Kyle Hendricks’s start Tuesday was better, but he’s still not the version of himself the Chicago Cubs expected. What’s been different this season?
Kyle Hendricks was never supposed to be an ace. The Dartmouth graduated attracted few scouts out of college and wasn’t drafted until the eighth round of the 2011 June Amateur draft. His command first, velocity second style of pitching isn’t attractive to a lot of scouts.
But since reaching the majors, Hendricks has established himself as one of the elite starters in the National League. He won the ERA title and placed third in Cy Young voting in 2016—a year in which he won clinching games in the NLCS and World Series. He followed that campaign by being the Chicago Cubs most reliable starter in 2017 with his 3.03 ERA.
But now something is amiss. Some of the Cubs’ rotation has been getting away with imperfections, but Hendricks is struggling to get outs in 2018.
What’s been different?
Hendricks’s hard contact percentage is up 6.1 points from his 2016 ERA title season. Hitters are getting barrels to balls that Hendricks usually can provoke outs with. His 7.6% walk rate is the highest of his career.
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One interesting area of struggle for Hendricks is that he’s getting beat up by right handed hitting. Some pitchers are known to struggle more with hitters of the same handedness as them, but that’s not the case for Hendricks. In his career, righties hit .227 against him. In 2018, they’re hitting .254. Lefties are hitting just .207 against him this season.
Hendricks’s curveball was a revelation that helped take him from a fourth or fifth starter to a potential ace. It was around 2015 when he started throwing it regularly. This season, he’s been throwing the least often of his career. Part of that good be a result of circumstance; the eye test will tell you his fastball command isn’t there and it’s ill-advised to try a curve while behind in the count. But in his best seasons that curve was a lethal put away pitch and once it’s back, Hendricks might start looking like himself again.
Kyle Hendricks is yet to find his footing in 2018. But as long as he’s putting in his work, the Chicago Cubs starter could go back to being lights out any given start.