Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Runner-Up Most Improved: Liam Hendriks
Acquiring Liam Hendriks prior to the 2014 season did not make many waves in the Toronto media. Hendriks would be on his fourth team in three months following waiver claims that took him from Minnesota to Chicago to Baltimore to the Blue Jays, and that was following an uninspiring three seasons with the Twins that resulted in a 2-13 W-L record and a career ERA of 6.06.
He was expected to provide depth in the organization, but was still tapped in May to make two starts. Hendriks performed well, allowing three runs over 11.2 innings. The June start against Cincinnati was not as good, as Hendriks was tagged for six runs while recording just five outs. That was it until he was traded to Kansas City in the deal that brought Danny Valencia to town. Kansas City used him as a spot starter, where he fared poorly failing to go more than three innings in either start, but the two relief appearances later in September, where he was bent but did not yield a run, may have convinced Alex Anthopoulos to give the young Australian another chance. He was reacquired when the Royals designated him for assignment in exchange for minor league catcher Santiago Nessy.
Hendriks pitched well enough to start the season in the Blue Jays bullpen where the ability to focus on using his fastball instead of his sinker resulted in improved results. Hendriks’ K/9 rate spiked to a career high 9.9 as he struck out 21 more batters in 21 fewer innings than his best season with the Twins. He had a perfect month in June, allowing no runs as his sinker, which previously was seen 40% of the time according to Brooksbaseball.net, dipped to 19% behind the four-seamer as well as his slider. He finished the season with a 2.92 ERA, a mark more than two runs better than his previous low mark.
He followed it up with his most memorable performance to date, a four and a third inning relief appearance in the playoffs against Kansas City where he allowed a single hit. Even when John Gibbons told him he would take him out after the fifth, Hendriks argued to stay in. He fared better than Matt Harvey did, walking out in the 6th and retiring Eric Hosmer, Kendrys Morales and Mike Moustakas in order, Hosmer swinging.
Now heading into 2016, there is no question which team he is going to pitch for. The question instead is will he return to the bullpen, or be stretched out as a fifth starter option? Hendriks seems to prefer the former option. After Game 4 he told the media, “I love being in the bullpen. It’s a bulldog mentality. You need to go out there and go right after guys.” Given his success there as opposed to starting, Blue Jays fans won’t mind seeing him emerging from beyond the left field wall in 2016.
Next: 2015 Most Improved Player Winner: Atoning For a 'Mistake'