some level. Neither side of the argument should be surprised, or offended that the other exists. An niether side should feel the uncontrollable urge to eradicate all "non logic". Eradicate! Erradicate! Irradiate all non logic! Eyes bulge- then explode. Good, another one bites the dust!

  • I'll take Sutcliffe's word that Hendricks's approach is reminiscent of Maddux. He is familiar with both guys. I do think Hendricks can get MLB hitters out with his current repetoire, but he has little room for error if his stuff regresses in the event of injury.

    I would like to see him command his offspeed pitches more consistently. That will be the determining factor regarding his ceiling as far as I am concerned. He seems to understand how to change speeds and move the ball around and out of the strikezone to keep hitters off balance, but knowing how to execute pitches and actually being able hit your spots consistently the way Maddux could are two different things.

  • fb_avatar

    Nice article. I appreciate the definitions. I guess I've always assumed it was how good a pitcher was projected to be (obviously 1 being the best in a rotation, 5 the worst).
    Velocity can be overrated and lack of velocity can be overcome ... IF (big if) a pitcher has location and movement. While Maddux was incredible and so was Glavine, you wonder how much they were aided by the wide plate that was called when they were in their prime. With their control, they just kept walking the outside corner wider.
    I've always been a firm believer in some pitchers naturally hide the ball better in their delivery that others, which makes the fastball play better. It's a piece of the puzzle that's hard to place a finger on, but when hitters take bad swings or can't barrell up a pitcher, you have to believe something is going on.

  • In reply to Darren Bizarri:

    This debate went a little sideways yesterday because it seems there is a crucial definition that's commonly misunderstood. Darren references it in his reply. Calling a pitcher a #1 or #3 or #4 has absolutely nothing to do with his "slot" in their rotation. Also, just because a pitcher is the best pitcher in his rotation, this does not make him a #1. Calling a starting pitcher a #1-#5 is solely based on his abilities including number of pitches, quality of those pitches, command of pitches and control of pitches. The number is usually thrown out to describe a prospect's ceiling but can also be used to identify how good a major leaguer's baseline is. For example, Travis Wood has always had a baseline of a #4/5 starter and we're seeing that definition more aligned with his performance this year. He pitched better than his profile last year but that didn't change his profile.

    Sickels wrote a great article about this two years ago: http://www.minorleagueball.com/2012/8/7/3226335/defining-1-2-3-4-5-starters
    I would highly recommend reading it to understand the definition of each as it will help you discard the tendency to identify a pitcher's quality by the day they pitch on or relative performance, which can be highly volatile.

  • In reply to Darren Bizarri:

    Agreed Darren (and thanks!). Velo isn't everything. Some guys with 95 get tagged and guys like Maddux at 87-89 consistently got hitters out, usually on weak contact.

  • Great article! Not much more to say after that. Well done.

  • In reply to Ghost Dawg:

    Thanks GD.

  • Cubs just called up Javy per the Score! Great news will be in Colorado.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Cubs26:

    Just heard that too!

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Cubs26:

    I've been following that on Twitter. It *looks* legit but still no official confirmation.

  • In reply to Cubs26:

    Hopefully it doesn't mean Castro's injury is bad.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Cubs26:

    Mooney confirms, too. Looks legit, folks. Javy is in the majors.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Cooooooookkkkkiiiieeeeeeeeee!

  • Woohoo!!!!

    Bruce Levine ‏@MLBBruceLevine 8m
    Cubs source confirms Javier Baez to join team in Colorado on Tuesday .

    Bruce Levine ‏@MLBBruceLevine 13s
    Javier Baez will be added to 40 man roster and then to the 25 man major league roster for Tuesdays game in Colorado .

  • In reply to Ghost Dawg:

    I'M SOOOOOOO EXCITED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • I still believe many of the experts are selling Hendricks short on his potential future. He is not just a guy with great command. That part is true, but he also can change speeds extremely well, and more importantly, knows how to do that to keep hitters off balance. I think those are two different positive traits he has as a pitcher.

    He looks to me like he really knows how to pitch to batters, to set them up, and keep them out of synch with their timing. That's where the comparison with Maddux comes in. He doesn't need a 95 MPH fastball to get batters out.

    I won't put a ceiling on his future, mostly because I don't really know what that is. But to say with any real confidence that his ceiling is a #4 or MOR type pitcher is just as dumb as saying he will be the next HOF Cubs pitcher.

  • ...and it's "official"....

    Carrie Muskat ‏@CarrieMuskat 50s
    #Cubs say Javier Baez will join team in Colorado on Tuesday

  • In reply to Ghost Dawg:

    Wow!!!

