The Kyle Hendricks Experience Plays On

The Kyle Hendricks Experience Plays On

Thank goodness Cubs rookie Kyle Hendricks missed the memo that you've got to throw really hard or have eye-popping stuff to make it as a big league pitcher.

One can almost imagine the conversation between talent evaluators taking in a Hendricks MiLB start:

"Hey, Joe, where you goin' with that radar gun in your hand?"

"I'm goin' down to shoot another pitcher, this kid can barely get it to 90."

And that makes a little sense, right? I mean, everyone loves to watch pitchers who throw in the mid-90's with sick break on their pitches. Kerry Wood's 20-K game in '98 was one of the most amazing pitching performances of all time, fueled by the slurvy filth Kid K was hurling at the Astros.

Velo and stuff are the home runs of pitching, the sexy stats that make tongues wag and eyes pop. But would you rather have a guy who jacks 40 bombs and bat .220 or one who only hits 10 HR's but bats .325 with a .400 OBP?

Despite a great 2013 in the minors, Hendricks came to Chicago with very little fanfare. Some of that can be explained by the fact that there's only so much hype to go around, and Hendricks' offensive teammates used it all up. But it wasn't just Cubs fans who weren't really high on the Dartmouth product.

Actually, Jesse, it makes perfect sense because Hendricks has no stuff. What he does have is a great mind, a calm disposition, and the ability to command the strike zone with nice movement on his pitches. I'm not making a comp, but that approach sounds an awful lot like another unassuming pitcher who plied his trade on the North Side.

Through six starts with the Cubs, Hendricks now has an ERA of 1.73 and a WHIP of 1.01. He has gone no fewer than 6 innings in any of those starts and has gone 7 or more 4 times, including each of his last three starts. And after walking 3 batters in each of his first two starts, Hendricks has given out only 3 free passes in the last 4 games combined.

The uneducated fan might see only 26 K's and 33 hits allowed and think that it's just a case of the kid getting lucky. But that's Hendricks' plan, he wants to pitch to contact. But the thing is, it's rarely solid contact. He's given up only 2 homers so far, one of which was to Matt Holliday and represented the Cards' only run in a 1-0 Cubs loss.

You watch Hendricks out there on the mound and he just exudes a calm confidence. He isn't afraid to work in the zone and to turn batters into hitters because he knows that they won't be able to do much with his pitches. In these days of routinely wasting an 0-2 pitch, Hendricks isn't thinking strikeout every time.

Cubs great Ferguson Jenkins spoke to that mentality in the booth on Sunday night, talking about trusting your defense to make plays behind you. That's exactly what Hendricks did in the top of the 5th, one of the rare tough situations he faced all night.

Scooter Gennett flied out to open the stanza before Hendricks walked Khris Davis, the only one he issued on the night. Mark Reynolds then singled to move Davis to second, making him the first Brewer to reach scoring position. Did Hendricks tighten up, try to reach back for a blow-away pitch?

Nossir. He pitched to Segura, inducing an inning-ending double play and preserving the shutout. Hendricks isn't afraid of facing the Cardinals or the Brewers, he's not afraid of pitching in Coors Field. And his approach means he doesn't have to be afraid of losing his edge either.

One can imagine other potential benefits of Hendricks' style as well. Less velocity and fewer high-torque breaking balls should equate to less wear and tear on his arm, which means more innings and more seasons. Even if he doesn't project as more than a #3, having a guy like this in the middle of your rotation for years to come is a very good thing.

Kyle Hendricks may not have lightning in a bottle, but that may actually be the key to him not being just a flash in the pan.


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  • Nice piece. One of my pet peeves about "pitching talent evaluation" is how seldom any one includes command in the otherwise vaguely defined term "stuff." Command is stuff. Changing speeds effectively is definitely stuff. A great change is just as impressive as a great curve or a great slider.

