Don't forget to watch the hitters: Kyle Hendricks defies traditional scouting perspective

If you listen to or read scouting reports on Kyle Hendricks you are bound to be underwhelmed.  Here is what Keith Law said about him shortly after the Cubs completed the deadline deal two years ago,

Hendricks is more of an organizational starter, 87-89 mph with an average cutter and changeup and below-average curveball but good command and a repeatable delivery and arm action. The right-hander could surface as a fifth starter, but his stuff is probably too fringy for that.

This is not atypical.  My scouting contacts have said something very similar, albeit a bit more optimistic than “organizational starter”.  The point is that  Hendricks isn’t the kind of guy that makes organizational top 10 lists.  He wasn’t even making the Rangers top 30 lists at the time of the deal.

Looking for answers I started looking back at my notes.  Found some interesting stuff where I  got some tips from a talent evaluator.  I had asked advice on how to evaluate pitchers.  He gave me a lot of pointers, including something I did not consider until then…

Don’t forget to watch the hitters when you are scouting a pitcher. A lot of times you can look at them and they will provide clues by how they react to pitches.   If a guy has a really good breaking ball you might see the hitter flinch.  If hitters are swinging through fastballs the pitcher probably has good deception.

But that doesn’t quite work either.  Hendricks breaking ball doesn’t buckle anybody knees and he doesn’t get a whole lot of swings and misses.  He doesn’t add much deception, if any, with his delivery.  It’s pretty straightforward and simple, in fact.  It’s been 12 starts and frankly, I haven’t seen a whole lot of bad swings.

And so I kept reading in search of an answer,  There was also this…

 There are a lot of things I consider beyond pure velocity.  First, I look at the pitcher’s body and arm action.  If he’s a young pitcher, is he projectable — does he have room to add weight, strength, and velocity?  Is the pitcher a good athlete?  Can he repeat his delivery?  Does he do it easily?  Is there deception in the delivery?

The arm action on Hendricks features the  fundamentally sound “L” position and as Law mentioned, it is perfectly fine.  His body is lean but he isn’t someone you would call athletic.  He isn’t projectable.  He is a physically mature 24 year old.  He isn’t going to gain natural strength or velocity and we’ve already talked about the lack of deception in his delivery.

But he can repeat that delivery.  There is that.  Now we’ve got something to build on.  Most of the time we associate the ability to repeat a delivery with athleticism.  But that is not the case with Hendricks.  He is not the athlete that Travis Wood, Jeff Samardzija, or Edwin Jackson is.  He is not as athletic as Jake Arrieta, Eric Jokisch, Tsuyoshi Wada, or Jacob Turner either.

So how does he do it?

Well, the world of sports is filled with players who get by with less than ideal athleticism.  It’s a matter of adapting.  In Hendricks case, the simplicity we spoke of is what helps him repeat his delivery.  A lot of times when a big league pitcher lacks great velocity, he will make up for it with a deceptive delivery.  We see this with Tsuyoshi Wada, for example.  But the more complex the delivery, the more athleticism required to repeat it.  So how does Hendricks adapt?  He does the opposite.  He goes with a simple delivery.  The reason is self-evident. Simple is a lot easier to repeat.

Okay, fine  He has a simple, repeatable delivery.  So what does a repeatable delivery do for a pitcher?

Quite simply it allows him to command his pitches better,  Consistency with his arm slot, release point, landing point, etc leads to consistency with his location.  And understand how important that is for Hendricks.  It’s not enough for him to just throw strikes.  He has to throw pitchers strikes.  His stuff isn’t good enough to work the middle of the plate.  He isn’t going to miss a lot of bats, but he has to at least miss those sweet spots.  When you can’t do it with sheer movement or velocity, it takes great command and precision.

So we have that ability to locate with precision.  But Hendricks isn’t the only pitcher in baseball who can do that and most of them have better stuff than he does.  They have better natural physical ability, both in their ability to throw hard and to spin a breaking ball.

Again, Hendricks adapts.  If he can’t beat hitters physically, he will beat them mentally.

Now let’s go back to what the scout told me earlier…

Don’t forget to watch the hitters…

Except now I am reading this same sentence from a different perspective.  I am reading it from Hendricks perspective.  Nobody studies hitters better than Hendricks.  His game preparation involves using all the information available to him, finding out hitter’s weaknesses, constructing a game plan around those weaknesses, and then using that great command to execute that plan mercilessly.  It’s almost like a chess game.

