Deep Dive: Hendricks deviates from his usual plan of attack

1 month agoLance Brozdowski

Entering Wednesday’s battle with the Indians, Kyle Hendricks’ previous bouts with left-handed batters went something like this: sinkers up and in mixed with changeups away. Marquee Sports Network analyst Ryan Sweeney broke down how this approach has earned The Professor years of success and was the anticipated way he would attack the Indians. Even when hitters knew what was coming, the command and movement Hendricks displayed — despite low velocity — has kept hitters off balance. (Baseball Savant’s heat maps show a great visual of this exact approach: changeups, sinkers).

The Indians inserted three left-handers and four switch-hitters into their lineup for Wednesday’s game, which forced Hendricks to throw 83 pitches to lefty bats, a season high. While Hendricks normally throws 27% sinkers and 42% changeups to left-handers, he flipped his primary fastball usage to his four-seamer as opposed to his sinker, throwing his four-seamer 30% and his sinker just 9%. Hendricks’ sinker possesses about six more inches of arm-side run on average than his four-seam fastball, which allows him to start the pitch at a left-handed hitter’s shoulder and run it back into the up-and-in part of the zone. When he opts for his four-seam fastball, however, he prefers the pitch to live elevated over the middle part of the zone and directly over the plate. The pitch is routinely successful not because of plus vertical movement (which helps a pitch fall less due to gravity’s effects and stay above a hitter’s barrel), but because of its ability to set up his changeup for whiffs.

“You have to change the eye level of the batter,” Sweeney said. “It’s so important for a pitcher like Hendricks.”

Hendricks has changed that eye level by letting his changeup play off his sinker, but Wednesday in Cleveland it was effective playing off his four-seamer. In 2020, Hendricks’ changeup has had a 21% whiff rate against left-handed hitters. He tallied nine left-handed swings and misses on the pitch, giving him a whiff rate of 35% on his way to his third win of the season. Thirty-five of his 41 changeups tonight also went for strikes, as he kept the pitch in near the zone as much as possible to bait hitters into swinging or end up taking a strike on the corner. Perhaps the unexpected combination of four-seamers precluding his changeup made the off-speed pitch more effective that it has been at any point this season. More likely is that Hendricks’ pulled out one of his many tricks against the Indians tonight by making a small adjustment to his preferred fastball and changeup table-setter.

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