Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom, Gerrit Cole, and Justin Verlander. If somebody mentions the word “Ace”, those are the four names that immediately come to mind. When you ask any Cubs fan about the last time they’ve had an Ace up to any of those four guys’ caliber in a given season, the mind immediately shifts to 2015 Jake Arrieta, and rightfully so. He was an NL Cy Young winner with possibly the best second-half stretch in baseball history, accumulating a 0.75 ERA after the 2015 All-Star break.
But why do fans gloss over 2016 Kyle Hendricks? Sure, he didn’t win the Cy Young (he finished third in voting), but the man led all of baseball with a 2.13 ERA. The reason why fans elect to bring up Arrieta is because he embodies exactly what the current landscape of baseball overvalues: throwing hard, striking people out, and looking intimidating while doing it. Hendricks, on the other hand, does none of that. His average fastball is ~87 miles per hour, he pitches to contact, and he looks like he should be working at the nearest Big Four accounting firm. This is exactly why the “eye test” can be so flawed and why data and advanced analytics serve such a high purpose in sports, especially baseball. The data shows that Kyle Hendricks has been a top 10-15 starter over the last five years, and I’m going to prove it to you.
Since 2015, Hendricks’ Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is 17.5, good for 13th-best in baseball. That’s better than Aaron Nola, Jon Lester, Trevor Bauer, Madison Bumgarner, and many more who the public would deem an ‘Ace’. So why isn’t Hendricks also considered one? In the same timeframe, Hendricks’ 3.20 ERA ranks 13th among starting pitchers, better than Chris Sale, who is without a doubt an Ace.
I understand there are pitchers that fall below Hendricks in those categories that, without their injuries, would probably be ahead of him. My response to that is this: it's irrelevant. That does not devalue any of Hendricks’ accomplishments. A player’s value is on the field. Sorry if I don’t think it's reasonable to penalize Hendricks for staying healthy and taking the ball every fifth day, which is exactly what a starting pitcher is paid to do.
Hendricks has not only performed in the regular season, but also the postseason. In 11 appearances and 51.1 innings pitched, he has a 2.98 ERA. He pitched 12 total innings in game six of the 2016 NLCS and game seven of the 2016 World Series. Pressure doesn't get larger than that. Want to know how many runs he gave up? One.
Sure, his strikeout rate is nowhere near guys like Scherzer, Cole, deGrom, and Verlander, but the argument that he doesn’t have wipeout stuff is overplayed.
What you just saw is arguably the best changeup in baseball. It’s filthy and does not get the recognition it deserves, much like Hendricks’ career. Oh, and he also flashed a new-look curveball against the Sox last night that he’s been working on tirelessly over this extended offseason.
Does this look like a pitcher who doesn't have wipeout stuff? Adding this to his repertoire with his already nasty changeup and elite command makes for a guy that is set up to improve upon his already highly successful past numbers. Want one final data point to prove he’s undervalued? He has the lowest career ERA (3.14) of any starter in baseball history with zero All-Star appearances (as mentioned on the Marquee broadcast last night). Just because he embodies everything baseball undervalues does not mean he hasn't been producing at an elite level. It only emphasizes the flaw in human perception.
It’s impossible to definitively say whether or not Kyle Hendricks is a proverbial “Ace” because not one person can confidently define what exactly an Ace is or how many there are in the game of baseball. Some would say five, others 15, others 30. But it doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, Hendricks has been a top 10-15 pitcher in baseball since the onset of his career. There are no facts that prove otherwise.
Featured Photo: Chicago Style Sports