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Better version of Cubs’ Kyle Hendricks: 2016 or now?

Cubs: Are we seeing the better version of Kyle Hendricks right now in comparison to 2016? Eli Hershkovich takes a look at what Hendricks has done this season to draw the comparisons.

Two seasons ago, Cubs’ starter Kyle Hendricks strung together a masterful performance to help seal the franchise’s first World Series appearance since 1945 — before winning its first title in 108 years.

Given the magnitude of Game 6 in the National League Championship Series, along with battling the Nationals’ Max Scherzer and his teammate Jon Lester for the Cy Young Award in same campaign, Hendricks was on track for dominance. Following his struggles in the first half of last season, he bounced back with a 2.19 ERA the rest of the way. The 6-foot-3-inch, 190-pound righty has rebounded yet again, and he might be pitching the best baseball of his four-plus seasons in the majors.

Although Hendricks needed a bit longer to rediscover his form this time around, he’s generated a 1.66 ERA, 0.939 WHIP and 38:8 strikeout-to-walk ratio (K/BB) over his last eight starts (54.1 innings pitched). During that stretch, his ERA ranks third among starters — behind the White Sox’s Reynaldo Lopez (1.13) and Rays’ Blake Snell (1.27).

The Newport Beach, Calif. native produced a 1.68 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and 76:11 K/BB in the second half of 2016. Cubs manager Joe Maddon noted that while he’s unsure which run is more impressive, Hendricks has pitched more aggressively this season.

“That one year (2016), he was just everything,” Maddon said. “That changeup was devastating. He was more 86’s (mph) with that two-seam movement. … It just seems like the four-seam [fastball] is a more pertinent pitch for him right now. Not so heavily reliant upon the changeup. I just see a repetition of delivery — stronger version of him –and 199 [innings this season], that’s pretty darn good for him. … He has to be stronger to look like that today.”

Hendricks’ fastball velocity has increased 1.3 mph from last season, averaging 87.6 mph overall. His slider velocity is even up 1 mph (87.0 mph), and his first-pitch strike rate is up 2 percent. Despite his numbers still falling below his 2016 campaign — when he touched 88.9, 88.2 and 68.6 percent in those respective categories — the 28-year-old is evolving into his old self after dealing with a finger injury a season ago.

Maddon also recalled shying away from allowing Hendricks to pitch over five innings per start in his first season as Cubs’ manager (2015). His cautious approach has paid dividends, as Hendricks has averaged 6.2-plus innings per outing in his recent span.

“He was a different kind of a pitcher [back then],” he said. “I think it’s confidence, conviction to pitch. He started talking to me about that. He did not like when I took him out early. … He’s a unique pitcher in this game. Definitely in a throwback in regard to that. This guy, to get drafted when he did by the Angels (2008), throwing as hard as he did, somebody saw something way back when.”

Hendricks’ dominance has spurted via his ability to induce ground balls (44.3 percent) and soft contact (23.3 percent). Both of those areas are nearly identical to his torrid 2016 stretch, reaching 45.5 and 22.7 percent, respectively.

No matter which campaign is victorious in your eyes, Hendricks has rounded into form at the perfect time.

Follow Eli onĀ Twitter-Feature Photo Credit: Nuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune


Eli is a producer at WSCR 670 The Score in Chicago, as well as the host of "Hersh on Hoops," a podcast on college basketball programs in Illinois. He also writes about college hoops at among other sites.

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