Oakland A’s relief pitcher Liam Hendriks has been named to the 2019 American League All-Star team. He is a replacement for Charlie Morton of the Rays, who is scheduled to start for Tampa Bay on Sunday just two days before the big game.
This is the first All-Star berth for Hendriks, who debuted in the majors in 2011. The 30-year-old is now in his fourth season with the A’s, and his sparkling performance this summer has recently helped him work his way in Oakland’s closer role after injuries and inconsistency befell Blake Treinen. Just two days ago, Hendriks was named the AL Reliever of the Month for June, after tossing 15 innings with just one run and 22 strikeouts.
Hendriks, 2019: 1.29 ERA, 48⅔ ip, 60 Ks, 17 BB, 1 HR, 2.18 FIP
To simply note that this is the first All-Star berth for Hendriks would be an understatement, though. Just over a year ago, in late June of 2018, the right-hander was designated for assignment by the A’s, and he then cleared waivers when no other team chose to claim him. Before that, his MLB career had begun with four years as an ineffective starter, then one tantalizingly great season as a reliever for the Blue Jays, and then a couple more years of mediocrity in Oakland’s bullpen.
After his DFA last summer, Hendriks remained in the A’s organization and made it back up to Oakland in September. Since then he’s been lights-out, as he finished last year with 13 innings of two-run ball (1.38 ERA) and even drew the opener assignment in the Wild Card Game. He took the loss in that postseason game, but got back on the horse this year and has converted 10-of-11 save/hold chances while rising from middle relief to setup and now the closer spot. In 61⅔ innings since his DFA last summer, he’s got a 1.31 ERA and 2.26 FIP.
“He’s doing a lot of things better,” said A’s manager Bob Melvin in late June. “He’s throwing harder. His long toss, he’s got a new routine as far as his throwing goes. He’s got a better breaking ball, he can throw it for a strike, it used to just be kind of a chase pitch. He’s quicker to the plate now with guys on base, he’s throwing a curveball, so it’s basically three pitches with the slider and the curveball. So it’s a lot of things, and it’s a drastic difference from what you’ve seen in the past to now.”
The selection of Hendriks gives the A’s two reps on the 2019 All-Star team, as third baseman Matt Chapman already made it as a reserve. This is the second straight year that the A’s closer has gotten the call, but last summer it was Treinen, who this season has battled elbow and shoulder issues and struggled with his control. The closer role is “Hendriks’ job now,” reports Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle, who notes that the team will keep him there as long as he keeps pitching like this.
Hendriks joins a long line of A’s relievers to make the All-Star team. Before Treinen in 2018, they sent Sean Doolittle in 2014, Grant Balfour in 2013, Ryan Cook in 2012, and Andrew Bailey in 2009-10, just in the last decade. Click here for the team’s full All-Star history.
Wow. Read that headline a few more times, and try to imagine what it would have sounded like to you a year ago, or even two or three years ago. Or heck, even two or three months ago. Hendriks’ ascent has been truly remarkable.
And yet, it also hasn’t been completely out of nowhere. This is the quality pitcher we hoped the A’s were stealing from the Blue Jays in that Jesse Chavez trade, and in fact his FIP was even better in 2015 for Toronto than it is this year. I’m not saying anyone was predicting this breakout in 2019, nor faulting anyone (everyone?) who gave up on him over the course of the last few seasons, but the point is he’s been excellent before and once upon a time Athletics Nation had high hopes for him. It just took a few extra years for it all to pan out.
Most of all, this is lesson number eight million in the volatility of relievers, whether that’s Hendriks going from DFA to All-Star, or Treinen going from All-Star to enigma. They morph from bad to great to bad to great in the blink of an eye, more so than any other position in the sport, thanks partly to working in tiny samples of just 60ish innings per season and a few batters per game. Investing too much in a bullpen, whether in terms of money or hope, can be a recipe for disappointment, and writing off talented arms who have shown flashes of promise can lead to regret when they finally click in another uniform.
However, the best part of this news has nothing to do with Hendriks’ roller coaster career path. Rather, it’s his nationality — he’s the third Australian-born player ever to be named an All-Star, but somehow only the second Australian-born A’s closer to do so, after Balfour. (The other was catcher Dave Nilsson, for the Brewers in 1999.) This also seems like the moment to remind everyone that he’s the first and only MLB player ever to have the first name Liam.
Congrats to Hendriks on this well-deserved honor! May we all get in the habit of calling you “All-Star closer Liam Hendriks” for years to come.