• Liam Hendriks making final pitch for rotation spot

    On Thursday night, the Minnesota Twins showcased two of their potential starters for their remaining rotation vacancy – Liam Hendriks and Cole Devries.

    Together, the pair silenced the Yankees’ bats over eight innings, allowing just one unearned run over eight innings.

    Of course, spring training is not about the results but the process. For Hendriks, that process included peppering in more non-fastballs. As was discussed during the Fox Sports North broadcast, the Twins staff were looking for Hendriks to mix in more of his secondary offerings after he became what they felt was too reliant on his fastball during his last outing.

    “It was coming out of my hand well,” Hendriks told reports afterwards. “Curveball was good. Mainly slider to the righties, curveball to the lefties."

    Perhaps Hendriks’ biggest issue right now is his inability to shut down right-handed hitters. Last year, lefties slapped him around to the tune of .768 OPS. Righties, meanwhile, torched him with a 1.020 OPS. Among starters with a minimum of 30 innings against right-handed hitters, Hendriks’ .351 batting average was the highest in baseball.

    Against righties, he is a two-pitch pitcher, arming himself with a fastball and a slider. The slider, up to this point in his career, has been a detriment to his success. According to BaseballProspectus.com’s leaderboard, Hendriks’ slider created the lowest percentage of outs in baseball last year. His slider had “put away” just 4.1% of hitters on the times it was thrown, making it terribly ineffective. C.C. Sabathia, a Yankee sitting across the field from Hendriks yesterday, managed to retire 32% of his opponents on that pitch – the highest rate in baseball. It does not take a math major to realize there is a huge chasm between the results of Sabathia’s offering and the one Hendriks spins.

    Did we learn anything new from this most recent spring start? Probably not. After all, the Yankees only threw out three right-handed hitters against Hendriks: Kevin Youkilis, Eduardo Nunez and Francisco Cervelli. A literal non-Murderer’s Row of Yankee sluggers.

    Nevertheless, to his credit, with the exception of the fourth-inning walk to the shaved Youkilis, Hendriks did his job – none of the aforementioned righties reached base.

    I’ve cited several times over that one of Hendriks’s biggest issues is his slider and the coaching staff likely recognizes this as well. During his last bullpen session prior to the start, the 24 year-old struggled with his secondary offerings’ location.

    “During my bullpen, during my offspeed, I could not locate a single thing,” Hendriks told reporters. “It was disgraceful. [Anderson] said ‘Stay back, stay relaxed.’”

    Unquestionably, the curveball looked sharp. He maintained a strong 12-to-6 break with this pitch and kept the Yankees’ left-handed unit at bay, one that included renowned sluggers like Travis Hafner and World Baseball Classic winner, Robinson Cano. Hendriks’ fastball command helped set up that giant breaking ball and kept the lefties off-balanced for the duration of his outing. But there were occasions in while he seemed to lack the confidence in that pitch.

    During an early battle with Hafner, the Aussie held a 2-2 advantage but shook catcher Drew Butera off twice before throwing a fastball (a ball) and then followed it up with a second fastball (fouled off) before missing with a curve. The shake-off could have been a cat-and-mouse game of shaking off a fastball only to set up Hafner for the fastball still, however, his admittance of command issues of his breaking stuff in his recent pen session only seems to reaffirm the notion that Hendriks shook off a curve.

    If 2012 has any bearings on it, Hendriks has demonstrated that he shies away from his breaking stuff when he is ahead of the hitters. Look at his pitch breakdown from BrooksBaseball.com from last year:


    What Hendriks needs is more confidence in his secondary pitches. He pitches backwards by throwing his non-fastballs out-front but he fails in the sense that he does not have a put-away pitch. Spotting his fastball will only get him so far. And, to this point in his career, that has meant success at Triple-A.

