Baseball

Finally Some Good News: The Cerebral Assassin Signs Up

It’s mostly been a spring training of gritted teeth, looks of disdain, and exasperated sighs out of Mesa, Arizona. This was not an offseason the filled any Cubs fan with glee, or even hope–of which is something we used to never even approach “E” on the tank–and the actual tossing of balls and swinging of bats didn’t do anything to lighten that. Manny Machado didn’t arrive. Neither did Bryce Harper, and it was only four or five months ago that was a foregone conclusion. In fact, no one arrived except Daniel Descalso and a couple of guys who max out at 30 pitches a week.

Once the Cubs sat out the winter, they also seemed to be sitting out extension season. Which actually made sense, as there was no one pressing who needed to be re-upped. But when your fanbase is already fed up with inaction, anyone doing anything elsewhere is cause to get even more so. Goldschmidt, Trout, Verlander, Arenado all re-upped, and meanwhile the Cubs had ass firmly planted on hands.

Or so it seemed. Today, both Kyle Hendricks and Jacob deGrom extended their deals with their teams. And I think it’s kind of poignant they did so on the same day. Because they’re a lot more alike than you think. And the $13.7M average on this ($12M next year and $14M the three years after to go along with the $7.4M he got through arbitration this year) is actually a steal.

The headline on this is that since 2016, there are six pitchers with a better ERA than Hendricks. They are Chris Sale, Noah Syndergaard, Corey Kluber, Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, and Clayton Kershaw. Four of those guys make north of $30M per year or are about to, and Thor will join them soon enough (assuming his arm doesn’t actually splinter into pure gas). To get Hendricks at less than half of that is…well, it’s a trick.

Oh I know. ERA doesn’t mean what it once did. Those guys strike out the world, and figure to for the foreseeable future. There are less variable, if any, with them. Hendricks depends on his defense and movement and deception and his margin for error is always thinner than a pubic hair. I get it. And yet he’s danced on that edge for three seasons now without falling off. Maybe it’s just who he is?

Hendricks may not send everyone back to the dugout immediately with their tail between their legs, but he does have the second-highest soft-contact rate in that same timeframe of anyone. CC Sabathia is the only one ahead of him. Which means he runs a lower-than-most BABIP, or Batting Average On Balls Put In Play (15th). Yes, he’s always had at least an above-average infield behind him. But that’s A) by design and B) given the age of Baez, Bryant, and Rizzo, that doesn’t figure to change. Only second-base would seem to need a refreshing.

Even if you go by FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching), which seeks to take the defense out of the equation, Hendricks ranks 21st in the past three seasons by that measure. Right ahead of names like Bumgarner, Greinke, and Archer. Again, this isn’t really an accident.

If you were just to compare him to another pitcher to sign his extension today another season away from free agency in deGrom, it’s really weird to say. Yes, deGrom has a Rookie Of The Year and a Cy Young to his name, as well as odd capitalization. deGrom is also a year older, and their career ERA+ are 144 for deGrom and 134 for Hendricks. deGrom’s WHIP is 1.07 for his career and Hendricks’s 1.11. Their FIPs are 2.81 to 3.32. No, Hendricks isn’t deGrom, but he’s also probably a whole lot better than just half as good, as their new salaries would suggest. Also Hendricks does have top-3 Cy season on his resume, just for funsies.

And the Cubs need the savings. Cole Hamels is here for this season only. Jon Lester is off the books come November 2020. So will Jose Quintana. And the Cubs have exactly dick coming through the system to replace those guys, with only Adbert Alzolay having any chance of making the rotation, and he missed over half the season last year. The Cubs are going to have to go out and get more pitching, if there’s any to be found given the state of free agency now, and it’s going to cost. Having to not pay Hendricks what he could have easily made an argument for might be a life-saver.

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