Baseball

Yes Movement – 2020 Chicago Cubs Player Previews: The Cerebral Assassin

It feels like there’s some volatility in all of these, until you get to Kyle Hendricks. Since coming up full-time in 2015, Hendricks has put up 3.2 and 4.2 fWAR every season except ’17 when he was hurt for a month, and he would have then as well. His K/9 has been between 7.2 and 8.2. His BB/9 between 1.63 and 2.15. ERA never over 4.00, and not even over 3.50 since his rookie year. FIP never over four either. Hendricks might be the one Cub where you can definitely say what you’re going to get.

Kyle Hendricks 2019

30 starts, 177 innings

3.46 ERA   1.13 WHIP   3.61 FIP

7.63 K/9   1.63 BB/9

41.3 GB%   10.4 HR/FB

79 ERA-   4.1 fWAR

Lost in the Cubs mass pants-pissing in 2019 was that Hendricks might have had as good of a season as his Cy Young finalist year of 2016. His ERA didn’t approach that level, but his FIP did, his WAR did, and he walked far less hitters last year than he did in that campaign. He gave up four more homers, but with a vastly different and misbehaving baseball, so the 19 he gave up last year might be better than the 15 he gave up in ’16. And Hendricks put up those numbers while getting away from his grounder-heavy ways, and yet somehow still got a ton of soft contact with fly balls. Which normally would make you think he’s flirting with danger, except Hendricks never does.

YES! YES! YES!: Again, this best-case/worst-case scenarios for Kyle are a little silly, because you know pretty much what you’re getting. So in order to be on the high end of that window, he needs a touch of BABIP luck (but not a whole lot, given how he specializes in soft contact). He even got a touch unlucky last year with that .287 mark, as that’s ten points over his career BABIP against.

There’s been talk that Hendricks is in better shape this year and is throwing harder, which is fine as long as he doesn’t lose movement. But no pitcher is more attuned to his mechanics and stuff than Hendricks, so it’s unlikely he would sacrifice that for a couple more MPH. He’s given up a run in nine spring innings with 8 Ks and one walk, so all good there.

Hendricks has lost a little of his strikeouts the past couple seasons, so if he gains those back he could once again threaten the Cy party again. You know the walks aren’t coming.

YOU’RE A B+ PLAYER: Anything that sends Kyle’s season off the rails has little to do with him. It could be rotten luck with contact or the defense behind him, but that’s unlikely in at least the infield. Hendricks saw his line-drive rate go up last year, but then again so did pretty much everyone. Maybe the greater amount of fly balls he gave up last year turn into homers simply because the gods are assholes, or weird Wrigley wind patters, or both.

Health isn’t a concern as other than 2017 Hendricks has always made 30 starts. Maybe added velocity does take off some movement, which keeps his pitches in the middle of the zone, which would be a problem. But Hendricks would probably just start it closer to the corners and still get movement to off the plate. It’s just hard to pinpoint how the floor would move from beneath him until age is a problem. Which it won’t be for a while.

DRAGON OR FICKLE?: Even I, the most skeptical of humans, have taken Hendricks at full value. He is an anomaly in today’s game, not just deriving success from pitching to contact and using his brain but massive success from it. It bears repeating: Since he started full-time in ’15, Hendricks in top-10 in ERA (min. 800 innings), FIP, and WAR. He’s been that good, and considering six or seven other pitchers in that list of 10 make $30M a year or thereabouts, Hendricks might just be the biggest bargain in the league right now.

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE GAME AND HOW YOU PLAY IT.

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