I circle my calendar every year on days when the Cubs travel to Salt River Fields at Talking Stick to play the DBacks or Rockies because we get our first whiff of Statcast data. SRFaTS is the only venue in Spring Training that has the tech installed, which makes it Mecca for statheads. Granted, it’s only a small snapshot and probably isn’t that insightful.
But I don’t care that the data is only culled from a couple innings of a spring training game. Statcast is back and we have to look at Kyle Hendricks.
The Professor’s velo was a ginormous story last year because he was throwing around 84-85 mph through spring and much of the regular season. It was so disconcerting to me that Corey Freedman, my reluctant Cubs Related podcast host, had to tell me before we recorded to “not mention Hendricks’ velo, please.” Which I still did anyway. Happy 27th birthday to Corey, by the way.
The early numbers from Hendricks’ most recent spring training start, however, are very encouraging. He was sitting at 88 mph with his four-seam and 87.8 with his sinker. Those are basically his career norms, and I can rest easy until the season starts and we get a more reliable results on his velo.
In an effort to figure out why his pitch speed was down last year, I found that Hendricks’ vertical release point had pretty direct correlation. The higher he let go of the baseball, the slower he threw, something that Hendricks himself confirmed with Ryan Davis. I also found that Hendricks’ extension (i.e., the distance at which he lets go of the pitch from home plate) predicted his velocity, too.
Soon after Hendricks came back from the DL last season, his mechanics shifted and he threw with a lower release point, which, not surprisingly, coincided with a spike in velocity.
I do want to note that the relationship between the release point and velocity is not perfect. Nothing in baseball is. However, as I noted in my previous post, the relationship is statistically significant when controlling for other contributing factors, and Hendricks’ release point explains enough variance in my eyes that it’s foolish to ignore the contribution.
So how did that release point look on Monday? The resolution isn’t that great, but we see a big chunk of pitches hovering around the 6-foot marker, which is where his velo was strongest last season.
Overall, even though it’s only one spring game and I’m not freaking out about anything one way or the other, this is a good sign. In fact, the velo stuff is really encouraging when we compare it to where Hendricks was last season. If he was throwing 84-85 mph again, I’d probably just chalk it up to him taking it easy on the gimpy middle finger that cost him nearly two months of the 2017 campaign.
But he was pumping fastballs at around 90 mph, which is a good sign for his mechanics and his health.
Also, shout out to my grandpa, Papa Joe, who unfortunately fell this morning and fractured his hip. Papa Joe was a pop vendor at Wrigley Field in the 1940’s and undoubtedly is the reason why I’m a Cubs fan today. He told me a few days ago that he’d be shocked if Schwarber didn’t hit 40 homers this year. Thoughts are with him.