Kyle Hendricks was the unheralded member of the Cubs rotation last season, getting little fanfare while having a pretty great season. In 180 IPs, he had a 3.95 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 22.6 K% and 5.8 BB%. He was the 49th overall SP according to ESPN’s player rater. Could he be even better than in 2015? His 3.36 FIP and 3.25 xFIP both suggest that he could be very valuable this year.
Hendricks combined his solid K and BB rates with a good GB rate (51.3%) and a solid overall whiff rate of 20.67%. He doesn’t have a lot of velocity (averaging 89.9 mph on his FB last year) but he did see some velocity increases on both his Cutter (from 85.8 to 87.7) and his Sinker (from 87.7 to 88.2). This helped contribute to his K rate increase from what it had been in the minors.
Hendricks is exactly the kind of SP I like to invest in. He generates groundballs, he doesn’t walk many batters, he has strikeout ability and he has a great defense behind him. It shouldn’t come as a surprise given some of the names. Addison Russel is a great fielder as is Anthony Rizzo. Kris Bryant more than holds his own at 3B. Adding Zobrist to the IF mix should be an improvement over Starlin Castro. Even though Zobrist was worth -7 DRS last year at 2B, he has been a good defender throughout his career. This matters for Hendricks because he is a GB pitcher pitching in front of what should amount to a very good IF defense. Schwarber and Soler haven’t been great in their short time in the OF corners but the Cubs added arguably one of the best five defensive OFs in baseball in Jason Heyward. There is no way to know if covering CF will increase his injury risk, but it will certainly mitigate some of the defensive inefficiencies that Schwarber and Soler bring.
The one red flag in Hendricks’s 2015 was his HR/FB rate of 12.4%. This is not a very good number and pitching in Chicago doesn’t paint a rosy picture for the future. However for a guy who only gave up 26.9% fly balls last year, a higher than average HR/FB isn’t the end of the world. Hendricks’s career HR/FB is 9.6% in 260.33 IPs (4.9% in 80.33 IP in 2014). If he achieves that number in 2016, that further help lower his inflated 2015 ERA.
Overall there is a lot to like about Kyle Hendricks and nearly every meaningful stat points to an improvement coming in 2016. I would definitely invest in Hendricks in all leagues and he could truly be an asset in WHIP due to his great defense and lack of walks. Steamer is projecting a 3.47 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 19.9 K% and 5.9 BB%. I’ll give Hendricks a 3.3 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 21.4 K% and 5.7 BB%.