Welcome to yet another installment of the GPS Location Report, my weekly pitcher breakdown using the great data we have on hand here at RotoFanatic. Once again if you are new to this piece, I try to look at how a pitcher is locating and what that means for his success or failure going forward. Last week we talked about NY Mets left-hander David Peterson and how his success was going to hinge on his ability to generate Ks. He promptly went out and dominated the Phillies on Sunday Night Baseball and the Ks returned. He throws again against the Diamondbacks on Friday and I’m looking forward to that matchup.
Thus far, I have tried to focus my in-season attention on pitchers who may be available on waiver wires. This week, however, I am going to take a look at a pitcher that is likely universally owned, Kyle Hendricks. The Cubs’ ace has been downright dreadful this season, mostly driven by an insane HR rate. Hendricks was my Darkhorse CY Young pick here at RotoFanatic and it certainly has not worked out in my favor thus far. Hendricks threw well against the Dodgers earlier this week lowering his ERA to 6. So the question remains, what is wrong with Kyle Hendricks.
Hendricks has undoubtedly been one of the best pitchers in all of baseball since 2016. In that span, his highest ERA has been 3.46 and he’s been successful despite not fitting the mold of an ace in today’s game. His success has always been driven by great command and contact management. This has allowed him for years to exceed his ERA estimators like FIP. This is also true of his StuffERA. StuffERA has always viewed Hendricks as a mid to high 3 ERA pitcher, not the dominant ace that he has been. However, unsurprisingly, he has always graded out well in rfCommand. See the chart below.
As you can see from the chart above, thus far in 2021, Hendricks has posted the worst rfCommand numbers of his career. After years of being well above average this has come crashing down. As I stated in the intro, Hendricks is the epitome of a command and control pitcher. He relies on his ability to locate to truly baffle hitters and thus far that ability has not been there. There have been many suggestions about why, but a few people have opined that the new baseball has a greater effect on sinker ballers like Hendricks.
In terms of the vertical movement profile, the does not seem to be any major differences in his pitches outside of small changes to the curveball and four-seam. However, with Hendricks, all pitches are currently getting crushed so it could be a function of a little bit of everything and how those small changes affect how the pitches play off one another.
To me is it more interesting to look into the individual components of rfCommand to see where Hendricks has slipped. When looking over each leaderboard all of the numbers look similar except for one place, in-zone swings.
Historically, Hendricks has been right about league average in expected in-zone swing rate. However, thus far in 2021, he has the highest expected swing rate of his career (68.4%) which beats his previous career-high in 2019. However, what you see is that prior to 2020, Hendricks was always able to outperform his expected swing rates. This allowed him to generate more takes than expected, due to a number of different factors. However, in 2020 and now in 2021, this skill has dissipated. For a pitcher who does not generate a ton of whiffs, hitters swinging more is a bad development. Let’s take a look at how this increase in expected swing rate looks in terms of pitch locations.
What you can see is that Hendricks is leaving a ton of fastballs over the heart of the plate, in locations with high expected swing rates. Shockingly, his fastball/sinker is not the main culprit for his home run issues but overall, this trend tends to hold for all of his pitches. He is throwing far too many pitches around the heart of the plate. This is leading to move swings which for Hendricks means more contact and therefore more loud contact. All in all, until we start seeing Hendricks generate more called strikes, I don’t believe this current trend is going away anytime soon. Tuesday was one of Hendrick’s best starts of the season and unsurprisingly, he was able to generate a called strike on 20.7% of his pitches second-most for him in a game in 2021. He will need to refind that success in order to regain his CY young caliber form and I’ll be watching closely to see if that does happen. However, for now, I think we are in a wait-and-see mode for Hendricks but he should definitely be on a roster if an angry owner dropped him.