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What does Liam Hendriks need to do to succeed?

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Liam Hendriks delivering a pitch in SeptemberLiam Hendriks could very well be one of the five starting pitchers the Minnesota Twins take north when camp breaks at the end of the month.

He has the minor league numbers to show that he capable of retiring batters. He just needs to do the same against major league hitters. One area he needs to improve on in 2013 is achieving better result when he releases a slider from his fingertips.

Coming off the season he had last year, no one would blame him from shelving the pitch indefinitely. Just under 200 times, Hendriks twirled his slider towards home. He retired a batter on that pitch in less than 5% of those occasions – the lowest rate in baseball with a minimum of 100 pitches in 2012. On seven instances, that slider became a home run. Admittedly, six other pitchers managed to surrender more jack jobs on the slide piece but those pitchers also threw the breaking ball at least 300 more times than Hendriks did.

Those are some stomach-churning results.

A 2012 interview with MILB.com’s Andrew Pentis may help illuminate Hendriks’ struggles with the pitch. According to the interview, the then Rochester Red Wing told Pentis that he had acquired the slider in 2008 from former reliever Graeme Lloyd, another hurler of Australian descent who was coaching down under. Hendriks said that the slider is his “fourth pitch”, behind his two fastballs and change, and he likes to throw it in on lefties and away to righties.

When it comes to the latter, therein lies the problem. Last year I examined some of Hendriks’ tendencies and video to find that his closed landing foot causes an inability to hit the outer-half of the plate to righties as effectively as he would hitting the inside corner. Here we see his heat map of where his slider crossed the plate:

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While it appears that he is trying to work away with his slider -- as evidenced by his sporadic spotting down and away -- the majority of his offerings fall within the zone, specifically in the dreaded “middle-middle” location. These are easily feasted upon and have led to a .341 average against (15-for-44) with seven of those hits becoming home runs in 2012.

His second start of the spring, a three-inning affair, showed promise that his future remains bright. Following the game, Hendriks told reporters that he had been working on his mechanics:

“My leg kick is not as high. I want to make sure I stay back and don’t leak. It helps me to stay back. If I kick too high, I rotate a little bit and stay more closed. This helps me open up a little bit.”
Hendriks continued by saying he did want to remain closed “a little bit” to add to the deception. That may not be a bad thing. After all, it may be a part of this deception which allowed him to maintain a reverse split: a .786 OPS facing lefties and a .998 OPS facing righties. But the improvement in the motion could be enough to allow for better placement of his slider – something that he told reporters felt better after his second spring start.

With sustained success in the majors his ultimate goal, finding a stable breaking offering to throw to right-handers will be somewhat critical. If this mechanical adjustment can help facilitate that, then he may be able to replicate some of his minor league triumphs at the big league level.

Comments

  1. J-Dog Dungan's Avatar
    It's good to see that Hendriks is working on making himself a better pitcher. He has the skills to be a #3-#4 type guy; he just needs to realize his full potential against MLB hitters like he has against AAA hitters.
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