Tag: Hyun-Jin Ryu

Offseason Review: Toronto Blue Jays

Back in December, fresh off the signing of Hyun-Jin Ryu, I penned a quick piece on the Blue Jays as a looming threat. Toronto may not quite be ready for the limelight, but they’re certainly not far off. They seemingly flew under the radar this winter, but it’s hard to describe the team’s offseason as anything other than a success.

Rotation boost

Whether you prefer ERA, FIP, or DRA, the Blue Jays had one of the worst pitching staffs in the majors last year. Trading away Marcus Stroman midseason was a curious decision, but wisely, the team turned around and rebuilt its rotation for the upcoming campaign.

Ryu, the reigning MLB ERA champion, was the big addition to the staff. Health has always been a concern for the southpaw, but when he’s healthy, he’s terrific.

Toronto didn’t stop with Ryu, though. The team also brought in Tanner Roark, Chase Anderson, and Shun Yamaguchi. Along with the return of Matt Shoemaker, who missed nearly all of 2019, Toronto has literally remade its rotation from top to bottom. Sure, Shoemaker made five starts for the Jays last year, but that’s the only carryover in the rotation from last season.

Now, this isn’t a terrific rotation by any means. PECOTA isn’t a huge fan of the staff:

PlayerProj. ERAProj. DRA
Hyun-Jin Ryu3.464.32
Tanner Roark4.234.88
Matt Shoemaker4.545.17
Chase Anderson4.375.02

There’s no projection for Yamaguchi, at least not yet, but that doesn’t preclude the fact that this group is better than last year’s low bar to clear. It’s a staff that buys more time for the team to develop young pitchers like Anthony Kay and Trent Thornton along with top prospect Nate Pearson. The depth also gives them cushion for Ryan Borucki’s worrisome elbow soreness. Not that any of these guys, aside from Pearson, are promising per PECOTA:

PlayerProj. ERAProj. DRA
Nate Pearson4.074.55
Anthony Kay4.585.36
Ryan Borucki5.616.17
Trent Thornton4.154.80

A flyer on Travis Shaw

What a difference one season can make. 2019’s version of Travis Shaw was unrecognizable compared to the hitter from seasons prior. Last year, Travis Shaw hit .157/.281/270 (45 OPS+) for the Brewers last season after a stellar first two seasons in Milwaukee. In 2017 and 2018 combined, Shaw slashed .258/.347/.497 (120 OPS+) and had established himself as a stalwart in the Brewers’ lineup. But that goodwill wasn’t enough for the Brew Crew to keep him around following a dismal 2019 campaign.

Shaw was projected to earn $5.1 million in arbitration, but after Milwaukee non-tendered him, he inked a $4 million deal with Toronto. Quite a bargain for Toronto, especially considering that they can retain him in arbitration next year should all go well in 2020. If not, it was worth a gamble.

For what it’s worth, PECOTA still likes the left-handed slugger. It expects a rebound year, albeit not to 2017-2018 levels. That said, adding a projected .242/.337/.479 (107 DRC+) hitter ain’t too shabby.

Even though Shaw was groomed as a third baseman, expect to see him mostly at first base for Toronto. He should get time at the hot corner too whenever Vladimir Guerrero Jr. DHs or has a night off.

Let the kids play

The focus of Toronto’s offseason was to rebuild its rotation, and for good reason. They did add Shaw to its position player mix, but considering the lack of activity elsewhere, the franchise’s mission is clear: let the kids play. Vlad Jr., Bo Bichette, and others are going be the club’s main attractions this season.

Guerrero, Bichette, and others like Cavan Biggio or Lourdes Gurriel may not have hit their peaks just yet, but they’re still going to be good in 2020. That’s a little scary now, but even scarier down the road. On the face of things, it doesn’t seem like their window is open just yet. Nonetheless, sometimes windows open earlier than expected. We saw that with the 2017 Yankees. That doesn’t mean that the Jays’ timeline will be accelerated, but it can’t be ruled out given the team’s talent.

PECOTA has Toronto at 77 wins at the moment, and if you’re familiar with how these projections work, you know that this isn’t an exact prediction. There are error bars to consider. Now, that could mean Toronto will be closer to the 67 win squad it ran out in 2019, but it also means there’s a scenario in which they win 90 games. And really, when you look at this roster, would it be crazy for things to break their way and fend for a Wild Card spot? I don’t think so.

Could they have done more?

