On July 5th, the Cubs traded Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Oakland Athletics in a deal that was designed to further bolster a thick farm system, bringing aboard prospects Addison Russell and Billy McKinney along with the young arm of Dan Straily. With the team out of contention for 2014 and having dealt 40 percent of their starting rotation, it made sense to give some of the farmhands at Triple-A Iowa a shot to experience the bright lights of the majors. The team brought up young Kyle Hendricks and NPB veteran Tsuyoshi Wada to fill those empty slots, and the new recruits have not only held down the fort, but have actually out-pitched the men they were replacing in the eight weeks since the trade.

Stats since July 5th, 2014

GS IP ERA K % BB % H % HR %
Samardzija + Hammel 20 122 2/3 4.11 18.6% 5.7% 22.2% 4.0%
Hendricks + Wada 19 114 2.37 17.1% 5.7% 21.1% 2.0%

Most of the component numbers are eerily similar, and the escalated long=ball rate has led to the overinflated ERA for the Samardzija/Hammel combo, but Hendricks and Wada have been more effective than anybody outside of Chicago could have anticipated. The Cubs have the brightest collection of position-player prospects in the game, but the long-term outlook on the mound is much murkier, so it could go a long way toward accelerating the team's rebuilding effort if these two players can prove to be long-term assets.

Let's dive a bit deeper into their profiles to better understand the men behind the numbers.

Kyle Hendricks

GS IP ERA K % BB % H % HR %
AAA 17 102 2/3 3.59 23.3% 5.5% 23.6% 1.2%
MLB 10 62 1/3 2.02 13.7% 4.8% 21.8% 1.2%

Hendricks was having a strong season with the Iowa Cubs, but he has been over his head statistically in his first exposure to the bigs. He is giving up a ton of contact and the strikeouts are way down, and though he is likely benefiting from having a superior defense behind him to field the copious groundballs he induces, the fact of the matter is that many of these players (Arismendy Alcantara, Javier Baez) are the same gloves that were on the field with him in Triple-A. The ultra low home-run rate has carried over, and though it is not an accident when a sinkerballer keeps the ball in the yard, it is reasonable to expect some upward regression as MLB hitters get exposure to the 24-year-old Hendricks.

Pitch Type Count Freq Velo (mph) pfx HMov (in.) pfx VMov (in.) H. Rel (ft.) V. Rel (ft.)
Fourseam 55 6.22% 89.70 -1.17 7.27 -2.67 6.19
Sinker 489 55.32% 88.41 -5.32 4.16 -2.58 6.26
Change 149 16.86% 79.17 -3.26 4.32 -2.51 6.32
Curve 69 7.81% 76.86 5.77 -3.13 -2.57 6.28
Cutter 117 13.24% 85.77 1.09 3.35 -2.55 6.29

Hendricks does not throw especially hard, but virtually every pitch that comes out of his hand has some sort of movement. His bread-and-butter is a high-80's sinker that has late drop and slight arm-side run, with frequency and action that allows his fourseam and cutter to play up as batters become trained into the sinker trajectory. The best weapon in his quiver is a steep changeup with late tumble that gets a lot of hitters to swing over it. Opposing batters are hitting just .200 when they put the change in play and Hendricks has used el cambio to generate 16 of his 34 strikeouts thus far this season, as he's more likely to use the off-speed when he gets two strikes on a hitter.

Mechanics Report Card

Balance 45
Momentum 55
Torque 35
Posture 50
Repetition 60
Overall C

Hendricks is noted for his excellent repetition of mechanical timing, a critical element of his success that forms the foundation of his command. He actually lacks the stability that typically comes paired with such consistency. From the windup, Hendricks tucks into maximum leg lift and hunches over during the stride phase. He lowers his center of gravity after max lift with a drop-and-drive approach, and though none of these inefficiencies is egregious, the collective imbalance hurts his grade. The right-hander utilizes a closed stride that takes him from his setup on the left side of the rubber to a release-point position that is lined up with the middle lane, and the delivery culminates in a fair degree of spine tilt that falls in line with a league-average pitcher.

His repetition has mostly been impressive in his first few months, the key element of which is the consistency of his momentum. Hendricks has an above-average burst to the plate, and he has a timing pattern that works from both the stretch and windup. He does lower the leg lift from the stretch, going from a letter-high lift to one that stays about a foot off the ground, and he overcomes a typical timing disparity of about 0.l seconds. The weakest link in his kinetic chain is torque, an element that contributes to his modest velocity. He creates some separation with a twist of the upper body, but Hendricks rotates the lower half very late in the sequence, with hips and shoulder that fire close together.

Tsuyoshi Wada

GS IP ERA K % BB % H % HR %
AAA 18 113 2/3 2.77 25.9% 6.0% 22.4% 2.8%
MLB 9 51.7 2.79 21.2% 6.7% 20.2% 2.9%

Wada is a control artist, similar to his right-handed partner on the Cubs' chain gang, but the southpaw is also 33 years old and thus represents more of a trade chit than a potential member of the next championship club on the north side. He spent nine seasons in NPB prior to crossing the Pacific, and was in the Baltimore farm system for two years before Chicago acquired him this off-season. Wada's numbers in his first taste of the majors have been remarkably similar to what he posted in the Pacific Coast League, where he conquered the harsh hitting environments to post the third-lowest ERA among pitchers with more than 70 innings pitched (the other two are Jimmy Nelson and Mike Fiers, both of whom are now plying their trade at the highest level).