    I love that the article quoted Fergie Jenkins. Every article about him notes that he struck out more than 3,000 in his career, but literally far more impressive is that he was one of just two pitchers in the 3K Club who also issued fewer than 1,000 bases on balls. (The other: Greg Maddux)

    It's amazing how many pitchers with max-thrown fastballs in the mid and upper 90s climb so quickly on the back of high K/9 rates... regardless of their control or ERAs. This was the case during the Hendry years, as well as throughout baseball and is still largely the case. I always thought young pitching talent is done a disservice by not having their promotions tied to minimum WHIP and BB/9 rates. Just think if an organization made that a clear part of their promotion criteria, how many max thrower would take 4-5 mph off their god awful "stuff" and start learning better command. This is what Leo Mazzone preached and it produced more than a generation of great Atlanta pitchers. Now that's the right "stuff."

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    In reply to SkitSketchJeff:

    Thanks, Jeff. But there are actually 4 pitchers in that elite club. Pedro Martinez had 3,164 K's and only 760 BB's over 2827.1 IP in 476 starts and Curt Schilling had 3,116 and 711 over 3261 IP in 436 starts.

    Jenkins had 3,192/997 over 4500.2 in 594 starts and 70 relief appearances. Maddux had 3,371/999 over 5008.1 in 740 starts, 4 relief spots.

    Maddux pitched more than 500 more innings more than the next-closest man on the list. His BB/9 inning total is the easily the lowest of the four. It's clear that the first 2 were more K pitchers; had Pedro pitched the same number of innings as Maddux, he'd have added 584 BB's. Schilling would've added another 394.

    Fergie talked about throwing lumps of coal between rail cars to hone his control, Maddux talked about his pitching coaches and how he worked on pinpoint accuracy and late movement. It's not big, sweeping movement that is needed, but the right movement. Take Marmol; that slider was devastating...when it worked and when the fastball was being located. But when he could only throw the slider because the FB was wild, he was bound to toss a cement mixer once in a while.

  • In reply to Evan Altman:

    Evan-- Thanks for the correction. I didn't know that about Pedro and Curt joining Fergie and Maddux. The impressiveness of the feat certainly increases with innings pitched, but hats off to them.

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    Very sorry I blasted you on the steroid article you wrote. I personally didn't think it was responsible journalism to put rookie prospects in the same order with steroid junkies. However, mostly you are dead ass accurate on your assumptions of guys trying to get an edge. It's human nature to be better than the next, for sure!
    I posted a comment last week from a response to one of your followers saying a guy that throws 89mph couldn't be anything special, so to speak.
    MLB average for starters before 2005 was 89 mph. It has come up to about 91.5 in 2014, but I think that is due to the size increase in pitchers over the last 10 years. Stronger, bigger, and taller pitchers due to scouts wanting more durable starters.
    Thank you Tommy John!!! There has been about 400 elbow surgeries since 2000. Not a good sign for power pitchers. The majority has been pitchers that throw 92+. It seems guys that consistently throw above average have the most problems with injuries.
    What do u think about velocity verse control/ movement ( as a starting pitcher). I am not talking about relievers, different animal.

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    In reply to Nathan Jones:

    Wow, thanks, Nathan. I'm really glad you came back to read some more. At the risk of belittling myself, I don't consider myself a journalist. Rather, I'm a blogger. That difference has become much more subtle though; heck, look at guys like Bayless and S. A. Smith, whose duty is to be inflammatory. But I digress.

    I believe that increasing velo has a direct correlation to the spike in injuries, particularly as guys are trying to throw non-fastballs at higher and higher speeds. And those who rely on throwing hard to give them that edge don't know what to do when that extra bite is gone from the slider or those 3 MPH fall off the cutter. Give me a guy with control, something that you don't typically lose, every time. He'll generally stay healthier and be more consistent for you. It took Jamie Moyer a while to put it together, but look what he did in his career. Would you rather have him or Rich Harden.

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    In reply to Evan Altman:

    Since I have your attention. There has been a question I wanted to ask you.
    What is the deal with the Cubs and Scott Boras clients? Would Kris Bryant be on the 40 man roster and of been called up with Beaz and Wada, had it not been for who his agent is. Do you think Boras has shortened Bryant's MLB career by a half season.
    I know you think Beaz is the shit,but in my opinion Bryant is far more superior of a hitter.

