A ‘different’ kind of offseason for Kyle Hendricks
Kyle Hendricks is never satisfied.
The Cubs right-hander, affectionately known as “The Professor,” made 30 starts last season with a 3.46 ERA and 1.13 WHIP. He ranked 12th among Major League Baseball starting pitchers (minimum 150 innings) with a 1.0 HR/9 rate in a season in which the ball wound up in the bleachers at a record-shattering pace.
But the ERA was his highest mark since 2015 and he only pitched 177 innings due to a shoulder issue that cost him a few weeks in the middle of the summer.
It’s those points that stuck with him all winter.
“I changed a few things for sure,” Hendricks said. “I didn’t like the trend I was going the last two years or so, so I changed a lot of my offseason program as far as training and then I started playing catch, throwing earlier in the offseason this year.”
While even the most critical observers would classify Hendricks’ 2019 campaign as a success, the 30-year-old has proven he’s capable of another level, so of course he would try to reach those heights. He wants to get back to the pitcher he was in 2016 when he led the league in ERA (2.13) and finished third in National League Cy Young voting.
In order to do so, Hendricks felt he needed to get his base stronger and become more balanced on the mound than he was last season.
“I was getting very mechanical, it wasn’t athletic,” he said early in spring training. “My arm path wasn’t smooth and easy. And also, I was just kinda fatiguing more than I would like to at the end of a season, especially my lower half.
“I made some changes, I feel really strong shoulder-wise, my lower half feels a lot better and I just feel a lot more athletic overall and my mechanics show it. So just gonna keep working on it.”
Two starts into spring training, Hendricks has already been encouraged with the fruits of his labor. He’s allowed only 1 baserunner in 5 shutout innings of Cactus League action so far.
“The consistency in my mechanics already feels a lot better,” he said after his first start last week. “Just my strength over the rubber — when I get to my balance point — I feel like I’m in a consistent position and then just the way the ball’s coming out of my hand, everything’s coming out right.
“My sinker’s got more depth already, everything’s on time, the changeup feels good. I guess I notice it in those ways. As far as overall how I feel strength-wise and consistent in my mechanics, it feels really good.”
Hendricks believes the weakness in his lower half may have played a role in his shoulder injury last season. So he set about to address the issue over the winter with new trainer Eric Cressey, who came recommended by former Cubs relievers Brandon Kintzler and Steve Cishek.
Hendricks is a big proponent of yoga and he said he will continue to practice to help his flexibility and the mental aspect of his game. But the new workout routine with Cressey focused on building up his lower body and balance.
“It’s just a different strength program,” Hendricks said. “A lot more new school kinda stuff. A lot more movement stuff and becoming more athletic. So not just stuff in the weight room to get me ready to go pitch on the mound but movement stuff, so I feel better moving on the mound, too. It’s just made my whole mechanics flow better and not just be so pushy with it.”
All pitchers need their mechanics to be in line in order to find success, but that’s especially true for Hendricks, who relies more on command than velocity.
In the age of extreme bullpenning, Hendricks is still aiming for 200 innings as his goal for 2020 — a plateau he has yet to reach in his career (he’s never thrown more than 199 innings in a season). In order to accomplish that feat, he needs to stay off the injured list and he needs to keep his strength into the later innings on any given start.
By addressing what he felt was his biggest weakness over the last couple seasons, he’s very optimistic good days are ahead.
“I think I’ve probably learned more from the last 2 years than  in particular,” Hendricks said. “But the changes I’ve made, I feel really good about and just to perform on that level is the goal.”