Kyle Hendricks: Somehow Greg Maddux

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Duke Silver
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Kyle Hendricks: Somehow Greg Maddux

Postby Duke Silver » Sat May 21, 2016 1:56 am

*This is going to be a long, rambling post*

So Kyle Hendricks fascinates me. We all know the deal: He doesn't have velocity and is able to get results through his guile and cunning -- commanding his pitches, painting the corners, working the zone, using deception, mixing up speeds, keeping guys off-balance. His velocity is down this year, the 88.2 mph average on his sinker last year is now at 86.9 mph. That average is the second-lowest of anyone who has thrown a sinker this year, behind Josh Tomlin, who only throws his about 5% of the time. Hendricks works with that sinker predominantly; he throws it for over 60% of his pitches. There are other guys that don't throw sinkers that come with less heat on their fastball of choice. You have some knuckleballers in there, Jered Weaver, Doug Fister. But, suffice it to say, he is in rarefied air when it comes to having low velocity. According to PITCHf/x, he hasn't thrown one pitch at 90 mph this year.

And yet, despite his non-threatening velocity being even less threatening, he's still going strong. He's still striking out over 8 guys per nine innings. This is the second straight year he's been above league average in that regard. And -- gasp -- he's actually been even better than ever. Of qualified starters, his GB% of 62.2% rates as the best in the major leagues. His soft-hit% ranks third. His hard-hit% is the tenth-lowest. His infield-fly ball% ranks fifth. According to Statcast, the average distance on batted balls against him is 184 feet. This is the third lowest among starting pitchers. If you look at practically any pitching statistic, he will probably rank in the top-third of the league, often in the 90th percentile. We're talking K%, BB%, K-BB%, HR/9, WHIP, BA-against, OBP-against, OPS-against, FIP, xFIP, percentage of pitches thrown in the zone... you name it. If it's a quantifiable pitching measure, he's probably good at it.

But, my concern isn't with that. Most of that is standard knowledge by now. In 301 career innings, he's been worth 6 wins according to fangraphs. His career ERA, FIP, and xFIP all come in at under 3.50. He's been good. But, is he actually legitimately better now? Like, could he be on some Dallas Keuchel-type horsefeathers? We'll see. I'm gonna say no. There are the problems he has when going through the order the third time. That will hold him back big time. And the reduced velocity is concerning. I think he can still be the usual Kyle Hendricks we've seen, probably for awhile. But, I have a hard time putting too much faith in a guy throwing 86 mph.

Right now, he does look better, though. He's taken the whole Kyle Hendricks-as-life Experiment to another level. The whole philosophy of pounding the edges of the zone and inducing ground balls and other weak contact, well, he's working that game better than anyone in the league. How has he gone about that while throwing 86? Let's look at his plate discipline numbers on fangraphs. His contact% is down from 82.9% in 2014 and 81.3% last year to 79.9% this year. That's not a huge leap; it likely doesn't matter too much and could easily drift back up. But, it's a start. And it is encouraging when taken hand-in-hand with the lowered velocity. How about his swing%: 48.1% in 2014, 43.2% in 2015, 42.9% this year. His Z-swing% (percent of his pitches in the zone that are swung at): 65.1% in 2014, 60.8% in 2015, 57.8% this year. His O-Contact% (percent of his pitches out of the zone that contact is made against): 74.6% in 2014, 68.8% in 2015, 58.3% this year. His zone% (percent of his pitches that are in the strike zone): 43.5% in 2014, 42.8% in 2015, 50.2% this year. And also his first-pitch strike %: 64.2% in 2014, 63.1% in 2015, 70.9% this year. That 70.9% mark ranks second in the majors. The rest of the aforementioned stats are all among the top 15-30 in the league, too.

