Kyle Hendricks had about as great a start to his major league career as a guy could ask for. He started 13 games in 2014, going 7-2 with a 2.46 ERA and a BB/9 of 1.68. In all, he pitched 80.1 innings for the Cubs and really appeared to be a feather in the the front office’s cap, seeing as they acquired him from the Rangers for Ryan Dempster at the 2012 trade deadline.
The main question now is whether he can sustain that success or whether the league will have figured him out by the time April rolls around. Let’s look at the stats that, in my opinion, appear to support sustainability.
Walks per 9 innings
Hendricks had parts of four seasons in the minors under his belt by the time he got the call to the show in late July. He had thrown just over 450 innings in those seasons and his BB/9 rate was 1.60, which is pretty much in line with what he did in the majors last season.
His WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) was a miniscule 1.072 in the minors, compared to 1.08 in Chicago. What Hendricks lacks in stuff is made up by his uncanny ability to not beat himself by walking guys.
The evidence is there from his history in the minors and success over 13 starts last year (I know, small sample size), but I don’t think he showed anything that would make someone believe that he is going to start walking 3 guys per 9 innings all of a sudden.
In 9 of his 13 starts last year, Hendricks walked 1 or fewer hitters; he walked two and three men twice each. I think this is an extremely sustainable stat for Hendricks and will have a large impact on how successful he will be in 2015.
ZIPS projects his BB/9 rate to be 2.07 for next season, which, while a bit higher than his past numbers, still leads the entire staff.
Home runs per 9 innings
In his minor league career, Hendricks has a HR/9 rate of only 0.4 (not a typo); that is a total of 21 HRs given up over those 450+ innings mentioned earlier. A little perspective here: of the 8 seasons during which he was a full-time starter, Edwin Jackson has surrendered more than 21 homers four times.
In Hendricks’ 13 starts in the big leagues, he gave up a total of 4 HRs over 80.1 innings pitched. That is good for a 0.45 HR/9 rate; not too bad for a pitcher that doesn’t strike out a ton of guys or have the kind of stuff that jumps out at you.
ZIPS projects that rate to rise a little bit to 0.65 HR/9 next year, which I think is well in line with what would be expected. Still great and still within striking distance of his normal numbers though.
Left on base % (LOB%)
Hendricks’ career LOB% in the minors was around the mid-70s with the best being 77.7% in 2013 and the lowest being 66.4% in 2014 (Iowa). He had a 78.5% in his 13 starts with the Cubs in 2014, which I’m not completely sure he can sustain. I could, however, see him around the league average of 70-72%.
His 78.5% last year would have ranked him in the top 13 pitchers, right behind Corey Kluber (AL Cy Young award winner). So while his history of success in this metric doesn’t suggest he will fall off a cliff, there is definitely some room for him to go more towards average. So I will still consider this to be sustainable-ish for Hendricks.
Hendricks does have a tendency to get the double-play ball, as he was able to induce 11 over his 13 starts.
A word about FIP
Hendricks had an ERA of 2.46 in his 13 starts with the Cubs, which is absolutely outstanding. His FIP, though still a respectable 3.32, shows that his ERA probably should have been a little higher, based on the balls put in play and taking luck into account.
There are several pitchers though that consistently outperform their FIP and there have been some examples of Hendricks doing that as well. Either way, I think most teams would take a 3.32 ERA out of their number 4 starter over the course of a season.
I think Kyle Hendricks is primed for an excellent season and a great career. I really think the fact that he doesn’t walk guys or give up home runs gives a big boost to his long term potential. Simply put, he doesn’t need to strike out a ton of batters to be effective.
As an Ivy Leaguer from Dartmouth, he is a very heady player that has a plan when he is on the mound. He really seems to stay within his abilities and doesn’t try to do too much. ZIPS does player comps for their projections and they compared Hendricks to long-time Cardinal (and at one time a Cub) Bob Tewksbury.
I would like to think of that as Hendricks’ floor instead of his ceiling because Tewksbury didn’t really put things together until he was 29 years old and never really had that big a stretch of success. I’m much more bullish on Hendricks and I think he’ll be able to thrive, even with a mild regression to the mean in 2015.