And as we worried about Hendricks being at a greater disadvantage as he faced more physically gifted hitters as he moved up, we forgot to consider that the amount of information on those hitters also increases.  At the MLB level, especially with such an information-driven organization such as the Cubs, there is a plethora of information waiting to be read.  So while hitters get better, Kyle Hendricks just keeps getting smarter.

So now I go back to the scouting advice and zero in on this part….

  If he’s a young pitcher, is he projectable — does he have room to add…?

I cut off the rest of the sentence because it is irrelevant in this case.  We have already said Hendricks doesn’t project physically.  What we may have underestimated is that the MLB environment gave him an opportunity to project from a mental standpoint.  Obviously Hendricks wasn’t done growing as a pitcher, but that improvement is from the neck up rather than the neck down.  But MLB hitters aren’t dumb, they can play chess too. To keep his mental edge, Hendricks strategy has to be sound, yet subtle enough to where the opponent can’t read his intentions so easily.

This make me think back about this earlier question from the scout from a different point of view…

 Is there deception in the delivery?

Maybe not in his physical delivery, but when it comes to delivering the game plan he always seems to be a step ahead of the hitter.  You can’t always deceive with your delivery, but you can deceive with sequencing and location.   In that sense, there most certainly is some deception to Hendricks.

We can go back to Law’s scouting report and much of it still holds true.  The last sentence hedges a bit, “Hendricks stuff is probably too fringy”.  Perhaps there are some answers there as Hendricks has changed that equation a bit since Law wrote that.  There has been some improvement with his cutter and his change-up, both of which may now be a tick above average.  I would even go so far as to call that change-up plus.

But even taking that into account, Law, like many scouts, may have underestimated the impact of the mental side of Hendricks game.  It certainly seems like hitters do it.  Cubs color commentator Jim Deshaies called Hendricks, “a comfortable 0-fer”.  What he means is that hitters are getting good looks at Hendricks.  They’re not getting fooled, they’re making contact, they think they’re doing reasonably well — yet when they look at their post game stat line they find that it reads o for 4.

Looking at it again, maybe I am still not right about those words,

“Don’t forget to watch the hitters…”

Maybe we should be watching them after their at-bat is over because when we watch those hitters walk away, it seems like they can’t quite figure out how what just happened.  You can almost see their eyes open wide as the pitch approaches, as they take that big swing against that fringy stuff, as if  squaring up and depositing the baseball into bleachers is an inevitability.  And then, when all is said and done, as they walk head down back to the dugout, I’d like to think that hitters hear Hendricks voice in their heads saying this,

Checkmate.

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  • Clever article. Just like it's subject.

  • In reply to SouthBender:

    Thanks.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    John, our front office must have seen something in that 7-1 K/BB ratio Hendricks was putting up in High A ball. Would one think of Hendricks as sort of a right handed Jamie Moyer?

  • In reply to mutant beast:

    or dare we say....Greg Maddux....sort of.

  • I think back to one of the early masters I wached as a young fan that managed to pitch effectively - Tommy John. Originally he was a fireball who had to convert after his now famous surgery.

    He boiled pitching down to 3 things

    Velocity
    Location
    Movement

    He claimed a pitcher could get major league hitters out consistently if he was able to do 2 of these 3 things consistently.

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    In reply to JK1969:

    Velocity, Location, Movement. Just do at least 2 of them well.

    I like that. There might be freaks who can survive on only 1 but they would have to be unbelievably good at that one and it will likely be ephemeral.

  • People like to get hot and bothered when the Mad Dog's name comes up, but it really is up to Hendricks if he wants to be Maddux 2.0 or not. If he keeps putting in the work ahead of each start, there's no reason he can't be. It's when he slacks that he will run into problems.

    You know the cliche, "Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard". Or maybe Lincoln is a better fit for Kyle, "Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe."

  • So far Hendricks has proven to be the exception. But unless he can maintain this level of results for 2+ full seasons, we shouldn't count on him as anything more than a #4/#5.

    The kid looks good. Theo predicted he would be better at the MLB level than he was in the minors (because of advanced scouting).

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    I think if you look at it as he's a 4/5 and that anything else is gravy, that is a good way to look at it. Exceptions to the rule are rare, but they happen. Maybe it's Hendricks.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    A #4 rotation guy who can start 30+ games, get you 180+ innings consistently, and give you an ERA of <3.00 consistently,.....

    I'll take that for a guy likely to make pre-arbitration salaries for a few years,....

    Especially if he can get you 13-14 wins in a season and keep you from going deep in your bullpen regularly.

    And for Hendricks - that sort of pitcher appears to be where his floor is at. The rest is - indeed - gravy.

