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Deep Dive: Pitchers who rake, Cubs-Giants NLDS Game 2 in focus

3 months agoLance Brozdowski

The Cubs drew it up just as everybody expected. Two games into their 2016 run to the ring, a pitcher sat atop their RBI leaderboard with another tied for second:

1. Kyle Hendricks (2)
t-2. Javier Báez (1)
t-2. Kris Bryant (1)
t-2. Travis Wood (1)
t-2. Ben Zobrist (1)

Kyle Hendricks blooped a first-pitch two-seamer from Jeff Samardzija into shallow right-center field, scoring Jason Heyward and Báez in the second inning of Game 2 of the NLDS. As the old saying goes, a jam-shot that wouldn’t have rolled to the wall looks like a line-drive single in the books. But with MLB’s Statcast data becoming easily accessible public information in recent years, context can prove the old saying misleading.

Hendricks’ bloop was hit only 72.2 mph, the sixth softest hit ball in play in Game 2 (49 total balls in play). This sits about 18 mph below the average exit velocity of a single in 2016, but Hendricks is a career .101 hitter.

He didn’t hit a ball over 100 mph in all of 2019. But there’s no reason to rub it in. Instead, admire the tenacity he had in swinging first pitch at a Samardizja sinker running into his hands. His combination of luck and circumstance when reflecting on the data only underscores another Cubs pitcher’s offensive performance (0:00-0:17 in the video above).

Two innings after Hendricks’ single, Wood jumped on the first pitch he saw from George Kontos and hit what — at the time — was the 10th home run of his career. (He finished his career with 12 total, including this postseason big fly.) Postseason home runs are not included, so Wood falls short of Baseball Reference’s all-time leaderboard for home runs by pitchers. He would’ve been immortalized alongside legends like Carlos Zambrano (24 homers), Madison Bumgarner (18) and Mike Hampton (16).

Wood’s home run left his bat at 101.5 mph that night, the seventh hardest-hit ball of the game and what would be one of the 10 hardest-hits balls of his career (since Statcast started tracking exit velocity). It was the first time he had hit a homer in more than two years, largely due to his transition out of a full-time starter’s workload after the 2014 season.

His excitement was palpable, evidenced by the fact he almost tripped over first base. (The Giants appealed that he missed the bag, but the home run call was upheld.)

Wood isn’t the only answer to the fun fact of which Cubs pitchers have homered in the postseason. In Game 3 of the 2016 NLDS Jake Arrieta went deep off Madison Bumgarner. Kerry Wood homered in Game 7 of the 2003 NLCS and Rick Sutcliffe homered off the Padres Eric Show in Game 1 of the 1984 NLCS. And for pitchers, the two “Woods” have impressive swings. Travis with his bulky elbow guard and Kerry with his emphatic bat drop.

NOTES

  • Before this, the last homer for Wood came in July 2014.
  • The first time Hendricks hit a ball over 100 mph was June 13 of 2016. He has only 6 total in his career over 100 mph, none in 2019.

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