Cubs

Maddon likes what he sees from Hendricks despite results

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Maddon likes what he sees from Hendricks despite results

If you just look at the stats, Kyle Hendricks is having a rough season.

The 25-year-old righty is 0-1 with a 5.15 ERA, but that doesn't tell the whole story. 

Hendricks has pitched into some bad luck (as a 3.91 FIP would indicate) and is just a couple pitches away from having a much better record and stat line. (Of course, the same can be said for dozens of pitchers around the league.)

The Cubs want more from the back end of their rotation and with Hendricks' inexperience, it wouldn't be shocking to see the team send him down to Triple-A if his struggles continue to work out the kinks a bit. Japanese lefty Tsuyoshi Wada is due to conclude his minor-league rehab assignment Saturday with Triple-A Iowa.

[MORE: Cubs' Joe Maddon: The world revolves around confidence]

Still, Cubs manager Joe Maddon likes what he sees from Hendricks, who was on a roll Friday before the wheels came off in the sixth inning against the Pirates. 

Hendricks had given up only one run before a couple of basehits fell just out reach of Cubs fielders and then Pittsburgh's No. 8 hitter (Francisco Cervelli) connected on a two-out, three-run double off the right field wall.

"He looked good," Maddon said. "I thought he was going seven. I really thought he had a solid chance. It was like low-to-mid-90s [pitch count] when it all broke loose a little bit. If he gets out of there with 90-95 pitches — which was definitely a possibility — he's going 110 yesterday and seven [innings] and he's feeling really good about himself."

Hendricks tallied seven strikeouts in his 5.2 innings of work, but he boasts just a 5.9 K/9 ratio in 117 big-league innings. All that contact means more of a chance for hitters to find some grass.

[RELATED: As bullpen settles in, Cubs feeling comfortable in one-run games]

"You look at Kyle's numbers; they can be very deceptive," Maddon said. "Part of it is, he's not necessarily a punch-out guy, so the ball's gonna be put in play and sometimes you're unlucky when the ball is put in play. The punch-out guy can avoid that moment."

After a ton of minor-league success (2.69 ERA in four seasons), Hendricks got out to a roaring start with the Cubs after his big-league debut in 2014. 

He made 13 starts for the big-league club down the stretch, going 7-2 with a 2.46 ERA and 1.08 WHIP, finishing seventh in National League Rookie of the Year voting.

Hendricks doesn't have the stuff or pedigree of a young pitcher like Pittsburgh's Gerrit Cole (whom the Cubs faced Saturday), but Hendricks can still provide value as a fourth or fifth starter on the North Side.

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Things didn't work out for Hendricks Friday, but Maddon is trying to put the second-year pitcher in a position to succeed down the line.

"With Kyle, you're trying to build his confidence regarding letting him stay in to get this particular job done," Maddon said. "You have this opportunity now to go seven, but you gotta get through this mess. It didn't play [Friday].

"I was showing him that I had confidence that he could get through that moment. That matters, too, even though it didn't happen."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Do the Cubs need to make a deal?

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: Do the Cubs need to make a deal?

On this episode of SportsTalk Live, Fred Mitchell, Seth Gruen and Jason Goch join David Kaplan on the panel.

The Cubs bats come alive against the Giants while Theo says there have been plenty of trade rumors but no trade talks. Do the Cubs need to make a deal?

Plus, Ray Ratto joins Kap to talk about the Warriors struggles and the guys debate if LeBron is playing his final game in a Cavaliers uniform.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

The Cubs are ahead of the game in MLB's brand new world

The Cubs are ahead of the game in MLB's brand new world

"BINGO!"

Joe Maddon couldn't contain his glee as he was told there is actual scientific evidence that proves the Launch Angle Revolution has not had any impact on the uptick in homers over the last couple seasons.

The reason MLB players were hitting the ball into the bleachers more than ever before in 2017 was because of the way baseballs are made now, reducing the wind resistence and causing balls to carry more.

But all these players changing their swing path to get more lift on the ball? Not a thing for the group as a whole (h/t MLB.com):


But in analyzing Statcast™ data from the measurement tool's 2015 inception through 2017, the committee found no evidence that batter behavior, en masse, has been a contributing factor toward the homer surge. In fact, exit velocities decreased slightly from 2016 to 2017, spray angles from the time studied were stable and a small increase in launch angles was attributable primarily to, as the study refers to them, "players with lesser home run talents."