  • In reply to drkazmd65:

    His floor isn't a sub 3 ERA pitcher. That's his ceiling.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Even with a 7-2 record an ERA of 2.28 of and WHIP of 1.08 fans still see him as a #4/#5 starter on a team that is last in their division...again. Maybe instead of watching the batters reaction to Hendricks as they walk back to the dugout, we should watch the fans reaction to Hendricks as he simply non-chalants his way to a 15-20 win season next year. I don't care about the velocity...dude can pitch. Great article John

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    In reply to CubsFaninNC:

    You are absolutely correct. His got the right stones for the bump. Some guys can just flat out get dudes out. He is looking like one of those guys.

  • Well, OK, maybe I will look forward to the off season, if, and only if, you continue to write such perceptive and "off the beaten track" articles.

  • In reply to tboy:

    Haha! I'll try. Thanks.

  • No matter what you say about him he is ours for many years.
    We found a hidden gem in a past trade. Lets hope we find
    more any way we can.

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    A great article, John. I think you nailed it. I like to play tennis, and the best instructional book I ever read was, "Winning Ugly," by Brad Gilbert. His basic message was that the key to success wasn't developing the perfect forehand, but it was figuring out what the other guy did well/likes to do, and conversely, what his weaknesses are. Then attack the weaknesses and avoid the strengths. It sounds like Hendricks is doing something similar.

  • In reply to Cubs Win 009:

    Thanks and that book is a perfect analogy of what I was trying to get across.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    John, this is magnificent!!

    I noticed something in the game last night that impressed me. He threw what looked like a two seamer to a LH hitter that moved sharply down and away... late. Just as the batter swung. It looked like the hitter was on the pitch *until* the movement. It turned out to be a feeble swing and miss for strike 3.

    Hoosier's right about doing it for more than a couple months, but I really think you hit on it. The kid can pitch backward and devours tape and scouting reports.

    Someone on BN mentioned how often he shakes off Weli. He seems to have an unusual competency in developing a game plan and adapting, in game, to what's going on. Very, very encouraging.

  • In reply to MoneyBoy:

    Thanks MB.

    I didn't notice the shake-offs but Hendricks gave credit to Welly after the win on his game calling, said they were on the same page -- and have been for all his starts.

  • Very nice article...I really enjoy watching him pitch.

    Off topic, as a Western suburbs dweller, I'm disappointed to see the Cubs Low A farm club is moving out of Kane County to South Bend.

  • In reply to Ziggy Plays Guitar:

    Love your name! Big fan! Captain Crash is probably one of my all time favorite songs! Only the best fans even know it exists!

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    Good writing, John.

    I thought I read someone posted that the hitters were complaining about "I just can't square this guy up." It was confusing and mildly embarrassing for them.

    I do think that "stuff" is too often equated with fastball velocity or 20-80 scale rankings. I think there is definitely a place for guys who can truly command a mediocre selection of pitches. Batters can catch up to a fastball. They can read a curveball. They have just as much trouble with a pitcher who is able to control his locations and changes speeds as they do with guys who throw 95+ but without that command or intelligence.

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    Thanks! That definitely seems to be the case with Hendricks. He just doesn't get squared up. Not a lot of movement but just enough of it -- and just late enough -- coupled with good location is enough to miss that sweet spot consistently.

  • Reminds me of Bronson Arroyo... They're not the same type, Arroyo is a great athlete and does have some deception ninjas delivery.

    However, Arroyo looks against the ropes for the most part during a game and you have the impression that hitters will break it open, he allows plenty of hits and plenty of contact.

    But by the time the game is over, he has gone 7 innings and allowed 3 runs.

  • It was exactly this, his mental aptitude for pitching, that led me to say here after his third start that I think he can be a mid-rotation starter. He clearly knows what he's doing out there, it's a matter of execution. Now, when I said mid-rotation, I meant more 3rd-4th starter than 2nd-3rd starter, with 3rd probably being a best-case scenario.

    Yes, he has less margin of error because his stuff isn't overwhelming. We see what can happen when he leaves the ball over the middle of the plate. And after seeing him more over the past few weeks, the lack of a big-time wipeout pitch is an issue. But the guy just knows how to pitch, and he keeps getting the job done one way or the other. The league will continue to adjust to him, but he seems smart enough to be able to adjust back as he learns the league better.

  • I've been at all his Wrigley starts and I've noticed a lot of hitters walk away from a strikeout shaking their heads as if to say, "How did that just happen?"

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    Hendricks will always struggle in games where he needs to get a lot of strikeouts. His K-rate is marginal. What he does extremely well is not give up walks or HR. He will pitch to contact, hopefully weak contact. This also keeps his pitch count down and he is able to go deeper into games.

