Player Spotlight: Kyle Hendricks

Chicago Cubs LogoWith the fantasy baseball season effectively over, it’s time to let the Cubs fan in me shine even more than normal. I’m going to make a case for Kyle Hendricks earning the Cy Young this year. It’s a long shot, but at the least, I’m certain I could make the case for him being the most valuable fantasy SP, particularly when taking into account his ADP. And while I’m at it, I may as well provide some statistics to show you how he’s going to fare in 2017 and beyond.

One of the first things people see is his lack of velocity. I don’t care at all about that. Not every starter has to be a flamethrower, and his results speak to his effectiveness despite an average fastball of 88 mph. Greg Maddux didn’t have high heat and did just fine. He still manages to strike out batters at a rate above the league average, with a 8.1 K/9. When you factor in his great walk rate (2.1 BB/9, 1.7 in the second half), a swinging strike rate that’s above average (11%), and the second best first pitch strike rate of the year (68%), there’s room for strikeout growth moving forward. He was at 8.4 K/9 last year with a lower SwStr% and F-Str%, and given that he improved his SwStr% in the second half of this season, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him get near 9.0 K/9 in 2017.

His command of his pitches is the key to his success. A lot of strikes early in the count let him control at bats. Hitters can’t square up on his pitches, which is why he has the 18th lowest contact rate among qualified starters, is 22nd in ground ball rate, and has the 6th lowest HR/9. He sports the fourth lowest opponent average, and he’s ranked second in WHIP. What I like about these stats are that they are mostly in the pitcher’s control. There’s little luck involved, and fielders don’t factor into most of these stats.

There are more pitcher-controlled factors to drool over, but first I want to bring up the luck factor. A lot of fantasy managers are trained to look at BABIP and strand rate as major indicators of luck, and I’m no exception. They don’t tell the whole picture by themselves, but for quick analysis, they work well. In this case, Hendricks seems likely to regress quite a bit in 2017. His strand rate is 84% (3rd best), whereas the NL average is 73%. His BABIP of .246 is 50 points better than the league average and 4th best in the majors. This may scare away some owners, but you should bid with confidence and not worry about luck here. Yet how can his 1.99 ERA not rise when his FIP is 3.21 and his xFIP is 3.56?

I’m sure it will rise some, because it’s extremely hard to post a sub-2.00 ERA as  starter, and it’s near impossible to repeat that feat in today’s game unless your name is Kershaw. Yet I’d expect Hendricks to stay under a 2.50 ERA next year, and he’ll continue beating his FIP (5th best in 2016) and xFIP (15th best), as well as be better than league average in BABIP and LOB%. Why?

The best reasons why you should expect him to beat expectations is due to his batted ball profile. He sports the fourth lowest hard hit rate among qualified starters. But even more impressive is the fact that his soft contact rate is the best in the majors, at 25%. That’s 1% better than the second place pitcher (Sabathia), and 2% better than the third place pitcher (Roark)! If you keep batters from hitting the ball hard, you’re going to minimize damage and fewer runs will score. Inducing weak contact is also going to keep your hits allowed down. When you also factor in the Cubs’ amazing defense covering the field, you can expect Hendricks to keep a BABIP under .270 and a LOB% well over 75%.

There’s a reason Hendricks has fired off 10 straight quality starts, with 12 QS in his 14 games during the second half. There’s a reason he’s leading the majors in ERA and is second in WHIP. What’s more, there’s a reason that Hendricks isn’t simply getting lucky in these stats. I grant that Scherzer has been more consistently dominant all year, and he has the high strikeouts to go with it. But Hendricks has been the surprise of the season, especially for fantasy owners, who probably could have picked him up in the middle to late rounds before 2016. For that reason, he’s been the best return on investment in fantasy leagues. I’m a Cubs fan, so I’m a bit biased. But when you look at the whole picture for Hendricks, you’d be selling low on him if you didn’t expect a repeat on everything but ERA in 2017. He’s a #2 SP at worst, and clearly his ceiling is a #1 SP, as he’s proven this year.

 

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Kevin Jebens
Fantasy baseball player since 2000; winning leagues ranging from 12-team H2H to 18-team experts 5x5. Has written for various baseball blogs, including the 2013 Bleed Cubbie Blue Annual.