Not long Ago, Liam Hendriks was viewed as roster filler. Having bounced around from
the Twins, to the Blue Jays, to the Royals, to the A’s, it was hard for Hendriks to dodge the “journeyman” label and his lasting success was certainly in question. Then, in 2019, Hendriks’ career trajectory suddenly turned sky high, as he stepped in to save Oakland when incumbent closer Blake Treinen was hopelessly lost in the former’s late innings doldrums.
In 85.0 innings last year, Liam Hendriks showed incredible growth as a pitcher,
using his wipe out slider to strike out more batters than ever before. He did this while providing a stabilizing presence at the back end of close games.
A native of Perth, Western Australia, the now 31 year-old Liam Hendriks is the son of an
accomplished Australian Football League player, Geoff Hendriks. The senior Hendriks was part of a league winning run in his debut season in the West Australian Football League, playing with West Perth. Geoff Hendriks is still the youngest player to be part of a league winning roster, winning the title at age 16.
As a child, Liam Hendriks showed serious potential in the sport and enjoyed plenty of success. However, baseball was his true calling and the right-hander ultimately signed with the Minnesota Twins the day he turned 18.
From there, Hendriks experienced a great deal of success as a minor leaguer, earning
recognition as the Twins’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2011, as well as a spot in the 2010 All-Star Futures Game. His rapid ascent through the Twins’ system led to his major league debut on 5 September 2011, and in 2012 he would earn a spot in Minnesota’s starting rotation. The success that made him such a promising prospect seemed to elude him in the major leagues, as the Twins designated him for assignment after the 2013 season, ending his time with the organization with an unpalatable 6.06 ERA.
Liam Hendriks then found himself in the midst of a whirlwind series of events leading up to the 2014 season, as he was claimed by the Cubs, Orioles and Blue Jays, before eventually being flipped to Kansas City at the trade deadline. 2014 proved to be a year in which Hendriks showed promise, but couldn’t put it all together, as his 32.2 total innings saw him post an ugly 5.23 ERA, but a much healthier 3.84 FIP. However, his modest improvements in 2014 were not enough to safeguard against more career instability, as he was traded back to Toronto prior to the start of the 2015 season. Despite posting a tidy 2.92 ERA and 2.14 FIP over 64.2 frames in relief, the Blue Jays saw fit to deal him to Oakland that November in exchange for journeyman Jesse Chavez. This last change of scenery would mark the end of Hendriks’ refugee status, as he has stayed put in Oakland through the present day.
Hendriks posted decent strikeout numbers in his first few years with the Athletics, but
still struggled with run prevention. The righty put up yearly ERA’s of 3.76, 4.22 and 4.13 from 2016 through 2018. With that said, 2019 proved to be an entirely different animal, as the Aussie took a leap from being a solid, if unspectacular middle reliever, to an absolutely dominant workhorse closer.
Tossing an enormous workload of 85.0 innings last season, Hendriks made huge strides across the board as he wrestled the closer’s role away from the struggling Treinen, and earned his first All-Star appearance in the process. His normally bloated ERA plummeted all the way down to a terrific 1.80 mark while a similar 1.87 FIP and 85.7% left-on-base-rate proved his ability to strand runners was no fluke. His 5.6% home run/flyball percentage shows a marked improvement in keeping the ball in the park. An incredible 13.13 K/9 is a big reason why.
While it may be tempting to label one outstanding season in an otherwise nondescript
career as pure luck, an 85.0 inning body of work is a massive sample size for a relief pitcher. For what it’s worth, Hendriks has been just as lights-out in 11.1 frames thus far in 2020.
With the traditional closer’s role becoming more and more archaic with each passing season, Hendriks has been able to provide manager Bob Melvin with a true luxury this day and age; a dependable ninth inning arm every time he takes the ball. An increasing number of teams are opting to mix and match at the end of games while previous stalwarts such as Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman and even Josh Hader have dealt with varying degrees of injuries and ineffectiveness recently. With the closer position looking more shallow than ever before, Liam Hendriks has grabbed the crown as the game’s most dominant reliever, and looks set to hold on to it for some time.