Where does he not rank highly? His contact% and swinging-strike%. He's been pretty consistent there. The contact% is down, like I said, which is nice, but it's still slightly worse than league average. His swinging-strike% has been between 8.2% and 8.6% each year he's been in the majors. He just isn't a swing-and-miss guy. So what does he need to do to get batters out? Well, the ground balls and weak contact are a really nice start. And, he's excelled there. But, he's also doing those other things I listed above. He's getting ahead in counts, more than pretty much every pitcher in the game. He's pounding the zone more. But, also, he's able to nibble more once he gets that first pitch in as a strike. This might help explain why guys don't swing against him, particularly at pitches in the zone. He's ahead in the count, he's able to work the edges, maybe hope his stud pitch framers can get him another call. He doesn't have to throw get-me-over pitches. He's more able to fool hitters and freeze them. He gets ahead early and the batter is never able to work the count back in his favor, despite his best efforts. And if the pitches he's throwing outside the zone are meant to be wipeout pitches, then that's working. Guys aren't making contact on them. So guys can't fight him off. Throw pitches low in the zone for strikes, trying to either get ahead in the count or induce ground balls. Get ahead and expand the zone and get swings-and-misses. It's a simple philosophy, and it's working extremely well.

That stuff's all well and good. But it's really just speaking toward the results. It affirms that, yes, there are aspects of his game that are improving. He knows how to pitch and he's fine-tuned his methodology of attacking hitters. But, I want to go deeper. I want to know the process behind all of this. So what's different? Well, not much has changed as far his his stuff. The velocity is down. That's different. But the movement on his stuff has remained steady, with all of his pitches. It's not any nastier. And his philosophy is pretty much the same. Keep it low, preferably low-and-away. He is mainly a sinkerball and changeup pitcher. He's still throwing the sinker about 60% of the time and the changeup about 20% of the time. Depending on where you look, they might classify his other pitches a little differently. He throws another fastball -- either a four-seamer or a cutter, or both, depending on where you look. Brooks Baseball says he isn't throwing the cutter anymore. He also throws a curveball occasionally. But, it doesn't matter too much. None of those other pitches are particularly effective. They are used more to change speeds and keep guys off-balance.

All of his pitches do carry a positive score, according to fangraphs' pitch values this year, though. His changeup scores among the top ten in the league in that category. That's his out pitch. It's always been his ace in the hole. It's the one pitch that generates whiffs. Hitters only made contact off his changeup 61.5% of the time last year, and he's at 67.1% with it this year. His sinker rates as a positive pitch, too, though. But, it doesn't generate whiffs. It's meant to induce ground balls. This philosophy has worked particularly well against right-handed hitters in the past. Last year, hitters had a slugging% of .341 against his sinker; this year they are slugging .333 against it. Last year, they slugged .231 against his changeup; this year they are slugging .219. Against right-handed hitters, he induced ground balls at a rate of 60.6% with his sinker last year; this year that number is at 69.6%. As a whole, right-handed hitters had a .258 wOBA against him last year. He's improved that number a little this year, to .246. If you look at his zone profile and pitch usage, they're nearly identical. Why change something that is working so well?

His main problem last year, was against left-handed hitters. They slugged .472 against him. This year, they are only slugging .277 against him. Wait... what!? This is it. This is where he's improved. The problem with him last year was that the whole idea of throwing the sinker low in the zone to contact and using the changeup to put guys away, well, it didn't work against lefties. Whereas, he was getting over 60% ground balls with his sinker against righties, he was only at 53.4% against lefties. He's actually getting even fewer ground balls with his sinker against lefties this year, at 45.4%. He's just not able to influence lefties as he would wish with the sinker. They slugged .534 off of it last year. So, where's the improvement coming from? His pitch usage is pretty close to last year, but there are some changes. He's thrown the sinker less this year, from 53% to 48%. He's also used the curveball less against lefties, from 8% to 3%. His changeup usage is up from 23% to 26%. What he's increased the usage of the most is his four-seam fastball, from 10% to 22%. And hitters are only hitting .125 against it. He's also getting ground balls at a rate of 75% with it.

And, while he's not really using the changeup too much more against lefties, it's more in how he's used it. As I touched on earlier, hitters are actually making more contact against his changeup this year, up from 61% contact% last year to 67% this year. It's not that it is easier to hit, though. He's just throwing it in the zone more often. According to fangraphs, his zone% with his changeup was at 31.1% last year (this is against both lefties and righties, combined). He's thrown his changeup in the zone 43.4% of the time this year. Whereas the sinker has been devastating to righties and not so much to lefties, the changeup has been pretty damn good against both lefties and righties. But it didn't really matter last year, because left-handed hitters were squaring up his other stuff far too often. Now he's using his changeup to influence the outcome of an AB more often.

