Liam Hendriks is one of the most formidable mental athletes in baseball.
A closer by trade, he thrives on pitching the ball with vigor and anger. Partner that mentality with an absurd amount of caffeine, and you get Hendriks -- one of the most dominant closers in baseball.
Before the days of Hendriks striking out batters with intensity, using abruptly colorful language on the mound and fist-pumping his way off the bump after a save, he thought of himself as lesser, according to a story done by The Athletic. He didn't possess the right amount of confidence to be a closer, or a regular pitcher in MLB, to say the least.
“He was very much like, ‘I know what I want, but I don’t think I have the confidence to get there,’” Rubi Sandoval, a tarot card reader Hendriks and his wife, Kristi, visited in 2018 to help him grow his confidence, said to The Athletic.
Sandoval, back in 2018, invited Hendriks to access the angry, passionate side of him that doesn't hold any inhibitions over himself. He started throwing high heat paired with his trademark sliders for 11 straight scoreless outings in Triple-A during the 2019 season. And ever since he made his way back to the majors consistently in 2019, he hasn't looked back.
That's why today, he believes he would've been a better starter had he obtained the confidence he grew after the trials and tribulations of the bullpen. When asked about the subject on a Reddit thread, he responded candidly, and confidently.
"I had a different mindset, I don't think that it worked … that's why I am in the bullpen!" Hendriks wrote. "I think if when I was a starter if I had the same mindset that I have now, I would've been a starter much longer."
Hendriks entered MLB as a starter for the first four-or-so seasons of his career with the Minnesota Twins, Toronto Blue Jays and Kansas City Royals. However, he nary held an ERA under 5.00, with the exception of one partial season in Kansas City, when he held a 4.66 ERA through three starts.
In Oakland, where he reshaped his career after visiting Sandoval, he earned his first All-Star nod. He held an astonishing 1.80 ERA from the bullpen and 85 innings pitched. He struck out 124 batters that season and held a 0.965 WHIP. The following season he recorded a 1.78 ERA over 24 appearances.
He earned top-10 voting for the Cy Young award before signing with the White Sox during the subsequent offseason. Over the past two seasons with the Sox, he's turned both seasons into two All-Star nods and a Reliever of the Year award for the American League. He's indubitably the Sox' best asset.
But his success didn't develop overnight. It took being DFA's three times, claimed off waivers three times and traded another three times before figuring out how to unleash the best version of himself on the mound. And if he had figured out how to unveil his mentality on the mound, he might have been a solid starter.