Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks has had an up-and-down 2018 season due to some mechanical struggles in repeating his delivery, to maximize the movement on his four-pitch mix that he uses to compensate for a lack of overpowering velocity. However, over the past eight starts, Hendricks has worked extremely hard at fixing the mechanical flaws that he and pitching coach Jim Hickey identified. With several hours of intensive film study, the results are very encouraging.
Over those eight starts Hendricks has gone 4-1 and the Cubs have seen a much more similar version of the pitcher who dominated opposing hitters during the 2016 season.
In fact, a closer look at a handful of statistical categories shows Hendricks trending upward as the season moves into its final 40 games. His strikeout-to-walk ratio has gone from 72 K's against 30 BB's to 51 K's against just 6 BB's. His strikeouts per inning have gone from 72 in 97 innings of work to 51 in just 47 2/3 innings since July 9th. His home runs allowed have plummeted from 16 allowed in 97 innings to only 4 in his last 47 2/3 innings. His swing and miss rate has also increased as he has worked through his mechanical struggles. Finally, while there has been an uptick in hits allowed, it appears as if Hendricks has pitched to some bad luck, compiling a .346 BABIP (Batting Average On Balls In Play), which is unsustainable based on his career average of .278 entering 2018.
Add all of these factors together, along with a video study of Hendricks performances from 2016, 2017 and 2018—which indicated some stark differences—and the recent fix indicates that the best of Kyle Hendricks in 2018 is right around the corner. When Hendricks is at his best, he is standing tall on the mound and pitching downhill with outstanding rotation of his body, which contributes to the excellent downward movement that he gets on his variety of pitches. From his fastball to his change up and curveball, Hendricks relies on downward action to fool hitters. However, in 2018 he was seeing most of his pitch movement from side to side rather than up and down. A lack of body rotation and a lack of height on his back leg during his follow through—which is different from his 2016 mechanical approach—contributed to a flattening out of his pitches and dramatically increased hard contact.
"I just got out of sync and it is not easy to fix pitching mechanics overnight but Hick and Borzy (pitching coaches Jim Hickey and Mike Borzello) and I watched a lot of tape and we saw that I wasn't standing tall on the mound plus I wasn't getting enough rotation in my body and that contributed to my pitches flattening out and not getting that downward action that I was used to," Hendricks told me. In speaking with a major league advance scout who studied Hendricks over the course of several starts, he saw his arm much farther behind his body in 2016 and 2017, but his arm not as far back in the first half of 2018. This contributed to a lack of movement on his change up and he believes it also affected his ability to get hitters out on his fastball at the top of the zone, which he was able to do successfully in 2016 and 2017.
"I see a pitcher who looks markedly better and I would expect him to have a very strong finish to this season. I love the way he competes and as long as he stays in sync with his mechanics he should be the pitcher the Cubs expected to see whenever he takes the ball for them," the scout told me.