Liam Hendriks was found money for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2015. After being dealt to the Kansas City Royals along with catcher Erik Kratz for Danny Valencia in July of 2014, the Blue Jays re-acquired him just three months later in another minor trade. He seemed to be little more than AAA rotation depth, which was fine and necessary. Instead, Hendriks discovered his power arm.
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Thrust into a bullpen role, the short bursts allowed Hendriks to max out his pitches without worry of enduring through 6.0+ innings. This led the Australian to a career-best 2.92 ERA over 64.2 innings of relief work, and gave Toronto a much-needed upgrade in the long man role from the likes of Todd Redmond and Jeff Francis. Now under team control until 2020, Hendriks is a centrepiece of the bullpen.
Hendriks saw his two-seam and four-seam fastball velocities jump from an average of 91 MPH to comfortably sitting above 94 MPH. His slider and complimentary pitches also experienced the same jump, and while greater velocity does not automatically equal greater results, it has for Hendriks.
As a starter, Hendriks was a textbook case of an unspectacular depth arm. Decent stuff, decent control, but he allowed a lot of hard-hit balls and rarely asserted any level of dominance in a baseball game. In 2015, however, his K/9 skyrocketed from a career average of 6.9 all the way to 9.9. He also allowed just three home runs, squashing a worry I’d had about his game during his starting days.
Without Hendriks, the 2015 bullpen picture looks even scarier than it did at times, especially early in the year. The consistency of his work this season has left his performance oddly undervalued, but at several points, he was the club’s third more effective reliever behind Roberto Osuna and Brett Cecil.
It seemed like John Gibbons was late to the party with Hendriks. His usage was something I had an issue with throughout the year, because while he wasn’t being used much in late-inning or high-leverage situations, he also wasn’t being asked to make any true “long” relief appearances to keep a game within reach.
Hendriks desreved some better looks, but with the young arms ahead of him, the late-season additions and Gibbons over-dedication to Aaron Loup in 2015, Hendriks was left to fight for scraps. If we want to get really fine with a Hendriks critique, on area he could afford to improve is his curveball. While his slider is a plus pitch and his fastball is elite, a well developed third offering will help him to fight off regression.
The game of bullpen musical chairs entering 2016 should leave Hendriks with the opportunity he’s earned. Assuming that one of Roberto Osuna or Aaron Sanchez move into the rotation, there could be a 7th-to-8th inning setup role available in cooperation with Brett Cecil, so while competition will be brought in, expect to see Hendriks given a shot in the competition.
I’ve heard the idea floated of converting Hendriks back into a starter, but it’s very unlikely that his velocity would sustain over lengthier outings. It’s best to leave well enough alone with this one, and be pleased with the newfound electric arm that should fill a prominent role on an attractive salary.