  • John, I think my comment got jammed in the filter :(

  • John, this one of your best articles! Sometimes I can't see how he does it. Throwing strikes is the key also his preperation! I hope that continues and the FO see's it to help the younger pitchers all through the system. Gammons on MLB network has sais the FO caught on about the way MLB is headed In the way we have drafted with the great potential of hitters instead of pitchers. We will see. Great work Cubs Den

  • In reply to Cubs26:

    Thanks!

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    I get a chuckle with fans debating on whether Hendricks is a #3 a #5 or whatever. Hendricks is his own animal and I bet he doesn't really care what you call him just as long as you call him. The kid just has a great idea of what he wants to do out there and the tools to execute it.

    "Just Win, Baby !" - Al Davis

  • Yet another Cubs Den article that increases my baseball IQ. Thanks for this, John.

    Just when you think that everything can be measured and scouted and projected and rated... a guy like Hendricks comes along. I admire all the science and instincts that scouts bring to their craft, but I think the best ones have the humility to know that they will undersell some players, usually because they put too much faith in measurables and projectables. And when it happens in the way it does with Hendricks, I think scouts just have to say, "Good for you, kid. You're smarter than whole lot."

  • In reply to Taft:

    Thanks. The good ones will tell you that you never quite have this game figured out. Talked to a scout who is retired and he said he still gets surprised. I'm with you, if anyone thinks they know everything about this game then they're pretty much full of it and probably bad at their job.

  • Part of his greater effectiveness at the MLB level may result from the better umpiring. I think that works very much to the advantage of pitchers with superior control. What it means is that hitters do have to swing at his pitches--they can't wait him out--and those pitches are located, by and large, where HE wants them to be. Hitters end up swinging at HIS pitches, not necessarily at what they'd prefer to swing at. His stuff may not be great, but the hitters are still being placed on the defensive.

    By the same token, patient hitters gain from the better umpiring at the MLB level. They may not have the same talent as a Baez, but they're not forced to swing at pitches out of the strike zone if they can, by and large, trust the umpire. They have a better chance of catching a mistake. But that's what pitchers like Hendricks work to avoid.

  • Terrific analysis and insight, John.

    I am amazed that this FO identified Hendricks and got him seemingly -- to an outsider -- as nothing more than a throw-in in the Dempster-Villanueva deal. This FO has incredible talent-evaluation abilities.

  • In reply to TTP:

    Thanks. It was a great pick up. I remember the Rangers saying at the time that they winced when the Cubs chose Hendricks. They considered him a sleeper and felt the Cubs scouted them very well.

  • The ability to command ones pitches is far more important than velocity. A hitter would much rather see a 95 mph heater thigh high down the middle than a 87mph sinking fb that hits the corner at the knees. Arrieta for example was a mess without his command and all that stuff and velocity went to waste.
    Good players come in a shapes and sizes and while hendricks may not fit the bill of your prototypical front line pitcher, he obviously has some unique ability that allows him to succeed despite some obvious deficiencies

  • Good article. I wondered last night if Cincy's hitters might not fair a little better than other playoff teams he's faced because he was facing so many young hitters. There's not the scouting reports on those guys like a Philips. The more information Hendricks has on a hitter the more he's able to develop a game plan against those hitters. It's in this way that he's Maddux like.

    Also, I don't think there's any question that his changeup is a plus pitch and it has the ability to miss bats. If he could improve his curveball or one of his other pitches from avg to slightly above avg, Hendricks might have the potential to become more than a MOR pitcher.

  • In reply to Bill Oliger:

    Thanks. His game preparation is definitely his biggest similarity to Maddux. His command is getting there as well.

    I think Hendricks can actually get away with a slightly below average breaking ball. Right now it's well below league average. The reason he can potentially get away with even a below average breakeris because that command is so good. He can use it as a chase pitch when he is ahead in the count to put hitters away. Just keep it low in the zone where they will either miss or can't do too much damage.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Good point, John. I'm still hoping he could improve one of his breaking balls to avg/slightly above. This would give him another pitch to go along with the change, which could get a strikeout. I don't see him gaining velocity, so don't see him improving the fastball, but if he had another pitch to go along with the change he could be a potential 2-3 starter.

    Maybe adding a splitter to his repertoire would do the trick. Shark become a much better pitcher when he started throwing the splitter effectively.

    In any case, I really enjoy watching Hendricks pitch. It's like watching a surgeon operate. His ability to locate his pitches and to effectively play the chess game with hitters is fun to watch.

