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.