Kyle Hendricks was one of the most profitable starting pitcher selections last year. Hendricks was drafted as the 57th overall starting pitcher off the board and turned in a top 10 season. He was able to accomplish this with subpar velocity due to pinpoint control and command, two change-ups and an improving curveball.
So who is a candidate to have a similar breakout?
I would submit that Milwaukee’s Zach Davies has many similar qualities to Kyle Hendricks and could take a similar route to becoming one of the biggest starting pitching values and submit a top 30 starting pitcher this year.
In terms repertoire, they employ basically the same set of pitches. Davies and Hendricks both throw a four seam fastball, a sinker, change-up, curve and cutter. Both pitchers employ elite change-ups (Hendricks actually throws two different types) with swinging strike percentages in excess of 22%. Their fastballs are both below average in terms of velocity, but play up because of command. Hendricks has shown an ability to generate called strikes, but Davies also has that skill, especially low in the zone and outside.
Like Hendricks, Davies has exhibited pristine control. Davies issued just over 2 walks per 9 innings last season and was particularly stingy in the second half, surrendering just 1.62 BB/9 in the second half. In each of the last two seasons, Hendricks has issued 2.15 BB/9 and 2.08 BB/9. Both pitchers also tend to work ahead in the count with a First Strike Percentage of over 60%.
Last year, Davies was also similar to the 2015 version of Hendricks in the area of plate discipline. As the table* below shows:
|SP||O-Sw%||Z-Sw%||Sw%||O-Ct%||Z – Ct%||Ct %||Z%||F-Str%||SwStr%|
Davies does lag behind Kyle Hendricks in generating groundballs. Davies’s 45.5% total is lower than Hendricks in 2015 (51.3%) and 2016 (48.4%). However, based on the amount that he works down in the zone, Davies should be generating more groundballs. This is important to the next step for Davies, who was projected to be a heavy groundball pitcher. If Davies can generate more grounders, then his homer issue becomes less pronounced and damaging.
Through sequencing and location, Hendricks has been among the best in the league at generating soft contact and limiting hard contact. This is the other principal area where these two pitchers differ as Davies has given up hard contact at 33.8% clip, which is 32nd out 137 starters with at least 100 innings. Davies’s penchant for surrendering hard contact helps explain the higher HR/9 (1.10 v. Hendricks’s 0.71 in 2016, and 0.85 in 2015).
It is unlikely that Davies, or a similar type player, makes the leap that Hendricks achieved in 2016. It simply does not happen that often. However, Davies does have a very similar skillset and might just need some sequencing or pitch usage adjustments from limiting or even correcting his hard contact issues altogether. If he managed to correct the problem altogether, he just might be Kyle Hendricks 2.0.
My Projection: 200 innings, 3.48 ERA, 7.9 K/9, 2.15 BB/9, 1.19 WHIP
*Information in the table from FanGraphs.com