Chicago Cubs: Kyle Hendricks has returned to form

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

Over his last nine starts, Kyle Hendricks has been the ace of the Chicago Cubs.

Starting pitching has been the clear weakness of the 2018 Chicago Cubs.

Jon Lester was an All-Star in the first half of the season but has an 8.16 ERA since. Jose Quintana has been inconsistent and not at all what the Cubs thought they would be getting when they traded top prospect Eloy Jimenez at the 2017 trade deadline.

Offseason additions meant to bolster the rotation following Jake Arrieta‘s departure have provided almost no positive value to this team. Yu Darvish has only started eight games and has been on the disabled list since May and Tyler Chatwood — well, for sanity’s sake, let’s not talk even talk about those walk numbers. In their first seasons on the North Side, Darvish and Chatwood have provided the Cubs with a combined -0.1 WAR (using Fangraphs formula).

With Cubs starters being so unproductive and inconsistent, the team has badly needed someone to step up. Kyle Hendricks has done just that.

Hendricks got off to a slow start to the season. In his first 16 starts, he posted a 4.21 ERA and a 4.94 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching – a statistic on the same scale as ERA that only accounts for things that a pitcher can control. Only strikeouts, walks, home runs and hit by pitches are part of the formula).

The Cubs won just five of Hendricks’ first 16 outings.

Since the start of July, Hendricks has totally changed the course of his season. In his nine starts he’s made over the last month and a half, Hendricks boasts an unremarkable 3.93 ERA, but a stellar 2.76 FIP – an indication that the ERA will likely come down soon.

Hendricks has improved largely due to increases in his control and ability to make batters swing and miss.

During his early season struggles, Hendricks had a 2.84 BB/9 rate. That number is below league average, but for Hendricks, it represented the worst BB/9 rate of his career. As a pitcher without overpowering velocity or movement, Hendricks relies on pinpoint accuracy to get batters out. Without that control, Hendricks struggled mightily.

Trending. 3 reasons Bryce Harper will be a Cub. light

Hendricks has regained his control over his last nine outings, allowing just 1.2 walks per nine innings over that span. That’s the fifth lowest rate among starters with at least 30 innings pitched since July 1st. The Cubs have won seven of Hendricks’ nine starts over that stretch.

Another game changer for Hendricks has been his ability to get opposing batters to swing and miss. In his first 16 starts, just 8.2 percent of Hendricks pitches were swung at and missed. Since July, that number has bumped up to 10.2 percent.

These two improvements have resulted in a sharp increase in Hendricks’ K-BB%. He’s nearly doubled it, increasing it from 10.7 percent to 20.9 percent.

Hendricks credits his improvement to fixing his mechanics. He talked about feeling out of sync in the first half of the season in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago’s Dave Kaplan:

"I just got out of sync and it is not easy to fix pitching mechanics overnight but Hick and Borzy (pitching coaches Jim Hickey and Mike Borzello) and I watched a lot of tape and we saw that I wasn’t standing tall on the mound plus I wasn’t getting enough rotation in my body and that contributed to my pitches flattening out and not getting that downward action that I was used to."

Whatever changes Hendricks has made to his mechanics have paid off tremendously. His ERA on the season still sits above 4.00, but with his peripheral numbers greatly improving, it won’t be long before his ERA follows suit.

Next. The Cubs must win these three series. dark

The Cubs have lacked a true number one starter throughout most of the 2018 season. Now, they have one.