  • fb_avatar

    Very good article, John. I think most comparisons between Hendricks and Maddux are EXPRESSLY specifically on their composure and "cerebral approach." I haven't read any that equates their "stuff." However, any time a great like Maddux's name is invoked it is automatically presumed that Hendricks is being equated with Maddux. I have read similar complaints when people compare Baez bat speed to Sheffield. Immediately a chorus of people point out the many instances of Sheffield being better until someone points out that Baez has good bat speed and are using Sheffield to illustrate the point.

  • Excellent piece. I understand more about the objectivity of these rankings. Thanks.

  • Go Javy! Watching the next game for sure...

  • fb_avatar

    So not to be a buzz kill here but this blog is almost exclusively dedicated to the number and peripherals and how they can be used to predict the future (as close as possible anyways.) This article, while very good, doesn't ever examine their actual numbers. I personally am in a third camp. I don't care about who throws harder and mind games only work if it produces the desired result. What was the end game comparison for Maddux in the Minors to Hendricks? Do I want him to be the next Maddux absolutely, but what do his (Hendricks) numbers actually predict compared to Maddox?

  • No one in their right mind equates Maddux and Hendrix-you can say a pitcher will never equate to Maddux and be right 99.99% of the time and be right statistically-regardless of scouting reports or up to date performance. The similarity is his approach and tenacity as noted by Sutcliffe. He has a sharp late break on his fastball, and an excellent change. He has more than enough to be very successful in the league. He is plenty athletic as well. I believe he will be more than a #4 based on what I have seen. He’s not there now, but I put his ceiling as a poor man’s TOR piece, (in the mold of a Rick Reuschel-=w/multiple all star, appearances). I would put his likely outcome as a dependable +.500 starter-as a #2 or #3.

  • I love those old scouting reports. That diamond mines website is really cool. Thanks for the links and making great sense of the reports and putting some much needed perspective on this issue.

  • The quixotic search for comps. From Jason McLeod: "“All of us see a ton of games and players over the years. Whether it’s pro or amateur scouting, you’re writing hundreds of reports a year, and thousands over the course of your career. They can get monotonous to write. It’s probably not unlike if you’re writing a lot of columns – how am I going to switch this up and not write the same thing? Comps help tremendously, especially if it’s someone who jumps off the page for you. It happens a lot when you walk into a park. Maybe it’s the body type, and then you see that body type running and think, ‘Yeah, he moves like that guy, too.’ Maybe his swing or the way he throws are similar.

    “If it’s an amateur guy, you’re usually just looking at body type, tools, maybe swing path and arm action. If you can comp him to someone – ideally a big-leaguer you saw as an amateur – it gives you comfort in that report. In pro scouting, you’re tying in performance, which gives you even more comfort.

    “Comps can be used with makeup. A report might say, ‘This guy plays like Dustin Pedroia; every day he’s going to bring it.’ A scout in our organization who knows Anthony Rizzo might say ‘I think this guy has Rizzo makeup.’ That can be very helpful, but it’s imperative the scout really knows the player and isn’t just throwing out the comp.”

  • Nice article. I hate when people label Maddux's stuff as "mediocre." He had the best movement of any pitcher I've ever seen, combined with a 89-92 mph fastball gives him great stuff, as you said. Surprised that Maddux's curveball was referred to as a plus pitch. I always thought, and he has stated, that it was mediocre....though he did have good command of it. I think Hendricks is and will be a good pitcher. He's a poor man's Maddux: not quite the movement, not quite the velo, not quite the command.

  • In reply to sabzali:

    Thanks, Maddux is always a bit self deprecating. It wasn't a knee buckler but he played it up and it was good early on for him and then he gradually adapted/modified his repertoire over time.

  • I saw an interview Maddux gave where he said he scrapped pitches that didn't work to his philosophies, namely of having late, last second break over sweeping breaks on his pitches. He wanted the exact same release point all the time and aimed to couple that with last second movement. Of course, his athleticism allowed him to be able to do the former. The other significant things I took from the interview is that 1) he pitched to contact. It was his goal. To keep the ball in the park. 2) and with that, between starts, he only pitched from the stretch. Said he knew how to pitch with no one on base, but it wasn't until runners got on base that he really had to pitch. So he practiced that. And he practiced hitting his spots relentlessly. He watched film on every home run hit in each of the day's home runs. He worked on how he used his fingers to apply pressure on pitches to get that late movement.

    Athleticism is obviously important. I'd suggest that emulating those types of things will help any pitcher to an extent. I'd love to see Maddux come back and help our pitchers.

  • In reply to cubbie steve:

    I think it would be great for Maddux to coach our pitchers. He is on good terms with the Cubs so who knows it may very well happen.

  • Seems like Hendricks is one of those super competitive guys who just keeps digging and learning and adapting, but does anyone who knows more than me have an idea about this?

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