When Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw hit the disabled list with a serious back injury in late June, it was fairly certain that the three-time National League Cy Young Award recipient would not be in contention for the prestigious honor this season.
What was not fairly certain, however, is who would.
Sure, there is Max Scherzer, the Washington Nationals ace who would have been much more common in talks for the award last season if it weren’t for Jake Arrieta, the Chicago Cubs’ star who dazzled everyone with his historical performance in the second half to take the Cy Young Award from Kershaw, winner of the prize in 2011, 2013, and 2014, and Kershaw’s then-teammate Zack Greinke.
Although Scherzer and Arrieta are in the midst of seasons that no pitcher would be ashamed to have on his résumé, neither appears to be the frontrunner for the Cy Young Award. Instead, the frontrunner is Kyle Hendricks, a teammate of Arrieta’s who deserves all of the attention he can draw.
With eight no-hit innings against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on Monday night, the 26-year-old Hendricks lowered his MLB-best earned run average to 2.03, a mark that’s nearly a half-run lower than New York Mets ace Noah Syndergaard, who boasts a very respectable 2.48.
Hendricks, despite sharing a starting rotation with Arrieta and Jon Lester, has arguably been the Cubs’ best pitcher this season in terms of consistency. Over his last 20 starts, Hendricks has surrendered no more than three earned runs in any outing and has allowed more than three earned runs just one time in 27 starts this season.
Batters have had a tough time while facing Hendricks this season, as the right-hander has held his opposition to a collective .196 batting mark through 173 innings. In his 180 innings of regular-season work last year, Hendricks’ opposition batted .244, over 70 points higher than they currently are this year.
Hendricks is a unique pitcher in the sense that he doesn’t overpower hitters with a great deal of speed. With a fastball that clocks no higher than 93 MPH consistently, Hendricks relies on the pitch to primarily complement his changeup, a pitch that has developed into one of the nastiest in the league.
Hendricks’ changeup sits anywhere from 80-82 MPH and features significant movement inward on right-handed batters and paints the outside corner against left-handed batters. Hendricks’ ability to command and locate his changeup so professionally has allowed him to get away with not possessing a high-90s fastball.
Hendricks may have one of the best cases yet to convince the baseball world that a pitcher can be successful without lighting up the radar gun, given his sharp statistics and polished pitch arsenal.
Now, he just needs some hardware for his mantle.