Optimism for Kyle Hendricks Against the Mets

Looking at the pitching matchup between the New York Mets and Chicago Cubs tonight, the Mets appear to have a significant advantage. Jacob deGrom has been one of the best pitcher’s in the National League, posting both a sub-3 FIP and ERA this season, while the Cubs counter with Kyle Hendricks, a young pitcher who put together a fine year in the middle of the Cubs rotation. The Cubs, having burned the team’s two best pitchers in Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester in the first two losses, now have to face the Mets’ best pitcher after dealing with Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard already. The matchup looks to be a mismatch, but Hendricks is better than his overall numbers appear.

deGrom had a fantastic regular season, finishing sixth in National League with five wins above replacement. His arsenal is Pedro-lite, as Owen Watson wrote last week, and allowed the right-hander to strike out more than 30% of hitters in the second half. Among NL pitchers, only Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer and Madison Bumgarner produced a strikeout- and walk-rate differential (K-BB%) higher than deGrom’s mark of 22.2. Only 17 qualified NL pitchers produced even a strikeout rate higher than deGrom’s 22.2% K-BB%. The Mets’ ace has started two games in the playoffs, pitching 13 innings, striking out 20 against four walks, and leading the Mets to two of their three playoff victories in the Division Series. In those two games, the opposing pitcher have been Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, respectively, and in the latter game, he helped clinch the series over the Dodgers. Giving the Mets a 3-0 series advantage would likely have a similar effect on the Cubs. In Kyle Hendricks, deGrom has downgraded when it comes to the opposing pitcher; Hendricks is no Greinke or Kershaw. That said, he has performed well all season long, even if only in short outings.

Hendricks has produced a solid season, recording an average ERA and a better than average 3.36 FIP (86 FIP-) to go along with 3.4 WAR in 180 innings this season. At the end of last month, Dave Cameron wrote that as Hendricks stopped using his cutter and increased the use of change, Hendricks pitched even better, making him the front-runner for the Cubs third starter in the playoffs. That change has yielded a phenomenal 26% whiff rate on the season, per Brooks Baseball. He used the pitch to get multiple strikeouts in Game 2 of the Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. The pitch moves down and away to left-handers, like this pitch against Brandon Moss.

Tonight’s game will be the second time that Hendricks has served as Chicago’s number three starter this postseason. In Game 2 of the Division Series against the Cardinals, Hendricks pitched 4.2 innings and, after allowing a leadoff home run to Matt Carpenter, retired 14 of the next 15 batters, including seven via the strikeout. A few infield hits, poor fielding, and home run by Jorge Soler gave the Cubs a sufficiently sizable lead so that, when Kolten Wong and Randal Grichuk hit back-to-back home runs off Hendricks with two outs in the fifth, he left the game with his club still holding 6-3 lead.

While 4.2 innings was a short outing, it’s not as if Hendricks has made a habit of pitching deep into games this season. Whether it is due to protection by the manager as the innings add up, or a pitcher without an elite fastball getting a bit more hittable as batters familiarize themselves with his arsenal, is not clear. His velocity remains relatively even as he advances deeper into games, as shown by this graph from Brooks Baseball.

Brooksbaseball-Chart (13)

Hendricks is a sinkerball pitcher, throwing the pitch 60% of the time and, as the graph above reveals, his velocity each time through the order is the exact same to the tenth of a mph, averaging 88.6 mph in all cases. The sinker generates ground balls and Hendricks’ 51% ground-ball rate is 16th highest in MLB, a good tool to possess if the wind is blowing out at Wrigley. Although Hendricks’ ability to maintain velocity suggests that fatigue isn’t a problem for him, he has been taken out at the first sign of trouble this season, often avoiding the third time through the order penalty.

The trouble pitchers experience during the third time through the order is not a new phenomenon. Managers have been struggling with this penalty in the postseason for several years. When a pitcher faces hitters for the third time in a game, he tends to experience less success. He’s deeper into the game, the hitters have seen most of his pitches, and the first few hitters in the lineup are likely the best hitters a team has to offer. Hendricks has been particularly prone to the penalty this season.

Despite pitching well, Hendricks averaged around 5.2 innings pitched per start. In eight of his 15 second-half starts, Hendricks was pulled before he could make it through the sixth inning. When Hendricks has faced hitters the third time through the order, his results have not been great, per Baseball-Reference.

Kyle Hendricks, Third Time Through the Order
K% ISO Against FIP
1st + 2nd TTO 23.9% 0.124 3.11
3rd TTO 18.3% 0.191 3.66
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

Some of that could be due to getting pulled at the first sign of trouble, and not being allowed to work his way through jams, but bringing in a fresh reliever is going to be a smarter play, especially in the postseason when the bullpens have more days off. The chart also shows just how good Hendrick’s has been the first few times through the order, pitching like one of the better pitchers in baseball. Hendricks has been exposed to the third time through the order well below the average major league starter. When compared to other pitchers on the Cubs and Mets, including Dan Haren and Bartolo Colon, Hendricks sees the fewest hitters the third time through the order.


This season, no player has had a bigger differential between their pitching the third time through the order and their overall numbers, per Baseball-Reference’s Play Index.

Biggest OPS Difference the Third Time Through The Order
Kyle Hendricks 0.894 0.677 0.217
Mike Fiers 0.916 0.713 0.203
Wade Miley 0.916 0.74 0.176
Andrew Cashner 0.937 0.772 0.165
Gio Gonzalez 0.876 0.711 0.165
Dan Haren 0.894 0.734 0.16
Shelby Miller 0.822 0.663 0.159
Yordano Ventura 0.854 0.698 0.156
James Shields 0.93 0.776 0.154
Aaron Harang 0.941 0.802 0.139
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

When Cardinals’ leadoff hitter, Matt Carpenter, stepped to the plate for the third time against Kyle Hendricks, Joe Maddon brought in Travis Wood. It is fair to expect a similar move in tonight’s game at Wrigley Field. Hendricks should be a solid pitcher for the Cubs in tonight’s game and with deGrom going for the Mets, a low-scoring affair seems likely, especially early on. Owing mostly to the latter name, a deGrom-Hendricks matchup doesn’t scream pitcher’s duel at first glance — and Hendricks has exhibited some difficulty suppressing home runs against left-handed batters — but Hendricks represents a more substantial opponent than many might think, and ought to give the Cubs a fighting chance as they try to get back into the series.

Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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6 years ago

commentor editing:
“when Kolten Wong and Randal Grichuk hit back-to-back home runs off Hendricks with two outs in the fifth, he left the game with his club still holding 3-2 lead.”

it was a 6-3 lead…

6 years ago
Reply to  WILLIAM