Liam Hendriks: DFA to Lights-out Closer in Oakland
Liam Hendriks, a native of Australia, was signed by the Twins in 2007 where he made he debut for the Gulf Coast Twins. He quickly made his way through the Twins farm system. He made his major league debut in 2011 where he made four starts and had a 6.17 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, and 1.16 HR/9. He never really showed promise and was later DFA’d by the Twins in 2013 when they signed Phil Hughes. He bounced around the league and it was not until 2015 when he landed with the A’s. In fact, he was DFA’d by the A’s last year before accepting his assignment to Triple-A. Going into this year, Blake Treinen had a stranglehold on the closer job in Oakland. Treinen had an amazing season and there was little doubt he would lose his role. Unfortunately, injury and the regression caught up with him and Liam Hendriks took over. But how did the native Australian make it from failed starter in Minnesota to closer in Oakland?
Last year, Hendriks’ four-seam had a 0.286/0.367/0.452 with a 7.9 SwStk%. Now? Batters are hitting 0.221/0.272/0.293 with a 13.7% SwStk. So, what has he done to improve the pitch? The first thing I found was the location of the pitch.
Last year, he was throwing it right down main street. Not ideal. So where is he throwing the pitch this year?
While he is still throwing some right down the middle, he is using the corners and top of the zone more. The zone% is pretty much the same from year to year, 63.7% to 63.8% respectively. However, Hendriks is getting batters to swing more, 47.9% to 51.2%, and make less contact, 83.5% to 73.3%. Another factor in Hendriks’ improvement is velocity.
You can see two spikes here. He moved into a reliever role in 2015 but interesting, you see another spike from 2018 to 2019. His average velocity is up almost two ticks this year from 94.7 MPH to 96.2 MPH. He is also getting a bit more spin on the pitch. His four-seam gets 2359 RPM, which is a career-best for him.
Hendriks, like most relievers, is a two-pitch pitcher. His second offering is a devastating slider which he uses 22.2% of the time. Batters are hitting a paltry 0.154 with a 0.231 SLG. With an xBA and xSLG of 0.156 and 0.203 respectively, he is not necessarily getting lucky with the pitch. He typically throws it down and away to righties and down and in to lefties.
What is impressive is how many swings and misses Hendriks gets with his slider. He throws it outside the zone 76% of the time and gets batters to swing outside of the zone 46.6% of the time. When they swing, they only make contact 34.6% of the time with an average exit velocity of 84.6 MPH. In fact, right-handed batters whiff 50% while left-handed batters whiff 48.1% of the time.
Based on velocity, it is in the top five for all qualified relievers and it has increased as the season has gone on.
In April, the slider was sitting 87.4 MPH and now he is slinging it at 89.1 MPH. Gaining almost two ticks is pretty impressive. To go along with the increased velocity, he has also Increased his spin rate. In April, he was getting an average of 2128 RPM and now he is averaging 2178 RPM.
Increased velocity plus an increased spin rate equals more swinging strikes.
The increase in strikeouts from an out-of-nowhere closer reliever reminds me of the breakout of Kirby Yates last year.
Pitch Mix Remix
It is not just an increase in velocity that has brought Hendriks success this year. It is also a change in pitch mix in all counts.
Last year, he was mainly using the slider in two-strike counts and he using his two-seam fast ball as well. While the two-seam was not a bad pitch, batters were hitting 0.143 with a 0.143 SLG, it only had a 5.9 K%. Now look at this year.
The two-seam fastball is gone and he is using his curveball in most two-strike counts. He only uses the curve 7.2% of the time but it is a devastating pitch. Batters are hitting 0.56 with a .222 SLG and it has an eye-popping 83.3 K% and 0 BB%!
If Hendriks is able to keep the velocity increase and this pitch mix, he should be a sneaky good value next year in your drafts.
Featured Image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)