There’s a lot to like about the Blue Jays roster and long-term prospects. That said, would it have been worth it to push a little harder for short-term improvements? Yes, they addressed the rotation needs in a major way. And sure, there are plenty of budding stars in its position player ranks. That said, there are some areas this roster is lacking that could hold them back for the time being.

The big weak spot: the outfield. Gurriel broke out last season, but after that, things are thin. Randal Grichuk, Teoscar Hernández, and Derek Fisher aren’t terribly exciting. The first two have power and Fisher has some former-prospect sheen, but someone like Marcell Ozuna would have looked really nice out there for them.

The Blue Jays’ bullpen is a problem too. Ken Giles is a terrific closer, but that’s just about all they’ve got. Anthony Bass is seemingly their second-best reliever, but that’s not saying much. They figure to shuffle through a whole bunch of arms throughout the season as they try to figure out what clicks.

Offseason Summary

Lastly, here’s a quick look at the changes to the Blue Jays major league roster.

In:

  • Hyun-Jin Ryu
  • Tanner Roark
  • Chase Anderson
  • Shun Yamaguchi
  • Travis Shaw

Out:

  • Derek Law
  • Luke Maile
  • Jason Adam
  • Ryan Tepera
  • Devon Travis
  • Clay Buccholz
  • Clayton Richard
  • Justin Smoak

Free agent profile: Hyun-Jin Ryu

Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg get most of the hype in this year’s pitching free agent crop. But even though those two are the stars of the show, this is one of the deeper classes of free agent starters in recent memory. Hyun-Jin Ryu, the longtime Dodger, is coming off a spectacular 2019 campaign in which he almost won the Cy Young award. Not a bad time to be a free agent, huh?

Background

Ryu hails from South Korea, where he spent the beginning of his professional baseball career. The southpaw spent his entire KBO career with the team that drafted him: the Hanwha Eagles. He debuted there in 2006 as a 19 year-old and was an ace from the very beginning. From then through 2012, Ryu dominated the KBO and filled up his trophy case with numerous accolades.

Following the 2012 campaign, Hanwha posted Ryu for bidding. The Dodgers had the winning bid, $25.7 million, and received exclusive negotiating rights with the lefty. The two sides finalized a six year, $36 million contract for the next stage of his career in Los Angeles.

After his initial deal with the Dodgers expired after the 2018 season, Ryu was set to become a free agent for the first time. However, the Dodgers slapped a $17.9 million qualifying offer on him. Ryu accepted, perhaps wisely so given the slow-moving market last winter. He had an excellent campaign for the Dodgers in 2019, and is now a free agent again. But this time, he’s free of the qualifying offer as a player cannot be offered it twice. A reunion with the Dodgers seems pretty likely, but he’s still a coveted free agent nonetheless.

Performance

Ryu had a very successful career in the KBO, but perhaps his best campaign was his rookie season. In 201 2/3 frames, Ryu went 18-6 with a 2.23 ERA. That was good for the league’s pitching triple crown, so he unsurprisingly not only won the rookie of the year award, but league MVP as well.

As Ryu’s career in his home country went on, he continued to rack up awards and lead the league in various categories. He was an All-Star each and every season, won a couple of Gold Glove awards, and led the league in strikeouts multiple times. Overall, he recorded a 2.80 ERA in 1,269 innings over seven seasons before jumping to the US.

Ryu had a seamless transition to the Dodgers in 2013. He was still just 26 years-old in his first season in LA, but was great: he threw 192 innings of 3.00 ERA ball and finished fourth in rookie of the year voting. He was similarly good in year two, but ran into health issues thereafter. Ryu missed all of 2015 and made just one start in 2016 because of a variety of injuries which I’ll get to in a bit.

Ryu returned in 2017 and pitched in 25 games (24 starts). He was good (3.77 ERA), but not great (4.74 FIP). The southpaw lost some of his trademark control; he walked 8.3 percent of batters faced after walking just 6.3 percent and 4.6 percent in 2013 and 2014, respectively.

In 2018, Ryu rebounded, albeit in just 15 starts around more health woes. He posted a 1.97 ERA, regained his control (4.6 percent walk rate), and missed bats more than ever (27.5 percent strikeout rate). He followed that up with more excellence this season: a 2.32 ERA in 29 starts and 182 2/3 innings pitched. That performance was good enough to be the Cy Young runner-up to Jacob deGrom. As an impending free agent, it was quite a good time for him to not only pitch a full season, but also dominate while doing so.

