Y’know what I really like? I really like fastballs. It’s fun to watch Masahiro Tanaka dance around the bottom of the zone, or see a crazy curveball drop in the top half of the zone. But there’s something to a guy being able to locate a high-spin fastball that batters can’t catch up to. It’s why I love Gerrit Cole so much, why I’ll keep making excuses for Luis Severino, and why I like relievers.
And y’know which free agent reliever boasts the best fastball in the class? Liam Hendriks. The righty will be 32 on Opening Day, and coming off two stupidly good seasons for Oakland, striking out 38% of the men he’s faced and walking just 5% since being DFA’d in 2018. After being taken off the A’s roster, he ditched his sinker and revamped his fastball delivery, adding spin and using it aggressively in pitcher’s counts.
The results speak for themselves, but it’s important to delve in to just how good Hendriks’ fastball is. If you looked at the best heaters on the Yankees, you’d probably isolate Cole, Aroldis Chapman and Chad Green:
There’s a case to be made that if Liam Hendriks were on the Yankees, he’d boast the team’s best heater. It’s efficient — active spin refers to how much of a ball’s spin contributes to movement, and the higher it is, generally, the more sustainable velocity and movement is going to be. Lower active spin rates are borne out when guys “lose” a pitch. That’s not a problem for Hendriks, as he gets about as much out of his fastball as Cole does, with more than an inch of greater “rise”.
Liam Hendriks boasts a starter’s fastball with a reliever’s workload, and uses it so aggressively that hitters can’t sit on his slider or admittedly less effective curve. If you go up against him waiting for a breaking pitch, you might be waiting a while:
Liam Hendriks, Overpowering 3 Pitch K (all 99mph Fastballs). ⛽️ pic.twitter.com/fRAel0n7WK— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 1, 2020
The market for Hendriks is going to be interesting. He is over 30, and in the 91st percentile for innings pitched by a reliever since 2015, so there may be some mileage concerns. He’ll be looking for Aroldis Chapman money in a market that jettisoned Brad Hand and Archie Bradley, so who knows what a contract would actually look like.
For the Yankees in particular, it’s hard to see where Hendriks would fit on the roster unless his market just evaporates. The Yankees spend a ton on the bullpen, already having exercised Zack Britton’s swellopt while paying Chapman, Adam Ottavino and Green almost $30 million combined. You could already argue that it’s inefficient to tie so much of your budget into relievers when relief pitching seems to be relatively fungible, so any kind of major deal for Hendriks would be tough to swing.
Liam Hendriks is a joy to watch, boasts an incredible fastball and is the best Australian in the majors. He’s going to get the richest deal of a reliever this winter, and he’ll deserve it, I just can’t see the Yankees handing it out. What about you?