Kyle Hendricks Was Less ‘Stuck,’ Threw Faster at End of 2017

Though he’s never been known as a fireballer, Kyle Hendricks’ velocity was startlingly low for most of 2017. For a while there, he was only averaging around 85 mph, a sharp decline from the 88 mph or so he was dishing out in 2016.

I had theorized at the time that the issues may have stemmed from a change in release point, something the pitcher more or less confirmed shortly thereafter. Ryan Davis, a contributor to us here at Cubs Insider and writer for Sporting News, talked with Hendricks about his velocity and throwing mechanics last season.

Hendricks explained that he was trying to fine-tune his mechanics around the time of his injury last season, which coincided with the velocity dip.

“I’ve been thinking about staying over the rubber better and getting over my front side,” Hendricks said. “But things have been changing. I’m such a routine-oriented guy that going on the DL and then coming off, my mechanics have been a little off. They’ve been changing game to game a little bit, my stride has been a little long at times, and my arm slot gets too high on me sometimes. But just trying to shorten up my stride, stay over the rubber better, and get my arm angle down.”

I bolded “stay over the rubber better” for a very specific reason here, and just because it was the second time Hendricks said it. To me, staying behind the rubber means maximizing torque generated. That, in turn, might lead to more explosiveness and thus more release extension (i.e., letting go of the pitch closer to home plate).

I wanted to see if Hendricks actually had better release extension as the year went on last year because his velocity was noticeably higher and within his career averages at the tail end of 2017. You can see that in the graph below, in which each column of dots is one start and each dot is one pitch.

Now let’s see if Hendricks’ extension was greater. Looking below, it does appear that Hendricks was indeed slightly more extended when he was throwing faster.

Of course, throwing faster is not just about release extension, and what contributes to velocity varies from pitcher to pitcher. But for Hendricks, it does appear that release extension permits him to throw faster, probably because it is a byproduct of more push off. Or at least that’s how I’m interpreting this.

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