  • In reply to Bill Oliger:

    Any of those things would definitely take him up a notch. He's still young. Still time to learn.

  • The other area I've been impressed with Hendricks is his economy of pitches. Unlike guys, like Wood and Jackson, Hendricks doesn't seem to have that 25 pitch inning. This is his ability to command his pitches. By not walking guys he's limiting the damage and he's not putting undue stress on himself. I would think it would also make it easier on the defense as they aren't watching the pitcher labor to throw strikes.

    As a result of his economy alone he becomes a better 4/5 pitcher than Wood/Jackson because he really can be an innings eater. For example, last night he made it through 7 innings with 80 pitches. When is the last time Wood/Jackson has done this? Hendricks should be able to pitch deep in games and eat innings.

  • In reply to Bill Oliger:

    Maybe Hendricks should take Jackson under his wing and give the veteran a few pointers.

  • Even though I'm missing your MiLB recaps, I'm really enjoying your writings on the Cubs "other" players - Hendricks, Szczur, Watkins, Lopez, ...

  • In reply to DropThePuck:

    Thanks!

  • Love this blog, finally decided to comment! While I think some of the Maddux comparisons are apt, when I see what Hendricks is doing I'm sometimes reminded of another Cub starter who made his debut in the summer of '86. Jamie Moyer fits a very different profile in some important ways, but (especially during his run of success in the 90s) was also someone who could win games and frustrate hitters without the kind of "stuff" or velocity that excited scouts. That got me snooping around and found this article with an interesting analysis of Moyer's effectivness: http://www.hardballtimes.com/being-jamie-moyer/

    Not all of the Moyer analysis directly applies to Hendricks, but I think for each, the repeatable delivery was/is a key factor. It will be interesting to see if Kyle's career arc follows Jamie's in any way.

  • In reply to PeteF:

    Thanks Pete and glad you decided to comment.

    Moyer is an interesting comparison. He, of course, had a great change as well. Definitely some similarities and if he turns out that well, I will be thrilled.

  • In reply to PeteF:

    Great point. If Hendricks has a career like Moyer we could be watching him pitch into the 2030s. :)

  • In reply to PeteF:

    I never thought of Moyer as a comparable to Hendricks. I your on to something. Well said.

  • This is what Reds manager said about Hendricks after last night's performance:
    "He's not a big strikeout guy, but he has a plus-plus changeup. It's a swing-and-a-miss pitch," Price said. "He pitches ahead and he pitches down very well.

    "We all like starting pitchers to throw 95 [mph] with a great slider and split-finger or whatever. But if they're pitch-efficient, they command the ball, have deception, movement, change of speed -- No. 1 starters or Hall of Famers can look a lot like Greg Maddux or Tom Glavine or Jamie Moyer. They can look like that and be outstanding."

    Pretty high praise from an opponent.

  • In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    Very high praise indeed. I wouldn't put the other two in Maddux's class but they both had excellent careers.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Glavine was helped by that extra wide strike zone umps seemed to give Atl pitchers. The catcher wouldn't even set up on the corner but anywhere from 6-12 inches off. Still, the guy pounded that spot regularly, so he had excellent control.

    Moyer didn't overwhelm anyone with his fastball (or should we call it a slowball?), but he seemed to get people out without dazzling stuff.

  • In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    I wonder if teams in the future will try to attack Hendricks early in the count (maybe they are trying that now), thinking that the first pitch is going to be the best pitch they see. Once he gets ahead with 2 strikes you are going to have to deal with the changeup and pitches that will drift off the plate or paint the corners. The problem with that strategy is if you don't hit Hendricks early in the count then you are making it even easier to keep the pitch count low.

  • It would be nice if Hendricks learned the screwball. Very few throw it and most batters haven't seen it. It could be that devastating pitch that puts him in the next class of pitcher.

    And no, it doesn't harm your arm. That is a myth. My son has thrown it for 7 years with no ill effect.

  • In reply to Senator Blutarski:

    He doesn't need to throw a screwball, his changeup basically does the same thing. It moves down and away from lefties.

  • Another advantage Hendricks gives to the staff/team as a whole is that he provides an "adjustment contrast", both within and across games. By this I mean that he throws his "style" for 6-8 innings and sets the other team up for our high velocity bullpen (within games). It must be difficult for even the most skilled hitters to make that adjustment. Such an effect might be muted ACROSS games, but I still bet it's present to some extent. For example, I would hate to face a knuckleballer followed the next day by high heat.