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    In reply to Nathan Jones:

    Funny you should ask that. I just finished a post that addresses exactly that, at least to an extent. Without completely showing my hand, I believe that that is at least a factor. The CBA has left the Cubs somewhat handcuffed in the matter, but I do believe that if they thought Bryant would sign a club-friendly extension he would be up.

    He is an insanely talented hitter and I've said all along that he's better than Baez (though many will say that Baez has the higher ceiling, I prefer to judge based on safety and Bryant having MUCH higher floor). So within the confines of the game, Bryant's talent is a big part of what's keeping him down.

  • In reply to Evan Altman:

    Evan, as a former journalist, I can say there was nothing wrong with your piece speculating on public figures. And as a former Division I baseball player, I can say most pro players and potential draftees do some level of banned substances. Major league players have estimated that at least 80 percent of all players do something. It's not surprising when you consider that the testing guidelines for steroids -- to use just one example -- allows a player to have up to 3 times the normal level of testosterone in their body. So as long as you are no more than 3 times "juiced up" than an average human male, you can call yourself "clean."

    But I understand most fans who prefer not to know the dirty facts, as it does make it harder for them to root for players and their teams. Human nature all around.

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    In reply to SkitSketchJeff:

    Thanks, Jeff, I appreciate that input. I do want to make sure that I'm maintaining some standards with my writing, even though bloggers aren't typically held to the same ones that a journalist would. But I don't want to hide behind that excuse, except to be a little more lenient with my random little drops and uses of vernacular.

  • In reply to Evan Altman:

    What's true about "sports journalists" is they avoid the topic of steroids until broken by others for three reasons:

    1.) they worry about their locker room sources drying up. It's a back-scratching business. This is why the BALCO steroids scandal was uncovered not by sports journalists but investigative journalists in San Fran -- just like Woodward & Berstein breaking Watergate.

    2.) News outlets know they are on sound legal footing, but no one likes having to spend money to defend themselves against millionaires and billionaires. Remember Armstrong? Remember Pujols and his lawsuit against Jack Clark and his radio station? Then throw in the local sports team perhaps advertising less. (This is also why hometown papers rarely break scandals involving their major local advertisers, leaving it to AP and national outlets to be the tip of the spear.)

    3.) Fans turn to the sports pages for distraction from life's hypocracies and unfairness. Acknowledging the obvious pervasive use of PEDs only erodes readership, as you've no doubt seen via your page and comments to a degree.

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    In reply to Nathan Jones:

    Also, no need to apologize. I might come back at folks who disagree heartily with me, but that's part of the fun of this. I love the fact that you cared enough about something I wrote to get on here and tell me what you felt, one way or the other.

    A lot of bloggers/writers repeat the mantra "Don't read the comments," but I like to get on here and interact. Well, until I get big time, at which point I'll forget about all of you. Seriously though, if people didn't read or share my work I would not be able to do this, so I will always appreciate it when someone has intelligent criticism.

  • Cubs FO has many options dealing with our pitching rotation for 2015.......
    Right now we have ....

    Arietta............looking good
    Woods..........need to bounce back
    Jackson.........2015 is do or die for EJax
    Hendricks.........might be our best pitcher
    Wada............looking okay, might stick around.

    OPTION A.... Free Agent Market.....

    Lester.......don't sign him, then it was money over friendship
    Masterson....not what he use to be

    OPTION B.....Farm System

    P Johnson......late 2015
    CJ Edwards....late 2015
    Blackburn.......late 2016


    Strailey..........might be E Jax replacement down the road
    Turner..........another Arietta type of pitcher ?....mechanics is the issue, you fix that, you might have a #2 pitcher.
    Doubront......has to prove he can pitch & stay healthy...still a plus to have
    Rusin...........I think we can all say his time has pass

    2016 Option.......

    Price..........if we have Lester & we sign Price........look out N.L.

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