Kyle Hendr12Ks Needs to Change

If Kyle Hendricks isn’t careful, he’s going to find himself in the middle of some Cy Young conversations. And I don’t mean those among people who actually follow the sport closely enough to understand just how good he’s been. With more performances like Saturday’s, Hendricks’ name might be on the lips of the folks who vote for awards and who go gaga for gaudy numbers.

Not known a big strikeout guy (he was at 7.58 K/9 heading into the game), Hendricks came out of the gate hot against the Cardinals. He struck out the side in each of the first two innings, with five of those coming via swinging strikes. And, as we’ve seen time and again from the cerebral starter, the changeup factored heavily in those results.

Hendricks had 12 K’s in all, all but two of which were on swinging strikes and two-thirds of which came on the change.

  1. Called on sinker (Garcia)
  2. Swinging on four-seam (Carpenter)
  3. Swinging on change (Moss)
  4. Swinging on change (Peralta)
  5. Swinging on change (Gyorko)
  6. Swinging on change (Grichuk)
  7. Swinging on change (Carpenter)
  8. Swinging on change (Moss)
  9. Called on change (Peralta)
  10. Swinging on change (Carpenter)
  11. Swinging on cutter (Grichuk)
  12. Swinging on sinker (Reyes)

Most of that damage was done early, when the change was dancing and the only productive contact the Cardinals made came when Stephen Piscotty was hit by a pitch. Hendricks pulled the string 25 times over the first four innings with devastating results. He got 14 swinging strikes, four called strikes, two balls (including the HBP), two balls in play for outs, and one foul. I’m not sure, but there might have been five golden rings too. Between the K’s and the balls in play, nine of the Cards’ first 12 outs came on the changeup.

While the final numbers (for Hendricks anyway) ended up looking very solid, the efficacy of changeup mimicked said pitch’s tumbling movement. Over the final three innings of his outing, Hendricks got only one swinging strike against seven contacts (four in play for outs, one foul, and solo home runs to Brandon Moss and Jedd Gyorko). Oh, he had one more called a ball. Rather than try to force it, though, he changed tack late and earned the last two outs of his appearance via strikeouts on fastballs.

In total, Hendricks got 15 whiffs on 26 swings (57.8%) and got 14 of 21 (66%) of his outs with the change. Those numbers become even more impressive when you consider that he threw the pitch only 33 times (100 total pitches) on the afternoon. The Professor came into the game with a league-leading 15.9 runs saved with the changeup, and this most recent gem will surely distance him even further from David Price (11.9) and Marco Estrada (11.7).

The Cubs offense provided only two runs on an Addison Russell homer to back their starter, though it didn’t matter after the bullpen soiled the bed. Carl Edwards Jr, who’s been posting some big whiff numbers of his own this season, gave up a hit and walked four men en route to allowing 5 earned runs in relief. One man scored on a walk, while another scored on a wild pitch that capped Edwards’ only strikeout. The other three were plated by a Randal Grichuk home run off Joe Smith, who had come in to relieve Edwards. Pretty awful.

But back to Hendricks, who is now 11-7 with a 2.19 ERA and 124 strikeouts in 140 innings pitched. And he’s doing it all with a fastball that couldn’t even activate Doc Brown’s flux capacitor. That’s why he needs to change. I mean, he needs to use the change. With it working as it was Saturday, and has been all season for that matter, velocity doesn’t matter. The hype surrounding Hendricks, however, should start building faster over the next couple months.

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