    With all of the emphasis on individual performance, I think we (myself included) often lose sight of the impact an individual can have on TEAM performance. This is often referred to as "doing the small things to win", but I would suggest that there are a multitude of "small things" (e.g., pitch count, ball count, swinging strike count, called strike count, etc.) that haven't really been considered that impact the outcome of games.

  • OT Anthony Rizzo won the Branch Rickey award this year.

  • The beauty of Hendrick's cerebral approach to me is in his ability to rise above advanced scouting reports. Opponents certainly know by now what to look for from him, yet his precise command will allow him to attack hitters with a different sequence each time up if need be OR continue to exploit the weaknesses if hitters show little or no adjustment.
    Great article, John

  • In reply to Tnighter88:

    Thanks. They may what to do but if they have holes/weaknesses he is going to exploit them and there may not be much they can do about it.

  • Also, I seem to remember that Rizzo said in one of Kyle's early starts that hitters were commenting how annoying it was that they couldn't square him up.
    Probably akin to facing a knuckle baller when they are on. Should be able to hit it, just can't

  • My hope is Hendricks does become s #5 starter for us because that means we will havea kick ass staff. I trust these guys will go big on a free agent pitcher but also hit on a few #3 to #2 pitchers to go along with our hitting. It's going to be so much fun when it comes to fruition.

  • In reply to Break The Curse:

    That's a good way to look at it.

  • Theo Epstein on Kyle Schwarber playing Catcher for the Cubs
    (per ESPN-Jesse Rogers)...

    "Ultimately, for us, that's where the greatest impact lies," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said Tuesday. "When you can put that left-handed bat behind the plate, that's something we have to try."

    "He probably had more catching instruction as a pro than he had in a long time," Epstein said. "This will be a catching crash course for him in instructional league. We think he'll respond to it well."

    Instead of going to the more competitive Arizona Fall League, Schwarber will report to the instructional league for hands-on training. It'll be a controlled environment in which he'll learn the craft of catching, from calling a game to blocking balls in the dirt.

    There were signs of progress throughout the summer.

    "Once you show that, then it's in there," Epstein said. "It didn't necessarily come out all the time, but once you show that physical ability, it means if you work hard and get the right coaching and improve, it's in there. And it can come out."

    Two things Epstein has been certain of since the December is Schwarber's bat and makeup. In some ways, he has been more sure of Schwarber in the clubhouse than on the field.

    "Players are drawn to him," Epstein said. "He has leadership qualities and a big personality. And a special bat. He sees the ball incredibly well."

    "It's my job to prove that I can," Schwarber said. "I have a passion for catching. I feel like if I can do that, I can help out in a lot of different situations. I'll do whatever they want me to do."

    "I feel like I made tremendous strides between college and this offseason."

    "I know they have the best interests for me and everyone else," Schwarber said. "That's what I truly believe. Whenever they tell me to come on up, I'll be more than ready. They knew what the talent was, but they believed in me as a person."

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    Heck...If he can eat innings at a four-ish ERA. Win 8-10 games a year as a back of the rotation guy? With a nice little change-up and potential to adapt?
    There's value in that. Even as a floor.
    There may be room for him to improve those secondaries. Bosio has done some good work.

    There may be more value in letting him go out there and out-think the league for a little while. Build a little value. That even could mean he's traded as nice complimentary piece in a deal for a top of the rotation arm they decide to gamble on. Good problems to have.
    Follow the value on this kid. It's a real interesting debate and it's making these games real interesting again.

  • John - long time reader and infrequent commenter. Thoughtful articles like this one make this the best Cubs site on the web, hands down. Please keep up the great work.

  • In reply to North Side Pat:

    Thanks Pat. I appreciate that.

  • I must admit my skepticism of Kyle as a big league pitcher, However, I now enjoy his outings more than anyone else on the club. To me he is the ultimate overachiever. He epitomizes the blue collar versus the trust fund preppie. If he was a boxer, I'd be comparing him to Tony Zale.

    And while numerous contributors have attempted to define his success, there are two things that have impressed me. First is his pitch count which is almost 2 below league average. Second is his ball movement. And it's not merely the movement. It's the late break on his pitches. Now they see it, then it ain't where they were looking. Late and sharp a terrible thing to hit..

  • With Hendricks, knowledgeable people want to quantify or at least accurately describe what it is that he does so well. What allows him to basically dominate major league hitters, after scouts say he can only be a #5 pitcher at best?

    Face it folks, it's pretty simple! He's just a great pitcher. There have been so few of these types of pitchers to appear in a Cubs uniform over the last 30-odd years that most of us wouldn't recognize one if his agent walked up and bit us on the you-know-what.