The changeup is not just a wipeout pitch anymore against lefties. Since he isn't able to get as many ground balls with the sinker as he would like, he is using the changeup to get some ground outs, too. He has a 72.7% GB% on his balls-in-play from lefties against the changeup. And by throwing the changeup in the zone more, he's making guys try to hit it. Last year, against lefties, he threw his changeup for a ball 29.5% of the time; this year his changeups are only going for a ball 16.1% of the time. And guys are swinging more against it. Lefties swung at his changeup 63% or the time last year. This year they are swinging at 81% of his changeups -- 81%! So now batters essentially have three options against his changeup: swing and miss, swing and hit it into the ground, or take it for a strike. He's not wasting the pitch. If they can't hit it even when it is in the zone, then why not throw it in the zone instead of wasting a pitch?

Here's an illustration of what he is doing with his changeup to lefties this year. Notice how, instead of everything being low and outside the zone, he is now getting it up more and throwing it as a strike on the low outside corner.
Spoiler: show
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So, essentially, he's recognized that his sinker isn't as effective against lefties, and he's corrected things by getting more ground balls via the change and four-seam. He's also ended 38% of his ABs against lefties with the change, whereas he only ended 31% of them last year with his best pitch. So he's willing to use that changeup to lefties in much the same way he uses the sinker to righties, while also maintaining its ability to make guys whiff. The sinker might not be as effective against lefties, but he doesn't have to rely on it as much.

/fin
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Re: Kyle Hendricks: Somehow Good

Postby Sammy Sofa » Sat May 21, 2016 1:57 am

This is some damn good analysis, but I'm kinda worried about Duke lately.
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Re: Kyle Hendricks: Somehow Good

Postby Duke Silver » Sat May 21, 2016 1:59 am

Sammy Sofa wrote:This is some damn good analysis, but I'm kinda worried about Duke lately.


Wait until you see my next tome: "Tim Federowicz: Replacement-level Catcher or Complete and Utter Garbage?"
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Re: Kyle Hendricks: Somehow Good

Postby TomtheBombadil » Sat May 21, 2016 2:49 am

He iight. Still gets his ass kicked after 75 pitches for some reason, but you take the bad with the good when it's cheap and competent.
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Re: Kyle Hendricks: Somehow Good

Postby TBS Playoffs Insider » Sat May 21, 2016 4:14 am

Only thing I worry about is his shelf life. Seems like a guy who loses it all in one offseason.
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Re: Kyle Hendricks: Somehow Good

Postby badger » Sat May 21, 2016 5:41 am

I prefer the broken up quintuple posts rather than the mega post but that's some damn good analysis Duke.
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Re: Kyle Hendricks: Somehow Good

Postby NOLA » Sat May 21, 2016 1:38 pm

Sammy Sofa wrote:This is some damn good analysis, but I'm kinda worried about Duke lately.

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Re: Kyle Hendricks: Somehow Good

Postby Derwood » Sat May 21, 2016 1:38 pm

tl;dr
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Re: Kyle Hendricks: Somehow Good

Postby muntjack » Sat May 21, 2016 1:46 pm

I would be curious to see how he ranks in # of pitches after strike 2. Wish he had a 12-6 or something he could finish guys off with occasionally, otherwise I don't see how he's ever going to consistently go more than 5 or 6. Probably my favorite pitcher, though.
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Re: Kyle Hendricks: Somehow Good

Postby Old Style » Sat May 21, 2016 2:23 pm

That's just nitpicking, isn't it?

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Re: RE: Re: Kyle Hendricks: Somehow Good

Postby Omar » Sat May 21, 2016 2:48 pm

badger wrote:I prefer the broken up quintuple posts rather than the mega post but that's some damn good analysis Duke.

I prefer he tweet it
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Re: Kyle Hendricks: Somehow Good

Postby The_Achiever » Sat May 21, 2016 5:33 pm

I never thought he was going to amount to anything as a major leaguer so I am just taking any and all goodness as a bonus.
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Re: Kyle Hendricks: Somehow Good

Postby rawaction » Sat May 21, 2016 5:41 pm

The_Achiever wrote:I never thought he was going to amount to anything as a major leaguer so I am just taking any and all goodness as a bonus.


