I'm a bit unfamiliar with these new-fangled statistical analyses. 8⅓ IP, 17 hits, and a 9.72 ERA: I'm no SABR expert, but that's bad, right?
"Jim Johnson" bad. And the comparisons don't just end with the horrific numbers. If you've watched Liam Hendriks pitch, he has shared with 2014-Johnson the uncanny ability to give up "bad luck hits" such as bloops to LF, bouncers up the spine of the diamond, infield hits to deep SS -- balls that had they been hit the same way to a different spot would have been routine outs. And then the roof caves in, line drives ensue.
I liked the trade of Jesse Chavez for Liam Hendriks at the time and I still like it now. Mostly I liked it because Chavez is in the final year of his contract and the A's have Hendriks under contract for 4 seasons. I thought it was likely Chavez would be the better pitcher in 2016 -- at least the first half when he has historically been at his most dominant -- but that by 2019 the A's would have gotten the clear edge.
Of course this won't be the case if Hendriks doesn't turn it around. Let's take a look at what's going on with Hendriks...
I do think it's important to note that as great as Hendriks was in 2015, that was the exception year in his career so far. Prior to 2015, Hendriks was truly awful posting ERAs of 5.59 (2012 with MIN), 6.85 (2013 with KC), 4.66 (2013 with TOR), and 6.08 (2014 with TOR). He wasn't just bad, he was dreadful, allowing 201 hits over 165 IP.
The rub is that Hendriks was starting and it was a move to the bullpen that resurrected his career. In 2015, Hendriks gained a whopping 4 MPH on his fastball (from an average of around 90-91 MPH as a SP to 94.5 MPH out of the bullpen). Nonetheless, Hendriks has had all of one good season in his career, which is a relatively short track record at a position known for its year-to-year volatility.
But what a year, with 11 BBs and 71 Ks in 65 IP, a 2.92 ERA and a fastball that, by season's end, was touching 97 MPH.
This season? What the Eyeball Scout has noticed, as much as anything, is that while Hendriks' fastball has decent velocity (Fangraphs has it ranging from 90.5 MPH to 96.1 MPH and averaging a solid 94.1 MPH), what it lacks is much life. It looks pretty straight, pretty easy to pick up out his hand and track -- kind of the anti-Doolittle. It looks like a comfortable at bat for the hitter, which you would normally not say about a plus fastball (at least in terms of velocity). As usual, the batters will tell you more about your fastball than the radar gun will.
It's a conundrum because like Johnson, Hendriks has managed to combine good velocity with a strange combination of horrific luck and equally poor pitching. It's like every inning features two poorly hit singles and a ball blasted into the alley. How can someone be so unlucky and so bad at the same time?
You know who I would love to have in the bullpen right now? Jesse Chavez, who may well be a better reliever than Liam Hendriks. Chavez gets 94 MPH on his fastball out of the bullpen, and combined with his cutter, curve, and changeup, makes him potentially a plus reliever. Yet Chavez is still under contract only through 2016 and I would make this trade again if given the chance.
What to expect from Hendriks going forward? I kind of expect what I predicted at the time of the trade: like many relievers, Hendriks will be inconsistent from season to season and if the A's keep him for all 4 seasons he will have 2 very good ones, one mediocre one, and one either derailed by injury or by an inexplicable lack of success. Perhaps that season is 2016. Or hopefully Curt Young and Co. can get him right sooner rather than later.
Until then, what the A's have is their 7th reliever out of the bullpen, the one guy not used in games the A's have a good chance to win, and that is far from what they thought they were getting. At least he doesn't cost $10M.