    I love that team Theo talked up how Kyle has been taking so much advantage of the so-called superior VCR-capability that MLB teams have. Yes, that's it! He watches more video-tape. Of course, the secret is out now. LOL!! At least it gives the "so-called experts" something to hang their hat on when they admit that maybe he's not so bad, maybe he can be OK (argh!), maybe, just maybe, he could even have a future in the Cubs rotation (gasp!).

    Now people will probably respond to this stating something to the effect that I have promised Hendricks will be the next Greg Maddux, and that I am opposed to anyone who would dare criticize him. No, I think Kyle just may be a 4-5 starter for the next 20 years on the Cubbies. But I would never write him off as that for his ceiling. Of course, Kyle can be an ace on this team, just like Arrieta, and for just as long.

    Why is that so hard for people to understand?

  • In reply to HefCA:

    HefCA, I think it's "so hard for people to understand" because a pitcher who knows of how to pitch, how the attack individual hitters, and how to use hitters' weaknesses against them is really rare. Most pitchers seem to throw with the attitude of "here it is, hit it if you can."
    Kyle seems to throw with the attitude of "here it is..oops, no it's here...oops, wrong again, it's down there."

  • Off topic but I really wish Javy would give up dipping.

  • One more thought I want to add. The 25 players on the Cubs' roster, present and future, are each scouts in their own right. And they know better than anyone when a guy like Hendricks can beat the odds based on taking this kind of cerebral approach. And that can be infectious for guys like Baez, then Bryant and all the other prospects to come. If those guys hang around someone like Hendricks, maybe they learn to look at opposing pitchers in a new way. He just seems like he'll be a great guy to have on the mound -- and in the clubhouse.

  • Could Hendricks success have anything to do with effective velocity (EV)? There was an article about EV and how pitching up and in increases the EV. I'm not sure this is what Hendricks is doing but the other thing, had to do with movement and deception.

    The article referenced Maddux and how he could make all his pitches look the same coming out of his hand, so that hitters didn't recognize the pitch as a slider, curve, change, until the ball was to close for them to react. Hence the late movement talk. They might think a ball was a fastball but in reality it was a change and this "late movement" would befuddle them. I'm not explaining this well, but I'm wondering if Hendricks simple, repeatable delivery allows him to have deception in that hitters can't pick up whether it's a change, curve, fastball, until it's too late and this is why you get weak contact. To hitters facing Hendricks the ball so many feet out of his hand looks the same no matter what he's throwing because he's perfectly repeating his arm angle, etc every single time.

    Maybe I'm wrong, but I'm curious if this isn't the reason hitters so often get weak contact against him.

  • In reply to Bill Oliger:

    I think there is something very definitive to that, Bill. That certainly is Maddux-like. If hitters can't recognize what's coming, they're not going to get comfortable against him. Here's another thing. Let's say his fastball is around 88. Compared to 95, that's about a 7.4% difference in velocity. That's quite a bit, but when you can locate that difference and have secondaries that are difficult to recognize, it will take a Wade Boggs, Tony Gwynn, or Rod Carew type hitter to consistently hit him. There aren't many of those around anymore, so we may very well have something here.

  • In reply to Bill Oliger:

    Great stuff John! I have been hooked on Cubs Den from around the time Theo took over. Kudos to you, the staff you have put together and the commenters here. I rarely post, mainly because the great commenters here express most of my feelings so well. But I am fascinated by the how and why of Hendricks' early success and his potential. 
    I agree that you are on to something here Bill. I have been leaning this way myself in regards to Hendricks' early success. Do not know if the below article is the one you are referring to, but I think it makes the point. I also added a recent link to a fangraph article about CJ Wilson. 
    Deception comes in different forms and I think these articles define the kind of deception that Reds manager Bryan Price was referring to in his comments on Kyle:
    "He's not a big strikeout guy, but he has a plus-plus changeup. It's a swing-and-a-miss pitch," Price said. "He pitches ahead and he pitches down very well.
    "We all like starting pitchers to throw 95 [mph] with a great slider and split-finger or whatever. But if they're pitch-efficient, they command the ball, have deception, movement, change of speed -- No. 1 starters or Hall of Famers can look a lot like Greg Maddux or Tom Glavine or Jamie Moyer. They can look like that and be outstanding."
    Washington Post link to Maddux article:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/nationals/greg-maddux-a-hall-of-fame-approach-that-carried-an-average-arm-to-cooperstown/2014/01/07/fdd7ae82-77d3-11e3-af7f-13bf0e9965f6_story.html

