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Writing On the Ivy

Might not always be right, but always honest.

Kyle Hendricks: Revenge of the Nerds

Kyle Hendricks: Revenge of the Nerds

This whole season I have been in awe of what Kyle Hendricks has done, and he has definitely become my favorite player to watch.  We are conditioned as Americans to root for the less athletic player, the underdog, the Rocky Balboa.  In a league full of fireballers, it has stunned me how effective Hendricks has been.  He's a nerd, a Peyton Manning type.  A student of the game.  I read the book Moneyball several times, and the way Michael Lewis describes Scott Hatteberg is quite similar to how reporters describe Hendricks.  Always watching film, always trying to get an edge on his opponent.  This work ethic is what made him the Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year last season.  Plus, there's more advanced scouting and video in the Majors for Hendricks to drool over, giving him even more of an edge. 

An article written by a Sabermetric group a couple years ago asked the question: "Can you really pitch to soft contact?"  It's a hard question to answer, and since around 1970 most pitchers ERA has been higher than their FIP's.  Not Hendricks though, he's posted a 1.66 ERA while his FIP sits at 3.54.  Now this isn't good news if you are expecting Kyle Hendricks to be an ace.  News Flash: He's not an ace.  Duh.  But it is fantastic news for the back end of our rotation.  FIP is pretty much what a pitchers ERA would be if not for luck.  And a good indicator of luck is BABIP.  Hendricks's BABIP is .232, way below league average.  Is it luck, or is it skill?  I'm here to argue that it's a little of both.

I believe that Hendricks BABIP will almost always be below league average because he gets soft contact a lot more than other pitchers.  Now, will it always be .60-.70 below league average? No way.  But the way he pitches to opponents weaknesses and says "go ahead and beat me with your worst" reminds a lot of people of Maddux.  

I know, I know.  Enough with the Maddux comparisons.  But I just have one more for you.

The reason people compare Greg Maddux to Kyle Hendricks really isn't because of their "stuff" but rather their cerebral approach to pitching.  Maddux career BABIP is .281, which is around .19 below league average.  His career FIP was 3.26 and his career ERA was 3.16.  Like I've said before, since 1970 most starting pitchers ERA's are higher than their FIP's. 

But starting pitchers in the 2000's who have ERA's that are lower than their FIP's have two stats in common:  High Left On Base% and low BABIP. 

Maddux Career LOB%: 72.3%

Maddux Career BABIP:  .281

If a pitchers ERA is lower than his FIP it is considered he had some good luck here and there, but I think there is a reason certain pitchers have better BABIP.  It's because they pitch to opponents weaknesses, they don't allow solid contact, or at least try and shy away from it.  They don't need to ring up the K's, but just get 21 outs and hand the ball to their bullpen.

Kyle Hendricks has been quite "lucky" you could say.  But I think it's a lot more than luck.  Another great cerebral pitcher, Maddux, posted the same sort of numbers which helped create a lower ERA than FIP.  Hendricks has posted those same sort of indicating numbers.

Hendricks LOB: 87.1%

Hendricks BABIP:  .232

A couple other stats that I found had a lot of correlation but weren't as much of a reliable tell:

Maddux GB%: 51%

Hendricks GB%: 50%

Maddux FB%: 27.5%

Hendricks FB%: 30.3%

I really like these stats because its known around the league that when the ball is hit on the ground players OBP is .232 and their wOBA is .213.  Keeping the ball on the ground is a very good thing for a pitcher.

Kyle Hendricks has nerded his fastball/change and below average curveball in and out of lineups.  He has had Lady Luck on his side, but let's be honest, if FIP is a good indication of a pitchers true ERA, who's going to complain about the back end of our rotation with a 3.54 ERA.  And as history and the numbers have shown us, if Hendricks stays in the classroom, his ERA should always be a little bit lower than his FIP.  Nerd out Hendricks, nerd out.

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Starlin Castro and a Little Wisdom

Ever since the intriguing July 4th trade in which the Cubs predictably traded short term proven value for long term potential value, there has been speculation about who/what/how/when the Cubs would get their paws (pun intended) on good pitching. 

Although it wasn't 100%, the majority of Cubs fans, bloggers, and ESPN analysts have hinted or flat out stated that the Cubs should use Starlin Castro for trade value, specifically with teams like the Mets.

Why?

The theory is: Trade Starlin Castro for a Mets big arm like Noah Syndergaard and maybe another arm, then call up Addison Russell...and boom championship. (Well maybe I exaggerated the last part) but it sounds great...in theory.

These people are forgetting a great piece of wisdom: One in the hand is worth two in the bush.

These people are stuck in 2013, a season where EVERYONE Sveumed...I mean struggled.  Starlin has broken through that barrier and made the necassary adjustments.  He looks more confident at the plate, comfortable in the field, and it looks like he is just having more fun.  But enough of me softly rambling on about things that can't be measured.  Let's look at his numbers this year:

Starlin Castro has posted a 109 wRC+ with a .333 wOBA.  He's had a tad bit of luck (or he's hitting the ball a lot harder) with a .329 BABIP.  He's even shown a lot more power, pinning up a solid .142 ISO.  His whole season has been capped off by this month of August where Starlin has dominated every team he faces.

