Is Hyun-Jin Ryu for Real?
At first glance, if you told me this man was a Major League Baseball player, i’d go tell you to take your sick joke somewhere else. He’s unproven, his fastball isn’t what you’d call overpowering and he’s not exactly an ode to athleticism. Apparently, none of that mattered to the Los Angeles Dodger’s who decided to commit 36 Million Dollars (not Donuts) to Hyun-jin Ryu over the off-season and by God, Ryu is doing his best to make that decision by Dodger’s front office brass look like the stuff of geniuses.
The 26 year old Ryu came over from the Hanwha Eagles of the KBO (Korean Baseball Organization) and so far has managed to compile a pitching line of 2.89 ERA/1.18WHIP/18IP in 3 starts. Add that to a 9.6 SO/9 and you have what looks like the makings of a pretty dominant pitcher in the Major League. The quantitative side of baseball doesn’t exactly factor in after three starts but it’s safe to say that Ryu looks to be on the right track. Can he sustain it?
If the San Francisco Giants, Pittsburgh Pirates and Arizona Diamondbacks share one thing in common, it’s that their offense doesn’t exactly instill fear into the heart of a pitcher. Still, i’d say Ryu impressed those watching, spinning three consecutive gems. According to Baseball America, Ryu features four “average – above average” pitches in his arsenal, a fastball that sits around 90mph (which he can pump up to 95), a tight slider, a change-up and a curveball. Nonetheless, Ryu’s most impressive trait doesn’t appear on papers, it’s his makeup.
Brooks Baseball features a pitch usage chart for every MLB pitcher and it shows that Ryu will look to spot the fastball and get ahead of the count and crack down on lefties with that tough slider of his, while trying to deceive righties by using what his pitching coach Rick Honeycutt calls a “Plus-plus changeup.” His curveball is pretty much a “show-me” pitch; Brooks Baseball lists his Curveball BIP% (Balls in Play) at 25%, which clearly means he’s not fooling anyone. But the rest of his pitches have such outstanding BIP percentages that there isn’t too much to worry about considering Ryu only uses his curve around 10% of the time. Add this to the fact that Ryu, who can ramp his fastball up to 95mph isn’t exactly what you’d call a conventional finesse pitcher either and you have the potential for huge upside. What do these numbers all mean? It means Ryu is a pitcher, not a thrower. Pitching is an art and Ryu seems to have a clear understanding in his head of what portrait he’s looking to paint.
Pitching artistry aside, it’s important to note that Ryu pitched the same way in the KBO as well, which indicates two things. Firstly, his early success against Major League batters should be indicative of the fact that he has “Major League” stuff. What matters now is how he adjusts, as the hitters start to adjust to him. This generally isn’t a problem for a control pitcher like Ryu, who is used to giving a batter different looks every at bat anyways versus a power pitcher who suddenly realizes guys are sitting on his 98mph fastball because he can’t throw any other pitches consistently for strikes. Secondly, injuries shouldn’t be too much of a concern for Ryu, who pitched generally injury free for 6 years in the KBO on a similar workload he should expect in the MLB. Why? Ryu isn’t overthrowing his fastball to impress his bosses, he’s pitching the way he knows how and he’s been doing it consistently for 6 years.
It was looking like Ryu would spend the year learning and adjusting to the MLB level, but with the unfortunate injury to Zack Greinke, it’s looking more and more like the Dodgers need Ryu to step up and pitch to what he’s capable of. So have a seat folks and enjoy your ride aboard the Ryu-Train for the upcoming season, no need to buckle up too tightly though, it’s expected to be pretty smooth.