Each day in March, NBC Sports Chicago is previewing one player from the Cubs’ expected 2020 Opening Day roster. Next up is starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks.
A look at Hendricks’ overall numbers from 2019 shows he was his consistent self. The Professor made 30 starts for the fourth time in six seasons. He sported a 3.46 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, and a personal best 4.4 percent walk rate.
What’s strange about Hendricks’ 2019 season is the sharp divide between his home and road numbers. The final numbers are respectable, but he was much better at Wrigley Field than away from it, a microcosm of the Cubs’ season as a whole (51-30 at home, 33-48 away).
Hendricks at home: 14 starts, 6-2 record, 92 2/3 innings (average of 6 2/3+ innings/start), 2.04 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, 23.1 K%, 3.7 BB%
Hendricks on road: 16 starts, 5-8 record, 84 1/3 innings (average of under 5 1/3 innings/start), 5.02 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 18.1 K%, 5.1 BB%
Hendricks obviously wasn’t roughed up in every road start, and he improved some in the second half, allowing an earned run or less in four of seven outings. However, he was exceptional in nearly every start at Wrigley. His 81-pitch, complete game shutout of the Cardinals on May 3 is one of the most memorable Cubs games from last season.
The drastic splits are staggering, and even the Cubs had a hard time explaining them.
"On the road, it's just depth perception, what does it look like?" then-manager Joe Maddon said last August. "It's probably very comfortable [at Wrigley] when he looks into the catcher. When you pitch on the road, it's variable ballparks. He's pitched in some pretty high-leverage moments [on the road]. I don't know the answer.”
Expectations for this season’s role
With Jon Lester, Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta and Cole Hamels in the picture, Hendricks has generally been viewed as the Cubs’ No. 3 starter. Arrieta and Hamels departed as free agents in recent winters, and Darvish’s torrid 2019 second half has propelled him to ace status in the Cubs’ rotation.
No one is writing off Lester, but his days as a No. 1 starter are probably over. Hendricks now slots in as the Cubs No. 2 starter, though he should be viewed as a 1-B due to his poise and uber-consistent nature.
The Cubs’ Opening Day rotation looks set but not without questions. Will Darvish carry over his 2019 second half across a full season? Can Lester and José Quintana bounce back from their worst seasons on the North Side? How will Tyler Chatwood, the Cubs’ expected fifth starter, perform as he rejoins the rotation?
This isn’t meant to a present a gloomy outlook for the 2020 season, but demonstrate how vital Hendricks is to the rotation, rather. No one is expecting the 30-year-old to suddenly start blowing his fastball past hitters. He’ll throw his high-80s sinkers and four-seam fastballs, mixing in a slow changeup to keep opponents off-balance.
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Hendricks is as steady as it gets, and the Cubs need him to do what he does best — be himself.
“Kyle’s one of those guys where you just don’t have to worry much about as a coach,” Cubs manager David Ross said last month. “He sets the right example; he goes about his business. He’s unemotional in every aspect of his game. Good or bad, you’d never know how his last start was.
“He comes in, he’s a worker, he prepares the right way, and goes out and gives you his best effort. I feel like he’s one of the guys you have to worry about least.”
The complete roster outlook series:
1. Cubs hoping Kris Bryant stabilizes leadoff spot in 2020