Kyle Hendricks took another step forward in 2016 and established himself as one of the best starters in the National League. Concerns about his strikeout rate in 2015 were erased as he improved his swinging-strike rate to a career-high 10 percent, while maintaining the pinpoint control he's shown throughout his time as a professional. While he does not overpower opposing hitters, Hendricks locates his offerings exceptionally well, and he consistently works ahead in the count by pounding the strike zone early (his 68.6 percent first-strike rate tied him with Johnny Cueto as the MLB leader among qualified starters). His changeup continues to be his best pitch, and that offering generated the fourth-most swinging strikes among all changeups league-wide last season. Even though his skills appear to be stable, Hendricks' ERA seems almost certain to rise, but he could stay below the 3.00 mark if the defense behind him continues to rank as the league's best.
Hendricks will pitch in the team's fifth game of the season April 8 in Milwaukee, Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune reports. Manager Joe Maddon didn't want lefties Brett Anderson and Jon Lester to pitch in consecutive days, so he put Anderson fourth and Hendricks fifth. That means Lester will follow Hendricks in the rotation. But make no mistake, Hendricks is not a typical No. 5 starter -- he led the majors with a 2.13 ERA last season.
Hendricks said his goal this season is to toss at least 200 innings, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. Hendricks threw a career-high 190 innings last season, finishing 16-8 with an MLB-best 2.13 ERA. He threw 180 innings in 2015, so he's hoping he can increase by 10 once again. "Two-hundred innings," Hendricks said. "Especially with the staff we've got, everybody holds each other pretty accountable for going deep into games. I definitely want to be on that bandwagon." The righty won't rack up as many strikeouts as other aces, but he should be very good in the wins, ERA and WHIP categories once again for fantasy owners.
Making his spring training debut, Hendricks pitched two innings and allowed a single hit in Saturday's win against the Dodgers. He struck out one. Hendricks needed just 16 pitches to cruise through the two innings, as the Cubs turned a double play behind him after he allowed a hit. Hendricks led MLB with a 2.13 ERA last season, and while he doesn't offer the strikeout upside of other top fantasy starters, he should still be a very good option on the mound in 2017.
Hendricks will make his spring training debut Saturday against the Dodgers, Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune reports. The Cubs have yet to use any of their top-four starting pitchers this spring, but Hendricks will get some work in this weekend. After pitching a career-high 190 innings last year, expect Hendricks to slowly build up for the start of the season.
Improved command and more effective usage of his secondary pitches helped Hendricks put together his breakout 2016 season, Carrie Muskat of MLB.com reports. According to Statcast, Hendricks had the highest number of pitches that were called strikes outside of the zone in 2016. He also threw more changeups, cutters and curveballs for called strikes than he did in 2015. "I think my command was much better and my mechanics were more solid [in 2016]," Hendricks said. "I could dial in." The stats reflected this, as Hendricks went 16-8 with a MLB-best 2.13 ERA. While that number will almost certainly rise in 2017 given his lack of overpowering stuff, Hendricks appears locked in as a very reliable fantasy option.