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.
Remember to start the year, A. Vizcaino was 10th ranked prospect for Cubs according to http://t.co/LCnFwzKxwX and he hadn't pitched in 2 yrs
— Jesse Rogers (@ESPNChiCubs) August 13, 2014
Hendricks was nowhere to be found on that list and he was 13-4 with a 2.00 last season. That's the stuff that makes no sense.
— Jesse Rogers (@ESPNChiCubs) August 13, 2014
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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