    Here's the crux of the article:
    First, Maddux was convinced no hitter could tell the speed of a pitch with any meaningful accuracy. To demonstrate, he pointed at a road a quarter-mile away and said it was impossible to tell if a car was going 55, 65 or 75 mph unless there was another car nearby to offer a point of reference.
    “You just can’t do it,” he said. Sometimes hitters can pick up differences in spin. They can identify pitches if there are different releases points or if a curveball starts with an upward hump as it leaves the pitcher’s hand. But if a pitcher can change speeds, every hitter is helpless, limited by human vision.
    “Except,” Maddux said, “for that [expletive] Tony Gwynn.”
    Because of this inherent ineradicable flaw in hitters, Maddux’s main goal was to “make all of my pitches look like a column of milk coming toward home plate.” Every pitch should look as close to every other as possible, all part of that “column of milk.” He honed the same release point, the same look, to all his pitches, so there was less way to know its speed — like fastball 92 mph, slider 84, change-up 76.
    And this:
    Then he explained that I couldn’t tell his pitches apart because his goal was late quick break, not big impressive break. The bigger the break, the sooner the ball must start to swerve and the more milliseconds the hitter has to react; the later the break, the less reaction time. Deny the batter as much information — speed or type of last-instant deviation — until it is almost too late.
    Fangraph link to Wilson interview - fascinating stuff:
    C.J. Wilson on Spin Rate, Arm Angles and Exploiting Weaknesses

    http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/c-j-wilson-on-spin-rate-arm-angles-and-exploiting-weaknesses/

    Wilson on his mindset: “When I throw a really good game, I feel like I’ve pulled off a master heist. I’ve stolen their ability to win that day with a well-thought-out, totally under control, non-emotional, logical plan. I knew exactly how much time I had before they called the cops on me.
    On spin control:
    “Spin control is sort of the same thing. You’re trying to create the illusion of a white baseball. The faster it spins, the whiter it’s going to look. Most hitters assume that if it’s white, it’s a fastball. Therefore they’re going to swing at the very top of where that ball is going to go – in their mind, where they think the ball is going to go. A perfect curveball is going to have exactly the opposite spin of a fastball, but if it comes out white the hitter is going to react to it like it’s a fastball.
    “Some guys will throw a changeup that has side spin. Good hitters, once they recognize the ball has a little side spin, kind of freeze. They have a momentary freeze pause, and that allows them to slap the ball the other way. They don’t take as powerful of a swing, but they still have enough accuracy. They have enough time, based on how bad the spin is. It’s called loose spin. If the ball spins really slow, and sideways – perpendicular to the normal spin you have on your fastball… you want all of your spin axis to be as parallel as possible.”
    On exploiting weaknesses: “I talk to my catchers every day. We talk about hitters. The way my memory works, I’m very good at analyzing hitters. I pitch to weak points. I want to know if a guy can’t hit a down-and-in pitch because geometrically his swing extends past where he’d have to go. If he extends his arm over the strike zone, he can’t hit a waist high inside pitch. He’s going to have to hit it so far out here that his barrel is going to be pointing at the dugout and he’s going to hook it foul by 75 degrees. If I know that, I can exploit that weakness, or I can exploit the adjustment he makes to that weakness. If you lead the hitter in one direction, then you’re opening a hole somewhere else.

    Two fascinating articles to me. As JK1969 suggested earlier here, velocity, movement, location. Pitchers like Kyle can succeed in the shades of grey of these three areas. Not necessarily by the textbook definitions of each but by combing all three to get the most out of each. 

  • Sorry I'm late to the party, but I have to say I loved that article. Well put together and it gives me a nice feel for the way your assessment changed over time. Of course it doesn't hurt that I like Hendricks a lot. I'm looking forward to him in the rotation for years to come.

  • I wonder how the experts reports on Edwin Jackson and Hendricks would compare in predicting success? 2/3 inning, 4 runs, in the bullpen!

    I think I will take the questionable "potential" of Hendricks!

  • In reply to Quasimodo:

    I forgot to mention that I loved the analysis in the article.

  • John:

    Fun article and something I thought way back when after seeing Hendricks pitch in AAA and now in the SHOW. I further recall how much Epstein talked about Hendricks' IQ and knew how much more depth of scouting and preparation the SHOW has compared to AAA which has three coaches and rovers and well a player (coach). This reminded me of the Professor for it was not merely Maddux's captivating stuff of movement but his drilling into a batter's weakness and forcing them to hit 0-2, 1-2 after fouling off and looking at a pitch. This is why I want Hendricks to spend a month in Las Vegas this winter, okay two weeks,

  • Thanks John !
    This is one of the most enjoyable articles so far........seems like you put a lot of work on this one :)

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