Kyle Hendricks Throwing More Curveballs to Righties (Which is a Big Deal)

“We’ve been wanting to throw [curveballs] more,” Kyle Hendricks told the Chicago media three weeks ago. “I’ve been wanting to mix [curveballs] in. I just haven’t been throwing the other stuff well enough to do that.”

Hendricks is now “throwing the other stuff” better and, as a result, he’s used more curveballs in his two most recent starts than in any back-to-back stretch in the regular season (first image below). Even more encouraging, he’s showcasing the breaking pitch much more to right-handers.

A few weeks ago wasn’t the first time we’ve heard about Hendricks and the curveball. It was on a warm spring training afternoon when the Cubs righty giddily talked about to The Athletic’s Sahadev Sharma about his curve (subscription required), which left me salivating about the potential for Hendricks’ 2018 campaign.

“I want to make [the curve] more than just a backdoor pitch to left-handed hitters,” Hendricks said. “I could use it to righties, I could put it different places. Just expand my repertoire a little bit. A backdoor curveball is just one curveball, that’s the only one I had.

“Now I may have three or four. Back foot to the lefty, bounce one to the righty, I just don’t have that feel with it right now. The more options I can have, the better it will be.”

I couldn’t stop imaging all the strikeouts Hendricks would rack up. But to my surprise, we never saw Hendricks utilize all those new curveballs about which he was gushing, especially to righties. Instead, just like he did during 2017, Hendricks opened up throwing mostly thrown backdoor curves to lefties this season (see images below).

2018 Curveball Heat Map

2017 Curveball Heat Map

But in his last two starts, we’re finally seeing Hendricks not only utilize more curves, but also throw more of them to righties outside the zone. Just look at all those benders fading down and off the plate to righty batters.

Curveball Heat Map to Righties During Last Two Starts

Hendricks threw 15(!) curves to righties in his two recent outings, which is important because he only threw a grand total of 37 curves to righties in 21 previous starts this season and 55 total curves to righties in 24 starts last year. Do you get how intriguing this is?

Hold on, let me show you something…

Now do you get how big a deal the curve could be?

Hendricks has made a career of throwing sinkers, four-seams, and changeups. But now I’m getting back to imagining what would happen if he starts throwing more curves to righties.

Cubs catching coordinator and all-around pitching/defense wizard Mike Borzello told Hendricks the story of Mike Mussina learning a curveball. As Borzello put it, the Yankees legend learned his trademark breaking pitch just by playing catch with it over the course of his career.

Now, I’m not saying Hendricks is going to turn into a future Hall of Famer based on these last two starts of increased curveball usage against right-handers. But at the very least, we know the Cubs coaching staff is in the his ear about throwing more such pitches. And now we’ve got our first significant signs that Hendricks could actually throw more curveballs going forward.

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