Eh. I know he's not electric, but throwing strikes always plays in the ML. Mainly throwing strikes where you want them to. I figured he'd be more mediocre, but I figured he'd be able to hang around the majors for a while.
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Re: Kyle Hendricks: Somehow Good

Postby The_Achiever » Sat May 21, 2016 7:02 pm

rawaction wrote:
The_Achiever wrote:I never thought he was going to amount to anything as a major leaguer so I am just taking any and all goodness as a bonus.


Eh. I know he's not electric, but throwing strikes always plays in the ML. Mainly throwing strikes where you want them to. I figured he'd be more mediocre, but I figured he'd be able to hang around the majors for a while.


Yeah, maybe a bit harsh. He's been better than I anticipated, so that's good. He also looks like the lovechild of Greg Maddux and Mark Prior, so there's that too.
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Re: Kyle Hendricks: Somehow Good

Postby David » Sat May 21, 2016 7:06 pm

I'm not sure what's behind this new long form Duke Silver. I already liked him before but I think Tim finally might have someone to write for the NSB blog.
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Re: Kyle Hendricks: Somehow Good

Postby Tim » Sat May 21, 2016 7:47 pm

David wrote:I'm not sure what's behind this new long form Duke Silver. I already liked him before but I think Tim finally might have someone to write for the NSB blog.

:-k :good: :yahoo:

How about it, Duke?
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Re: Kyle Hendricks: Somehow Good

Postby Duke Silver » Sat May 21, 2016 9:00 pm

Tim wrote:
David wrote:I'm not sure what's behind this new long form Duke Silver. I already liked him before but I think Tim finally might have someone to write for the NSB blog.

:-k :good: :yahoo:

How about it, Duke?


Sure, I'd be willing to write some stuff. :good:
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Re: Kyle Hendricks: Somehow Good

Postby Hairyducked Idiot » Sat May 21, 2016 9:01 pm

Well this is all going to end in tears.
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Re: Kyle Hendricks: Somehow Good

Postby ChiCubsFan » Sat May 21, 2016 9:15 pm

Didn't have time to read past the 2nd paragraph right now. But I did notice yesterday he has a lower xFIP than Jake so far this year. I think he was 7th best in the majors thus far.
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Re: RE: Re: Kyle Hendricks: Somehow Good

Postby Omar » Sun May 22, 2016 3:24 am

David wrote:I'm not sure what's behind this new long form Duke Silver. I already liked him before but I think Tim finally might have someone to write for the NSB blog.

Sure, the front page should be fully constructed any decade now.
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Re: RE: Re: Kyle Hendricks: Somehow Good

Postby tawfiqmp » Sun May 22, 2016 3:27 am

Omar wrote:
David wrote:I'm not sure what's behind this new long form Duke Silver. I already liked him before but I think Tim finally might have someone to write for the NSB blog.

Sure, the front page should be fully constructed any decade now.

They're having IDOT run the construction
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Re: Kyle Hendricks: Somehow Good

Postby BigSlick » Sun May 22, 2016 3:22 pm

This is totally aside his performance but Kyle Hendricks is the only starter on this team I really root to overcome odds and succeed. Arrieta is god mode, we know what we got with him, Lester, Hammel and Lackey are all established vets in their 30s, and all have various degrees of jerkface.

Hendricks is the dude that doesn't look like he has any right to be on the team, and yet gets it done. And that smile, bruh, when he gives you the rare glimpse of his smile, it'll brighten up your day.
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Re: Kyle Hendricks: Somehow Good

Postby NMR1723 » Tue May 24, 2016 9:08 pm

Fantastic analysis. Love reading stuff like this and you do a great job of pointing out what the advanced stats mean to others that may not know. Well done and thanks.
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Re: Kyle Hendricks: Somehow Good

Postby CubinNY » Sun May 29, 2016 1:08 pm

His "stuff" might not be electric, but he's damned efficient. He also seems like he induces a horsefeathers ton of weak ground balls.
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Re: Kyle Hendricks: Somehow Good

Postby weis21 » Sun May 29, 2016 2:57 pm

I saw him smile during his post-game interview yesterday. It kind of felt like I saw a unicorn.
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