Stop Comparing Kyle Hendricks to Greg Maddux

Stop Comparing Kyle Hendricks to Greg Maddux

The comparisons were always going to be there. Young, right-handed starter that gets guys out more on guile than stuff. The fact that one looked bookish smart and the other is an Ivy League graduate doesn't hurt either. Then one made a speech prior to his induction into Cooperstown almost moments before the other made his first pitch of his third career big league start.

The desire to write passing-of-the-torch type material, or to make those obvious superficial comparisons to a Hall of Famer who shares a few traits with a current Cubs youngster, is at an all-time high right now. Do yourself a favor and just stop.

Let's talk about Greg Maddux first here. The myth that Greg Maddux was an all-control, no-stuff junk-ball master needs to die immediately. When he first arrived in the majors, Greg Maddux would sit in the low 90's with his fastball. Yes, later in his career, he pitched in the mid-80's, but notice as his velocity dropped so did his effectiveness. Pitcher velocity data is only available back to 2002, which was the last sub-3 ERA season for Greg Maddux. His velocity dipped to 85 and under on the fastball and his ERA never fell below 4 in a season for the remainder of his career.

The other aspect that is problematic for any Greg Maddux comparison is that Maddux had excellent movement and plus-plus command on his pitches. Maddux made a living off of starting a two seamer at a left-handed batter's hip and having the pitch dart to the inside corner of the strike zone. He was able to do this because of those two impressive skills. So even as the velocity began to decline, Maddux was still pitching at an ace level due to great movement and command.

The worship of velocity in pitchers might be true, but there is a reason that velocity has been increasing in pitchers. If velocity did not help, this increase would not be happen; but Kyle Hendricks has well below average velocity. His 88 mph average fastball would rank ninth among all pitchers if he qualified. That does not bode well, since his velocity is only going to decline from this point.

Kyle Hendricks' career is more likely to be Frank Castillo than Greg Maddux, but that does not mean that it isn't a success. Hendricks has beaten the odds to get to the major leagues in the first place, as he is without any true wipeout pitch. And I defer to Chris Bosio's level of knowledge when it comes to pitching.

You saw the flashes of what Hendricks can be yesterday in the last A.J. Pierzynski at-bat. Hendricks threw a changeup on the outside corner that drifted far off the plate to get a swinging strike two. He then came back with a cut fastball that started in the exact same spot but drifted to the outside corner to get the third strike looking. That was one at-bat; Greg Maddux could do that same thing consistently for an entire season.

It is a huge win for the Cubs organization if Kyle Hendricks can be trusted to take the ball every fifth day. Hendricks' best case is probably a back-end-of-the-rotation starter, but perhaps that plays up a bit with his intelligence and makeup. If it does, the Cubs won the lottery. But despite some convenient similarities, people can stop comparing Hendricks to a Hall of Famer.


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  • Comparing any player to a HOFer is always crazy talk and the basic problem with "comps." For instance, the comparison of Addison Russell to Barry Larkin, or anyone to Michael Jordan. That said, it hasn't been just a bunch of "dipheads" as Law puts it who have said Hendricks has the ability to be something more than a 5th starter. Spring training coach Rick Sutcliffe has been the most recent. He said Hendricks control reminds him of former teammates like Maddux and Mussina. High praise indeed (perhaps too high), even though Sutcliffe did note the difference in velocity. (By the way, Hendricks fastball doesn't top put at 88.)

    The above article also notes that there's a "myth that Greg Maddux was an all-control, no-stuff junk-ball master." Agreed, and it should be noted that Hendricks is not a junkball master either who lacks an "out pitch" as others used to assert. There exists in baseball right now an overvaluing of speed gun rates, K/9 innings and, related to both, a quixotic infatuation with the "ability to miss bats." In a tight situation with a runner on third and no outs, it is valuable to get a strikeout, but in today's high-injury-risk, pitch-count world the ability to pitch to get outs without max throwing and inducing weak contact is even more important. Consider the two double plays Hendricks induced in his first 6 innings yesterday -- including one ahead of Holliday's home run, thus making it a solo. With all of those hard-throwing pitchers like Garza, Samardzijia (until this year), etc, it was rare to get a "pitcher's best friend" double play because they didn't pitch to contact. They'd need at least 6 pitches to strike two hitters out, but usually far more than the 1 pitch Hendricks needed to induce the grounder.

  • Lets hope Hendricks does not turn out to be like Edwin Jackson.

  • Maddux was not a junk baller. I've read plenty of articles on Maddux the last two days. Outside of his control, what made him effective was "tunneling." He said himself that he worked and worked so that each of his pitches 1) had the exact same release point, and 2) had late movement. He specifically said he wasn't into big, sweeping movement, but late movement. He wanted every pitch to look exactly the same and then break as late as possible so that hitters had no chance to adjust, and thus produced weak contact off of him. Lastly, he wanted that contact. He didn't care about strikeouts. He wanted the contact. Even to the point that between starts, he never practiced out of the wind-up. He always practiced out of the stretch, saying that when no one was on base, he was just pitching to keep the ball in the ballpark. He knew how to do that. And that it wasn't until runners got on base that he actually began to pitch. So he only practiced pitching in the stretch.

    I'm not going to say Hendricks can be like Greg Maddux. I will say that I see speed as less than problematic if he develops good control, using "tunneling" and understands the concepts of effective velocity. It doesn't matter if Hendricks tops out at 88. If he can affect the ability of the batter to get hard contact, he can remain successful.

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