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Kyle Hendricks: 2015 Fantasy Baseball Sleeper

You'd be forgiven for not having known Kyle Hendricks' name before his call up in 2014. An 8th round draft pick by the Texas Rangers in 2011, the closest he ever came to prospect status was a #11 ranking by Baseball America. Yet this same pitcher posted a 2.46 ERA with a 3.32 FIP in 80.1 innings with the big league team last season. This despite an average fastball velocity of 89.2 mph and a paltry strikeout rate of 14.6% (compared to league averages of 92.1 mph and 20.4% respectively). This of course begs the question: is Hendricks just another short sample wonder or a diamond in the rough we missed along the way?

Looking into Hendrick's profile as a pitcher, three skills jump out immediately: outstanding control, decent ground ball numbers, and a tendency to limit home runs.

2014 Stats League Average (SP) Kyle Hendricks
Walk Rate 7.10% 4.70%
Home Run Rate (per 9 IP) 0.91 0.45
Ground Ball Rate 44.60% 47.80%

 

Hendricks' fine-tuned command is nothing new. He reliably posted far below average walk rates and home run rates throughout his minor league career. He was recognized by Baseball America as the “Best Control” pitcher in the Chicago Cubs system after the 2012 season.

Questions exist over how these skills will translate to the majors. There are valid concerns that Hendricks' lack of strikeout stuff could lead to a tendency for longer counts, fewer innings pitched, and a reliance on favorable BABIP numbers. That said, a successful precedent exists for this pitching profile: Doug Fister. Compare their 2014 stat-lines if you will:

2014 Stats Doug Fister Kyle Hendricks
Innings 164 80.1
ERA/FIP/xFIP 2.41/3.93/3.85 2.46/3.32/3.92
Ground Ball Rate 48.90% 47.80%
Strikeout Rate 14.80% 14.60%
Walk Rate 3.60% 4.70%
HR/FB Rate 10.10% 4.90%

 

Of course, Fister is the better pitcher by virtue of being established. He has a clear edge in BB% along with a longer track record of excellence in the major leagues, and he's demonstrated stronger strikeout stuff in the past. There is also a cautionary tale to be told in the Hendricks' HR/FB rate. Despite his reputation against minor league hitters, I would not bet on him maintaining such a low rate over a full season.

The differences between Hendricks and Fister aren't as large as one might guess based on their draft stock. Fister proved last year that a pitcher can survive with mediocre strikeout numbers, provided he is able to limit walks and generate ground balls at an above average clip. These are all things Hendricks has done in the past and is capable of continuing to do in the future.

Playing time may be an issue of course. Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta are locks for the first and second spot in the Cubs' rotation. Short of playing himself out of a job, Jason Hammel should slot in after them, considering he was just signed to a two year deal. That most likely leaves Hendricks and Tsuyoshi Wada to fill out the rotation, but with names such as Edwin Jackson, Travis Wood, Dan Straily, Felix Doubront and Jacob Turner behind them, Hendricks will have to produce to keep his rotation spot. However, the good news is last year's performance should mean the job will be his to lose. With his skill set, I think he has a decent shot at keeping it. Given that, I'm comfortable with the 150.0 IP figure projected by the Fangraphs' staff.

 

In Summary

Hendricks' lack of strikeout upside, the risk that comes with any young pitcher, and the sheer depth of pitching in 2015's draft class will probably push him out of relevancy in standard 10 team leagues. That said, I think he could make an interesting play in deeper leagues and NL-only formats. For those leagues in which he is not drafted, he could make a prime streaming candidate, especially on those days in which he goes up against a particularly strikeout prone squad. In the end, 80% of Fister really isn't too shabby.

 





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