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Behind Kyle Hendricks’ Return to Form in 2023

The back half of the 2022 season looked like the end of an era for the Chicago Cubs. The last remnants of the magical 2016 World Series championship team looked like they would soon be departing. The team released outfielder Jason Heyward in the midst of an abysmal season and placed starter Kyle Hendricks on the injured list. It was unclear whether he would start again for the Cubs, as he posted an uncharacteristic 4.80 ERA. His chances of regaining a starting role diminished further when he remained on the IL to open the season, with rookie Hayden Wesneski earning the fifth spot in the rotation. Wesneski, however, did not live up to expectations. He struggled mightily, got optioned to Triple-A, then returned to Chicago as a long reliever. Since Kyle Hendricks was reactivated, he has shown a return to form, posting a 2.81 ERA in six starts.

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Kyle Hendricks’ Return to Form

Limiting First Inning Woes

In 2021 and 2022, Hendricks did not pitch like the version of himself that Cubs fans had become accustomed to since his debut in 2014. He posted consecutive seasons with earned run averages nearing 5.00 rather than the mid-2s to low-3s that he typically posted. He was especially inept in the first innings of his starts, posting an ERA over 6.00 in 2022 and nearing 8.00 in 2021. Hendricks has cleaned up a lot of his first-inning issues in 2023, as his ERA is down to 2.57, albeit slightly inflated after allowing a leadoff home run to former Cub Kyle Schwarber on Thursday.

Reducing Hard Contact

Over the course of his career, Hendricks had always been mostly a ground ball pitcher. He never allowed much solid contact but also never had gaudy strikeout numbers. After his Cy Young finalist season in 2020, he seemed to be on a permanent decline, allowing a whopping 46 home runs in 48 starts over the 2021 and 2022 seasons which were far from his career averages. In 2023, however, Hendricks has been much better at reducing hard contact. His average exit velocity and hard-hit rate are both within the top 20 percent of all pitchers, and he is getting batters to chase much more effectively than he was in the past, even though he is still not striking batters out at a high rate.

Will Hendricks Remain in Chicago? 

Kyle Hendricks is a pending free agent after this season, and his resurgence serves as a bit of a two-edged sword for Cubs fans. On one hand, his producing at a high level once again has been crucial to the Cubs’ ability to hang in the division race. The Cubs may even look to extend him to ensure that they have a reliable starter on the roster to go alongside Justin Steele and potentially Marcus Stroman for 2024 and 2025. This will be when the Cubs expect to fully invest in trying to play for the postseason. On a more sobering note, though, his newfound success and lack of control for next season could result in Hendricks being a valuable trade asset at the deadline, should the Cubs decide to sell.


Photo Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Players Mentioned: Jason Heyward, Kyle Hendricks, Hayden Wesneski, Kyle Schwarber, Justin Steele, Marcus Stroman


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