Pitch Type Count Freq Velo (mph) pfx HMov (in.) pfx VMov (in.) H. Rel (ft.) V. Rel (ft.)
Fourseam 319 38.86% 90.35 5.74 10.21 1.88 5.34
Sinker 154 18.76% 89.99 8.02 8.27 1.87 5.34
Slider 167 20.34% 82.15 -1.64 1.91 2.09 5.13
Curve 36 4.38% 73.45 -3.77 -3.65 1.98 5.19
Split 141 17.17% 82.45 7.09 1.71 2.03 5.18

Wada and Hendricks have a similar velocity profile, but how they use velocity is quite different. Wada maintains a similar approach regardless of count, and aside from pocketing the splitter versus left-handed batters (in favor of some extra sliders), he maintains a pretty similar approach against hitters on both sides of the plate. The lefty's secondaries include a shallow splitter and a sweeping slider with plenty of lateral movement. He tries to work the corners with his fastball, and his ability to do so has caused the fourseamer to be his best strikeout weapon thus far in the majors. He has been known to elevate the heat, and it will be interesting to see if batters begin to punish those pitches more frequently in the future.

Mechanics Report Card

Balance 60
Momentum 50
Torque 45
Posture 65
Repetition 60
Overall B-

Wada follows a mechanical pattern that is popular among pitchers from NPB, with a distinct pause at the top of his delivery before re-engaging the second gear of momentum. His lateral stability is very strong, but Wada incorporates some drop-and-drive with his NPB pause to lower his center of gravity and disrupt what could be an elite grade for balance. The lateral balance stays solid through release point, finishing with excellent posture that is consistent on all of his offerings.

His momentum is about average, even when looking at the windup (with the stop at the top) thanks to a big gear shift, and his speed to the plate is much quicker when pitching from the stretch. This creates a big timing discrepancy between stretch and windup, which can potentially wreak havoc on a pitcher's command, though Wada has mastered both timing patterns to score well in the repetition category. The torque is heavy on the hips with a big delay of trunk rotation and a small twist of the upper-half, resulting in modest arm speed, but the arm action is consistent across the various pitches in his arsenal.

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Jim Deshaies (Cubs announcer and extremely funny guy) made an interesting points about Hendricks the other night. Hendricks is very smart (Dartmouth product) and really goes to town between starts on analyzing the upcoming opposition. I do wonder if these traits might give him a sustained boost even as his stuff is somewhat underwhelming overall. Also, when you watch him pitch, he throws a ton of first pitch strikes. I have a feeling that when hitters adjust, he'll be a step ahead, and use that change to get a lot of weak contact and quick at bats.
The dead horse that I have beating for quite some time is that pitching is plentiful and that there is very little difference in performance, at least right now, between Jeff Samardzija or Jason Hammel and any number of previously unknown bodies that have been toiling away at any number of backwaters in the minors. Billy Beane's apparent misunderstanding of this fact is causing great apprehension and gnashing of teeth in Oakland. He has found out that John Lester can lose 4-0 and 2-1 just as easily as Jesse Chavez can. This is difficult to understand because it has been clearly apparent, for some time, that hitting is disappearing as an American art form and should be the sought after commodity in the game as it stands now. It has reached a crescendo recently as perceived stiff after perceived stiff, BP calls them replacement level or organizational depth(think Shane Greene), comes up and runs off a series of quality starts. The number of exceptionally low hit games has exploded to the point where there is little notice even when a no-hitter is pitched. While, in no way am I claiming that great pitchers are not better than Shane Greene, it seems clear that the gap between the Kershaw's and Lester's of the world and the Wada's and Chavez's has shrunk considerably.
Following up on the previous comment, the other side of the story has to be hitting. Is it just so terrible that even replacement level pitchers can get enough "major league" caliber hitters out to hang around long enough to actually get some wins? It certainly looks that way. As a long, long standing, dyed in the wool, Red Sox fan I am enduring a season that boggles the mind. The lineup has featured Will Middlebrooks, who looks as lost at the plate as anybody I have ever seen. Jackie Bradley, Jr. who has fooled me completely by stinking the joint up after looking like he had game and Xander Bogaerts whose performance after the ill conceived (I could use other words here but I don't use such language) signing of Stephen Drew has set a new nadir in performance. From June 8th through the end of August he went through a 33-222-.149 period. I guess that is what is called a slump! In baseball there are 38 players with over 100 PA's that are below the Mendoza Line. Maybe it should now be called the Olt Line and lowered to an incomprehensible .139 in over 200 PA's. The highest BA in the NL belongs to Ben Revere who is such a weak offensive player that he is on my Hacking Mass team. Is the bad hitting simply a change in approach? Is a K simply seen as an out and a swing for the fences mentality on every count a reason or my private reason that the umpiring is so bad that pitchers are getting away with murder. I am anxiously waiting for a pitch in the dirt to be called a strike. There have been some close ones. Whatever the reason the balance between hitting and pitching is as skewed as it has been since 1968 and it is time for baseball to look at the situation before it gets even worse.