Kyle Hendricks’ Success Fueled By Improved Pitch Tunneling
Few pitchers have “tunneled” better than Kyle Hendricks, who was named the “modern Greg Maddux” by Baseball Prospectus because of tunneling like the former Chicago Cubs and Hall-of-Famer. Hendricks wasn’t syncing his sinker and changeup early in the season when he was getting hit hard, but it now appears as if his tunneling is back.
Before I get ahead of myself, I should explain to the uninitiated that “tunneling” is the ability to throw pitches consistently through the same imaginary column of space. In other words, it means replicating the same release point across different pitches so that hitters can’t distinguish pitches (e.g., changeup vs. sinker).
We can illustrate Hendricks’ improved tunneling this season by plotting his vertical release point in pitch-by-pitch fashion (see graphic below). You’ll notice that Hendricks’ changeup (orange dots) is trending upward, showing that his release point has gradually risen over the 2019 season. The sinker (purple) has come down, thereby bringing it closer to the offspeed pitch.
Most importantly, you’ll see that the gray shading around each colored dot now overlaps. This means that batters are having a harder time recognizing Hendricks’ sinker and changeup out of his hand. Early in the season when the Professor was getting hit hard, the release points of his changeup and sinker were clearly different.
When Hendricks is at his very best — like in these last three games or clinching the NL Pennant against the Los(er) Angeles Dodgers — his tunneling is better than basically every other MLB pitcher. To see that his recent bout of success corresponds with better tunneling is no surprise and we should be extremely hyped that Hendricks is doing this again because it means his shut-down starts have not been flukes.