In August Starlin has a wRC+ of 156, a .400 wOBA, a .413 OBP, and a 14 game hitting streak that ended yesterday but was followed today by a go ahead HR in the 9th.  I can metaphorically see him rounding second base in his homerun of a career (where the homerun is his peak).  And yes his awkward ice skating sort of run. 

Also, Starlin's plate discipline and selective aggressiveness has greatly improved, I can't explain it as well as MRubio52 did at the Cubs Den: http://www.chicagonow.com/cubs-den/2014/08/castro-rizzo-adjustment/ but trust me, it's gotten better.

Still though, it's Noah Syndergaard and Addison Russell.

Don't you think there's a reason that Theo Epstein hasn't drafted a pitcher with the Cubs first pick?  It's because young arms are unpredictable in performance and exclusively durability.  I was going to give you a list of young top prospects who needed Tommy Johns this year, but the Google search shocked me with the variety of names, you as the reader should experience it yourself.  Just google: Top Prospect Tommy Johns Surgery.  It's scary.  Syndergaard already been on the DL this year with an elbow strain.

I don't want to rip the kid though, he's been fantastic.  Posting a 3.88 FIP, while getting 8.25 K/9.

How about Addison Russell?  He's been dominating Daytona.

Cubs (AA) 2010

121 PA

164 wRC+

.432 wOBA

.367/.413/.560

Look at those numbers...this guy doesn't belong in this league...Oh wait, he's not.  Those numbers are Starlin Castro's before his call up to the bigs.

Here are Addison Russell's:

Cubs (AA) 2014

148 PA

144 wRC+

.392 wOBA

.299/.351/.518

 

The point is this: Addison Russell isn't going to step onto the major league field and be Starlin Castro, or even better than Starlin Castro.  Addison Russell hasn't even put up better numbers than Starlin did at AA. 

My case is already closed but I want to add one little thing for your brain to chew on.  Why did the Cubs sign Manny Ramirez to a minor league deal? 

Starlin Castro has been an all star, and has also been benched for lack of concentration.  He was the next big thing, to the next big "What Happened?".  If there isn't any value in having a guy who can talk to the mob of minor league talent coming up to a brand new world then why do we give players a C on their chest? 

Starlin Castro has so much value moving foreward as the Cubs SS or 3B or wherever he ends up.

Oh and he's signed to a team friendly contract through 2019.

One in the hand is worth two in the bush.

 

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Cubs vs. Mets Series Preview

Chicago Cubs vs. New York Mets Series Preview

Game 1: Travis Wood LHP (7-9 4.86 ERA) vs. Zack Wheeler RHP (7-8 3.53 ERA)

Zack Wheeler has been very impressive lately going 2-0 with a 2.79 ERA over his last three starts.  This is a bad matchup for Chicago, because like Fiers, Wheeler is a high strikeout guy and nobody on the Chicago roster has faced him.

Travis Wood has not lived up to expectations this year, especially on the road (4-6 6.11 ERA).  Players with over 10 AB's against Wood are hitting a combined .214.  While Lucas Duda and Juan Lagares have both homered off of Travis Wood.

Prediction: 6-3 Mets

Game 2: Dan Straily RHP (1-2 4.93 ERA) vs. Jon Niese LHP (6-8 3.46 ERA)

Jon Niese is coming off his best start vs. the Phillies going 7 innings and only allowing 2 ER.  Niese has also pitched very well at home posting a 2.89 ERA. 

Dan Straily is making his first start for the Chicago Cubs and has never faced a Mets batter.  Since joining Iowa Straily is 3-3 with a 3.0 ERA.  Straily was aquired in the Samardzija, Hammel deal. 

Castro has had great success against Niese going 5-16 with 1 HR and 5 RBI.  I would also like to see Junior Lake get the start in left field because Coghlan and Ruggiano are a combined 4-24 vs Niese and Lake is much better against lefties. 

Prediction: 4-3 Cubs

Game 3: Jake Arrieta RHP (6-4 2.77 ERA) vs. Rafael Montero RHP (0-3 6.17 ERA)

This game will be a good test for Arrieta going on the road for the first time since his 9 ER game in Colorado.  Arrieta will miss Wrigley very much though, leaving it with a 1.94 ERA. 

Rafael Montero has had a rough go of it so far this year.  I don't expect very much to change seeing he is prone to give up the longball (8 homers in 5 starts). 

I believe this is a good matchup for the Cubs.  Arrieta, a high strikeout pitcher, is facing a Mets lineup that ranks 6th in the league in strikeouts.  The one big hurdle for Arrieta will be trying to get Curtis Granderson out.  Granderson is batting .409 with 3 HR in 22 AB's against Arrieta.

Prediction: 5-2 Cubs

Game 4: Kyle Hendricks RHP (4-1 1.73 ERA) vs. Bartolo Colon RHP (11-10 3.85 ERA)

I'm not going to over think this one, Hendricks already does enough of that.  Hendricks has smarted his 89 MPH fastball and 76 MPH changeup through lineup after lineup and I don't expect much of that to change, especially seeing nobody on the Mets has faced Kyle.

Bartolo Colon is coming off one of his better starts allowing just two runs on 89 pitches (7 IP) against the Nationals.  He also has a 1.09 WHIP at home. 

None of these batters are very familiar with the opposing pitchers so it's hard to take a good guess at this one but I really don't want to bet against Maddux...I mean Henricks.

Prediction: 4-2 Cubs 

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