Kyle Hendricks' Near No-Hitter Assures His Status as a Cy Young Contender
That may be enough to win him the National League Cy Young Award this year.
Hendricks was on point last night in St. Louis, breezing through the first eight innings against a powerful Cardinals lineup with his pinpoint control and movement. But a changeup right down the middle to Jeremy Hazelbaker ended his brief dalliance with history, with Hazelbaker ending the no-no, the shutout, and Hendricks' evening after those eight stellar innings.
It was a mistake pitch on an 0-2 count that Hazelbaker did not miss. In all, Hendricks piled up seven strikeouts and gave up just two walks along with that bomb by Hazelbaker, good for a Game Score of 80. His ERA now stands at 2.03 in 173 innings on the season. He has struck out 7.91 batters per nine innings, walked 2.24 per nine, and opponents are batting just .197 against him.
Clearly, Kyle Hendricks should be neck deep in any National League Cy Young conversation. But is he the favorite? Here is where he ranks among qualified NL starters this year.
Hendricks' ERA, batting average against, and WHIP are all elite, but his other peripherals indicate he's probably not the leading contender for the Cy Young. First, he has two outstanding teammates to battle in Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta. Others like Jose Fernandez, Noah Syndergaard and, yes, even Clayton Kershaw are favorites to win the hardware, too.
And despite the gaudy ERA, there are reasons to believe Hendricks is not pitching a whole lot differently than he was last year, when he was still very good but had an ERA 3.95.
Statcast's Mike Petriello noted on Monday that Hendricks is actually pitching about the same as he was last year in terms of FIP. Last season, Hendricks' FIP was 3.36. This year it is almost exactly the same, 3.38. And yet, his ERA has dropped dramatically, from 3.95 to 2.03. All this while Hendricks has seen his strikeouts per nine fall (8.35 to 7.91) and his walks per nine rise (2.15 to 2.24). And his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) has cratered from .296 last year to .236. The league average BABIP is .297.
Don't get me wrong, these are still very good numbers. But they indicate luck -- and the Cubs' outstanding defense -- has as much to do with Hendrick's big season as anything else. The addition of Jason Heyward and Addison Russell to the everyday lineup, and the continued outstanding glove work of Dexter Fowler, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo gives Chicago perhaps the best defense in all of baseball.
This is not to say the Cubs starters, including Hendricks, aren't deserving of praise. And just because Hendricks ERA has dropped while his FIP has stayed the same doesn't mean he shouldn't be in the Cy Young conversation.
What last night's almost no-hitter did for Hendricks was introduce him to a larger audience that is used to seeing Lester and Arrieta get all the attention. Hendricks has been a very good pitcher for three years with a career 2.91 ERA in 433 1/3 innings.
He didn't make history last night, but Hendricks' brush with history probably at least gets him in the National League Cy Young conversation.