Kyle Hendricks embracing change as he looks to regain top form

Kyle Hendricks embracing change as he looks to regain top form

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.

Jon Lester and Anthony Rizzo make surprise 'appearances' at Cubs Convention


Jon Lester and Anthony Rizzo make surprise 'appearances' at Cubs Convention

Technology sure is neat.

Friday, Cubs All-Stars Jon Lester and Anthony Rizzo were noticably absent from the opening ceremonies of Cubs Convention. As two of the team's premier players, fans surely felt their absences at the annual event.

Thanks to the power of FaceTime, though, both Lester and Rizzo were able to "appear" at the convention on Saturday. Kris Bryant called Rizzo while on stage during a panel, while Lester appeared at a side station. Check it out:

Lester has been golfing in Florida this week (with good friend John Lackey, one might add). Rizzo recently got married, but it is unclear if his absence is honeymoon related or not.

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Kris Bryant owns St. Louis, pisses off Cardinal Nation

Kris Bryant owns St. Louis, pisses off Cardinal Nation

As far as Cubs fans are concerned, Kris Bryant is saying and doing all the right things in advance of what may be a major bounceback season for the former NL MVP.

Bryant assured everybody his shoulder is feeling great Friday evening and he's shown his standard one-handed finish in offseason workout videos.

He also cracked a couple jokes at his Cubs Convention panel, from serving as a resident "hitting poet" to playing up his wholesome image.

Bryant also managed to piss off Cardinals Nation, much to the delight of Cubs fans.

Bryant was a guest on Ryan Dempster's talk show Friday night at the Sheraton Grand Chicago and the topic of Bryce Harper came up (of course) along with Nelly, whom the two baseball superstars were photographed with over the winter. 

As Harper continues his free agent tour, Nelly apparently tried to pitch the superstar on St. Louis, the hometown of the rapper.

Fans booed when Bryant reminded everybody Nelly is a diehard Cardinals fan.

"Yeah, boo," Bryant said. "He was trying to work the magic on Bryce. Who would want to play in St. Louis? Boring. So boring. 

"I always get asked, 'Where would you like to play? Where would you not like to play?' St. Louis is on the list of places I don't like to play. It is rough."

Cubs fans absolutely loved it, of course, but those comments are not going over well in the shadow of the arch:

Even Cardinals reliever John Brebbia apparently took exception to Bryant's comments, reportedly calling the Cubs slugger a "loser" at their own fan convention over the weekend:

In addition to Brebbia's comment, Yadier Molina weighed in on Instagram, indirectly calling Bryant and Dempster "stupid players" and said they should have more respect:

All stars, elite players and leaders of their teams do not speak bad about any city. There should be respect and you should play and compete with respect... only stupid players and losers make comments like the ones made by bryant and dempster ..
#QuevivaStlouis #LOVESTL

Cardinals outfielder Marcell Ozuna responded to Molina's Instagram, saying, "From outside they speak and talk like tiger but at the end they gonna be like little cat."

Daniel Descalso is the only main addition to the Cubs this winter, but he's also a guy who came up with the Cardinals and spent the first 5 years of his career in St. Louis. But now he's on the North Side of the rivalry and when asked Saturday afternoon which fan convention is better - Cubs or Cardinals - Descalso didn't miss a beat and said "this one." (Then again, what else is he supposed to say??)

The NL Central already promised to be one of the most interesting divisions in baseball in 2019. The Cubs-Brewers rivalry (or not, if you ask Cole Hamels) took center stage last year, but Cubs-Cardinals may be getting the fire back if this early trash talk is any indication.