Basically, the long-ball surge was global, affecting players from all spectrums of homer-hitting ability and irrespective of their approach.

"Going into this, I thought that was going to be the magic bullet, the smoking gun," Nathan said. "But it wasn't."


Hence the "BINGO!" cry from Maddon, who has been very vocal in the fight against the Launch Angle Revolution this season.

The end result is the study will eventually lead to baseballs being returned to normal levels and a more uniform way of storing the balls moving forward. Thus, homers figure to eventually return to normal levels, too, and everybody who was caught up in the Launch Angle Revolution may be left behind.

It's the changing landscape of baseball and we've already seen the after-effects this year: April was the first month in MLB history where there were more strikeouts than basehits.

Why? Because strikeouts are a natural byproduct of the Launch Angle Revolution as players are swinging up on the ball more and sacrificing contact for power and lift.

That, coupled with an increase in velocity and higher usage of relievers, has led to more strikeouts.

It makes perfect sense — it's tougher for a player to try to catch up to 98+ mph at the top of the strike zone with an uppercut swing.

"It's one of those things that sounds good, but it doesn't help you," Maddon said of launch angle. "There's certain things that people really want to promote and talk about, but it doesn't matter. When a hitter's in the box, when you're trying to stare down 96 or a slider on the edge, the last thing you're thinking about is launch angle.

"Now when it comes to practice, you could not necessarily work on angles — your body works a certain way. Like I've said before, there's guys that might've been oppressively bad or they just had groundballs by rolling over the ball all the time So of course you may want to alter that to get that smothering kind of a swing out of him.

"But if you're trying to catch up to velocity, if you're trying to lay back and I could keep going on and on. It sounds good."

The idea of hitting the ball hard in the air has been around for decades in baseball, pretty much ever since Babe Ruth on some level. It just wasn't able to be quantified or accessed by the public as easily until Statcast came around and made it all mainstream.

The Cubs, however, have been anti-launch-angle to a degree this season. They let go of hitting coach John Mallee (who liked players to hit the ball in the air and pull it) and replaced him with Chili Davis (who teaches the full-field, line-drive approach).

The effects haven't yet yielded results in terms of consistently plating runs or having a better performance in the situational hitting column, but the contact rate is, in fact, up.

Here is the list of Cubs hitters who currently boast a career best mark in strikeout rate:

Kris Bryant
Javy Baez
Willson Contreras
Addison Russell
Jason Heyward
Kyle Schwarber

Even Ben Zobrist is very close to his career mark and Anthony Rizzo is right at his career line.

Some of that jump in contact rate can be attributed to natural development and maturation of young hitters, but the Cubs are buying into the new way of doing things and it's paying off.

It's also probably the way the game is going to shift, with an emphasis on contact going to become more important the less balls are flying out of the yard.

The Cubs have seen firsthand how to beat the best pitching in the postseason and they know that cutting down on strikeouts and "moving the baseball" (as Maddon likes to put it) can help manufacture runs in low-scoring, tight affairs in October.

Now science is supporting those theories and Major League Baseball teams will have to adjust. 

The Cubs, however, are at least a step ahead of the game.

It's a long game — the offensive strides will take time to fully take effect even for the Cubs, who are at least a full offseason and two months ahead of the curve in terms of bucking the Launch Angle Revolution.

Maddon concedes that launch angle is a cool stat to see on the video board after homers, but other than that, he doesn't see much of a use for it, pointing to Kyle Schwarber's laser-line-drive homers having the same effect as Kris Bryant's moonshots.

However, Maddon does believe there's a place for launch angle and exit velocity in the game, though mostly for front offices trying to acquire players (think "Moneyball").

"As a teaching tool, you either come equipped with or without," Maddon said. "It's like you buy a new car, you either got this or you don't. Sometimes you can add some things occasionally, but for the most part, this is what you are.

"I like inside the ball, top half of the ball, inner half of the ball, stay long throughout the ball, utilize the whole field. I still think that's the tried and true approach and I'm not stuck in the mud on this by any means.

"The harder pitchers throw the baseball, the more laying back is going to be less effective."