In 2012, the Cubs traded away fan favorite Ryan Dempster at the deadline for a relatively unknown return, getting third base prospect Christian Villanueva and a dark horse pitching prospect in Kyle Hendricks. Hendricks wasn’t projected to be a high-ceiling major league player. There was nothing overpowering, a fastball that never topped 89-91 MPH, and a strikeout rate that was fairly low.
In an age of power pitching and strikeouts, finding a pitcher that can maintain success without a copious amount of either is quite rare. Yet the Cubs netted a return that may very well give them a back of the rotation starter for years to come.
After allowing three runs in the first inning of his major league debut against the Cincinnati Reds, he has been lights out. In six starts, Hendricks has compiled a 4-1 record and a 1.73 ERA in 41.2 IP. The 24-year-old right-hander has gone at least six innings in each of his six starts, and over that time, has only allowed eight earned runs, four of which came in his debut.
With just nine walks in these six starts as well, Hendricks is proving to be a hiccup in an offense’s rhythm, as a quick adjustment is necessary, from facing 95 MPH fastballs from a good amount of starters, to trying to read a 78 MPH curveball.
Just like his teammate Jake Arrieta, Hendricks’ put-away pitch is in his offspeed repertoire, where a dangerously deceptive changeup has contributed to a large amount of his 26 MLB strikeouts. Hendricks’ numbers are equally impressive across the board, posting a 1.008 WHIP, 3.30 FIP, and a 1.9 BB/9 rate.
While these aren’t quite video game numbers, they’re very impressive for the young righty, and this also shows great potential for a team that is generally light on pitching in their farm system. By no stretch of imagination does Hendricks project to be a TOR starter, but shall Hendricks maintain a degree of effectiveness as the MLB adjusts to him, he can supply vital rotation depth that begin to even out the Cubs’ future, and tilt the hourglass a bit more towards the pitching side.
According to FanGraphs, Hendricks’ performance over six starts has been worth 0.7 WAR, and he maintains a .252 BABIP. While an argument can be made that the latter statistic is due for regression, especially considering his rather high 51.2% GB rate, if Hendricks can avoid pitching to harder contact, he can continue to be effective.
This does supply great news for the Cubs, yet they are still in the need of a power pitcher that can star the front of the rotation alongside Arrieta next season. If that void is filled, Hendricks’ ceiling can have him as an extremely effective #3 starter, and even if he regresses, he still provides outstanding depth in the back end of the rotation that can continue to give the Cubs’ consistent opportunities to win games.
With an offense that continues to add on pieces from its’ minor league system, a player like Hendricks can provide the depth needed to be a surprise team in the NL Central come 2015.