Daily Cubs Recap: A closer look at the brilliance of The Professor
today at 7:19 am
If 2020 was a normal year instead of the horror show it has been, I would be writing a Daily Cubs Minors Recap right now. Instead, I’m forced to do something different. I’m forced to turn my focus almost completely to the MLB level if I want to write at all this season. So, here I am, and here is my plan:
I’m going to utilize my framework for the Minors Recap and use it to do a deeper dive into the Major Leaguers. Readers familiar with the Minors Recap know that in addition to the basic game recaps, I keep track of trends, transactions, and most importantly, try to present a deeper look at a different prospect each day. My challenge now is translating that template to the Major League action, where readers a far more familiar with the players involved.
The good news is I have a ton more data to work with at the MLB level. Oh, the video and pitcher/hitter data that I dream about being published for Minor League action, even in a delayed fashion, is available in near-real time for the Majors. This will allow me to dig a little deeper than I ever been able to on prospects.
I’ll be doing some experimentation over the first couple of weeks as I settle on a layout and determine what readers are responding to and what I enjoy writing most.
Last Game: Cubs 3, Brewers 0
This Opening Day performance by Kyle Hendricks may rank up there with any by a Cubs player in history. Depending on your age you’ll have witnessed the Tuffy Rhodes three-homer game against Doc Gooden, or the Kosuke Fukudome game winning shot in his debut. I’ve been wracking my brain and the only game that came to mind as far as a better Opening Day pitching performance by a Cub in my lifetime was the near no-hitter hurled by Jose Guzman in his Cubs debut, but it turned out my memory was faulty because it happened in game two of the 1993 season, not the opener –which was started by Mike Morgan, who lost to none other than Greg Maddux in his Braves debut (sad face,… obligatory f— Larry Hines and so forth).
Hendricks did the Brewers dirty, and did so without ever hitting 90 mph on the gun. His sinker and changeup were dancing like we’ve come to expect. He mixed his four-seamer up in the zone appropriately. A nice early game surprise was the sharp break on his curveball. We saw flashes of it in his final exhibition tune up, but it was nice to see him incorporate it fully in a real game. He’s throwing that pitch better than he ever has, and if he has found a fourth reliable offering, the league better watch out.
On the topic of his curve though, it should be noted that Hendricks did go away from the pitch as the evening wore on. He seemed to lose a little feel for it, as the velo on it fluctuated the further into the game he went. This may be a sign Hendricks hasn’t fully locked in that offering, so don’t be surprised if he enters some starts this year without any feel for it at all. It’s something I’ll be keeping an eye on this season.
But even if the curve does falter in some outings, we know Hendricks can remain effective with his other three pitches. There was no better example than the way he handled Christian Yelich:
Hendricks worked him up-and-down, as well as in-and-out with his fastballs and change, inducing two ground balls while also striking out Yelich twice.
According to Statcast, Hendricks allowed just two hard hit balls all night, both to Orlando Arcia.
HIs Fangraphs Game Score of 86 was the 4th best of his career, behind a pair of other complete game shutouts against the Cards in 2019 and the Padres back in 2015, each of which rated as 89, as well as an 87 he earned in a complete game against the Phillies in 2016. His .527 WPA last night was the second best of his career, behind only a .530 he posted over 8 innings of one run ball on the road against a potent Astros lineup last year.
Injuries, Updates, and Trends
There’s not much to track here one game into the season. I already touched on the recent signings of Derek Dietrich and Ryan LaMarre yesterday morning.
- DH count: Caratini 1
- Thanks to Cyle Hendricks the Cubs were not forced to go to their pen and have to deal with the three batter minimum rule, but we did see the Brewers deploy lefty specialist Alex Claudio in a situation where it came into play. With the Rizzo-Baez-Schwarber trio due up to start the 6th, Claudio remained in after retiring Rizzo to lead off the inning. Baez smoked a ground ball that resulted in an error by Brewers first baseman Justin Smoak before Claudio struck out Schwarber. It is easy to imagine, especially with the current expanded rosters, the Brewers would not have allowed Claudio to face Baez had Rizzo managed to reach. But with the new rule, the Brewers were forced to stick with him regardless.