What’s made Ryu so effective, aside from control, is his ability to keep the ball in the yard. His career home runs allowed per nine innings is 0.88. Even more impressive is that he’s maintained this in the juiced ball era. He’s a ground ball pitcher who doesn’t allow a lot of hard contact, which has allowed him to succeed even as the league has tilted toward hitters.

In addition to the regular season numbers, Ryu’s pitched quite a bit in the postseason too. His numbers are a bit more of a mixed bag: in eight October starts, the 32 year-old has pitched to a 4.05 ERA in 40 innings. He got off to a strong start in postseason play, as the Dodgers won three of his first four starts in which he recorded a 1.96 ERA. But since then, he’s been less effective. He’s had a couple of duds, including Game 6 of the 2018 NLCS and Game 2 of the World Series that year.

Current Stuff

Ryu isn’t a power pitcher. His fastball and sinker averaged just below 91 miles per hour in 2019. That velocity has been pretty steady ever since he came stateside, too. Given his mediocre velocity, it should come as no surprise that Ryu relies on movement and control more than anything else. Here’s a breakdown of his pitch usage in 2019 per Statcast:

  • Four-seamer: 90.7 MPH (27.3%)
  • Sinker: 90.1 MPH (13.3%)
  • Cutter: 87.0 MPH (19.4%)
  • Changeup: 80.0 MPH (27.5%)
  • Curveball: 72.7 MPH (12.2%)
  • Slider: 80.1 MPH (0.3%)

So, Ryu isn’t going to blow opponents away with velocity. He doesn’t have remarkable spin rate or movement either. But even so, thanks to his impeccable control and excellent mix of pitches, he garners plenty of weak contact. All the while still racking up respectable strikeout numbers.

(Baseball Savant)

From a personal standpoint, I find Ryu to be a joy to watch. It’s fun to watch him spin off a slow curveball, for instance. It’s also a pleasure to watch him lull opponents to sleep with ground ball after ground ball:

Injury History

This is where things get dicey. Ryu had Tommy John surgery as a high schooler, though was quite durable thereafter before coming over to the US. He also avoided the disabled list in his first season with the Dodgers, but he started to break down in year two.

Shoulder inflammation and a hip strain sent him to the disabled list on two separate occasions in 2014, though neither of the stints were much longer than two weeks.

As noted earlier, Ryu didn’t pitch in 2015. He first hit the shelf with a shoulder impingement to start the year, but later had surgery in May to repair his labrum. He didn’t return until July of 2016, when he made just one start before he was sidelined again. This time, it was elbow tendinitis. He had debridement surgery in September.

Finally, in 2017, Ryu again spent extended time in the Dodgers’ rotation. He did hit the disabled list a couple of times, but not for arm injuries. This time, it was hip and foot injuries that deactivated him.

In 2018, Ryu missed a good chunk of the season again. In this case, a groin strain kept him off the field from early May to mid-August. This season, the lefty made two more trips to the injured list, but for nothing severe. His groin kept him out for 10 days in April and some neck soreness briefly kept him aside in August.

Contract Estimates

Fangraphs’ median crowdsource projection calls for a three year, $48 million deal. MLB Trade Rumors calls for the same term, but instead for $54 million. The Athletic’s Jim Bowden predicts three years and $55.5 million. In spite of some excellent numbers, Ryu’s checkered medical records clearly hinder his ability to really cash in.

Scott Boras is Ryu’s agent, meaning that he could be marketed alongside Boras’s top pitching clients this winter in Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg. Ryu himself has said he would like a three or four year deal while also seeming welcome to playing with fellow countryman Shin-Soo Choo of the Rangers. In any event, I still anticipate a reunion with the Dodgers.

Does he make sense for the Yankees?

Yes, with a caveat: he shouldn’t be the Yankees’ top prize this winter. Now, he’s undoubtedly an excellent pitcher and capable of being a frontline guy, but his health is too big of a concern to pencil him in for 30 starts annually. Pair him with a Cole or Strasburg, and now we’re talking.

Though his medical history worries me, I really love Ryu’s ability to generate weak contact while throwing plenty of strikes. His ability to prevent home runs makes him incredibly valuable in a time where the ball is flying out of the yard. So, I’d be thrilled to have him in the Bronx for the next few years, but moreso as a middle-of-the-rotation starter, not a one or two.

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