    With Samuel Deduno making a strong case for one of the two positions open in the rotation, the race is tightening between Hendriks and Devries.
    This article was originally published in blog: Liam Hendriks making final pitch for rotation spot started by Parker Hageman
    Comments 7 Comments
    1. fairweather's Avatar
      fairweather -
      Why is he afraid to throw the curve to right handed hitters? His slider is complete garbage and should be canned until further notice. I do think Liam can be decent if he changes speed but he still has no true out pitch.
    1. ericchri's Avatar
      ericchri -
      Quote Originally Posted by fairweather View Post
      Why is he afraid to throw the curve to right handed hitters? His slider is complete garbage and should be canned until further notice. I do think Liam can be decent if he changes speed but he still has no true out pitch.
      I couldn't help wondering the same thing. Obviously the movement is different such that they feel one suits the lefties or righties, but with such poor success from his slider, isn't another breaking ball he seems to have more control of going to end up more effective anyway?
    1. Parker Hageman's Avatar
      Parker Hageman -
      Hendriks' issue seems to mimic that of Detroit's Rick Porcello. This spring, the Tigers wanted Porcello to refine his slider but he has since moved away from throwing that pitch and thrown his curveball more, which has been a better overall pitch in a small sample size.

      In late February, Porcello told Jason Beck that:

      “Right now, I’m just working on one breaking ball,” Porcello said after Wednesday’s outing, “just working on getting the command of one and establishing that, and we’ll go from there.”
      Porcello's had a heck of a spring since embracing the curve - in 18 innings he's struck out 18 and walked none. This Fangraphs.com piece shows what that hook is like which is very similar to what we've seen out of Hendriks.

      My advice to Hendriks would be to do something similar to Porcello and work on the curve and shelve the slider for now.
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      Quote Originally Posted by Parker Hageman View Post
      Hendriks' issue seems to mimic that of Detroit's Rick Porcello. This spring, the Tigers wanted Porcello to refine his slider but he has since moved away from throwing that pitch and thrown his curveball more...
      Jeff Jones has been Detroit's pitching coach since mid 2011, presuming this is who is meant by "the Tigers" and what they want. Maybe I expect too much of a coach to just come in and fix what's wrong with all his pitchers, but how much confidence should we have that this is the missing key for Porcello, versus whatever they have tried in the past couple of years already? 18 innings of Spring success seems like weak evidence to be trying to apply to another pitcher.
    1. Parker Hageman's Avatar
      Parker Hageman -
      18 innings of Spring success seems like weak evidence to be trying to apply to another pitcher.
      I am not suggesting because of Porcello's 18 innings of success that Hendriks' should do the same. Hendriks should do that same because of the simplification of his repertoire and the addition by subtraction of removing his slider from the arsenal.
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      Can he succeed as a two-pitch starter, regardless of whether the curve or the slider is number two? What is the process for coaching in the minors that stamped him as ready for a trial as a starter in the majors? Seems like inmates running the asylum, with no one telling this prospect, "look, I don't care that you are getting these AA guys out, you have to develop your change-up [or whatever pitch seems called for] so you can throw it for strikes even when behind the count, or you're not moving up next season. And then you'll be stuck with looking at my ugly face telling you the same things for another year - is that what you want?"
    1. Jim H's Avatar
      Jim H -
      I remember several years ago when Matt Garza was in the minors, there was a mini controvercy over him not using his secondary pitches in the minors. The Twins wanted him to work on them, he felt he didn't need them to get minor league hitters out, so he threw mostly fastballs. It is interesting on how many pitches a pitcher needs to succeed in the majors. Blyleven said last night that he only had 2. Santana had 3 but usually only used 2. Silva, when he first came to the Twins, really only had one. Mariano Rivera only throws his fastball, though of course he is a reliever.

      I think it depends. It depends on how good your pitches are. If you have a great fastball, and a good secondary pitch such as slider or curve, you can probably get by with that. Most pitchers likely need 3 pitches to succeed in the majors, if none are truly dominant.

      I also suspect that you often learn or develop that 3rd pitch if you get to majors and find out you can't get by with 2. That is what happened to Radke, who developed his changeup after he got to the majors.
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