Up until maybe a week ago, I was totally on board with the idea of the Cubs going with Johnny Fullstaff in the (potential) 2nd game of the NLDS. Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester were givens, but I hadn’t seen anything from the other three starter to convince me that Joe Maddon should be willing to trust them with the ball in a playoff game.
Kyle Hendricks in particular was looking pretty rough, having allowed 29 earned runs in the 9 starts prior to his most recent pair. In that stretch, Hendricks posted a 5.76 ERA while averaging just over 5 innings per start. He wasn’t able to make it two and a half times through the lineup (22 batters faced, on average) and his 3.18 BB/9 was nearly a full walk higher than his season average of 2.22.
But looking at those numbers told only part of the story. Hendricks’ BABIP against was .323, which indicated that opposing hitters were getting somewhat lucky against him. That’s borne out by 3.98 FIP and 3.17 xFIP totals that indicate Hendricks was pitching much better than what the more popular stats were telling us. He was also striking out 9.33 per 9 innings against a season average of 8.22.
Things have really come together over his last 2 starts though, as he’s gone 12 innings, allowing no runs on only 3 hits and 2 walks (both in the earlier of the outings). Hendricks also struck out 17 batters, which is, you know, good and stuff.
But which is the real Kyle Hendricks? Is it the guy from the first sample or the one from the second? Well, I think the truth is somewhere in between, which is perfectly fine. As a rookie, Hendricks looked really good but did so without any expectations and without giving the league a chance to adjust to him. This season, he’s pitched 174 innings (more than double last year’s 80.1) and has had to deal with the ups and downs of a long campaign.
The 3.95 ERA doesn’t jump off the page, but when you look again at a .296 BABIP against (pretty much league-average) and 3.36 FIP and 3.26 xFIP, you see that Hendricks has actually had a really solid year. He’s not the kind of guy who can routinely go out and dominate a game like Arrieta or Lester, but he can certainly hold his own.
I know today’s general focus on metrics may not lend much credence to the idea of momentum, but I have the luxury of keeping my feet in both the old and new schools of thought here. That said, I think the way Hendricks has pitched of late has elevated him into the third spot in the rotation. Of course, this is all completely hypothetical, as the Cubs first need to win on Wednesday to make this a salient topic.
But when that happens, I expect to see No. 28 listed as the starter for Game 2 in St. Louis.