The Cubs’ Kyle Hendricks has proven to be a solid starter the past few years, including posting a 3.46 ERA and 1.13 WHIP over 177.0 IP in 2019. Over the past five seasons he’s been above that ERA once, with a 3.95 over 180.0 IP in his first full season in the Majors (2015). The question is whether he can sustain those marks, especially with the potential to play outside of Wrigley Field regularly (though those scenarios don’t seem as realistic these days). First, let’s look at the skills behind the numbers last season:
- Strikeouts – 7.63 K/9
- Control – 1.63 BB/9
- Groundballs – 41.3%
Obviously his control is his strongest skill, as it’s always been, as he owns a career 2.03 BB/9. It’s the other two marks that bring questions.
A career 7.62 K/9, last year he posted his “best” SwStr% with a 10.3% mark. A pitcher who averaged 86.9 mph on his fastball last season, he clearly has proven capable of getting the job done with pinpoint control and limiting hard contact. Could the league catchup with him, though?
Even heading into a regular season there was going to be concern, after his groundball rate took a significant step backwards (47.0% to 41.3%). Home runs were not an issue, nor have they been throughout his career, but it’s easy to envision his 0.97 HR/9 moving in the wrong direction quickly. Even further hammering that point home was the change in the launch angle allowed, jumping to 13.0% (9.0% for his career). Also the change in his repertoire, throwing his sinker less (40.8% in ’19) could work against him.
Now if he’s taken out of Wrigley Field regularly? That’s where things get interesting, as we look at the splits from a year ago:
- Home – 2.04 ERA
- Road – 5.02 ERA
It’s not that Wrigley is generally viewed as a pitcher’s ballpark, especially when the weather gets warm. At the same time that’s where he was truly able to limit the home run damage with a 0.58 HR/9 (1.39 on the road). While the split has never been quite that extreme, for his career he has a 2.61 ERA at home compared to a 3.70 on the road.
So here’s the simple facts when it comes to Hendricks:
- His strikeout rate is mediocre, at best
- His groundball rate has regressed and could lead to home run issues
- If the season is played at centralized locations the results could really be skewed
What about that formula sounds appealing? Hendricks was always going to be a tough sell and a regression risk, though in the shortened season things could look even worse.
Sources – Fangraphs, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball
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