When a team or specific unit is highly celebrated over the course of a long season, it’s hard to believe that arguably the best individual performer of the group could fly under the radar. That’s the case of the 2016 Chicago Cubs starting rotation, however, as Kyle Hendricks has quietly become one of the best pitchers in the National League this season.
For four of the five Cubs starters, high expectations and storylines filled the offseason and first half the season. Things like whether or not Jake Arrieta could maintain his all-time great performance from the second half of 2015, if Jon Lester would come back stronger in 2016 and what John Lackey’s contribution in the middle of the team’s rotation would be were a select few of the main storylines surrounding the rotation.
Even Jason Hammel has been the subject of intrigue from fans and media members alike, most notably dealing with his penchant for struggling in the second half after strong first half performances.
But Kyle Hendricks? The 26-year-old Dartmouth product was almost treated as an afterthought entering this season, as some Cubs followers worried about the fifth spot in the rotation and floated out potential trades the team could make for another starter.
Kyle Hendricks in July (three starts):
3-0, 0.00 ERA, .197 opp. BA pic.twitter.com/CJ4xYz3N9e
— The Athletic (@TheAthleticCHI) July 26, 2016
Hendricks has proven his worth, however, as he has become as dependable and successful as any starter for the Cubs. While Arrieta has regressed from his (frankly unsustainable) pace of last fall and early this spring and Lester has had his fair share of challenging starts, Hendricks has been a rock.
One of the best pitchers in all of baseball in July, Hendricks only allowed an earned run in one start during the month (three of them, in fact, all coming on July 26). Despite not pitching more than 6.1 innings in any appearance during that stretch (which contained four starts and one relief appearance), Hendricks still posted an ERA of just 1.07 for the month, while allowing just four baserunners per appearance.
July is not the only month in which Hendricks has seen success this season though, as his numbers over the course of the year have been impressive. He is currently posting the third-best ERA in the majors (2.39) while sustaining a WHIP of just 1.054. He’s outperforming his FIP for now, which stands at 3.35, but that’s understandable considering the way that metric favors strikeout pitchers, which Hendricks is not (he’s striking out 7.9 batters per nine innings this year).
Nobody is considering Hendricks to be the ace of the staff at this point, nor should they; that title still belongs to Jake Arrieta, even if he hasn’t been his normal self recently.
That doesn’t mean Hendricks hasn’t been extremely valuable to the Cubs though. In terms of fWAR, Arrieta is the top Cubs starter this year, with his 3.2 ranking eighth-best in the majors as of July 28; Hendricks is the second-highest ranking Cub, placing 21st with a 2.5 fWAR.
Kyle Hendricks isn’t a flashy pitcher by any means, but that certainly doesn’t stop him from being effective. While every other Cubs starter has struggled at one point or another in the past several weeks, Hendricks has been a steady performer who has helped carry the club through the dog days of summer.
He doesn’t go deep into games and he doesn’t blow you away with power pitching, but don’t get it wrong: he has been in an elite class of pitchers recently, providing a boon to the pitching staff that the Cubs desperately needed.