As we wait for the world to return to normal and baseball to resume, Jays From the Couch takes a look at what the Blue Jays can reasonably expect from Hyun-Jin Ryu.
Blue Jays management gave their fan base an early Christmas present on December 23, 2019. They signed free agent LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu to a four year, $80 million contract.
Prior to that, Toronto’s front office had made other moves in an attempt to improve the team from its 67-95 record in 2019. But a large amount of the fan base were hoping for a bigger move, an acquisition of a proven MLB star who could help take the Jays forward.
On paper the 2019 MLB era leader certainly fit that bill. So what can Toronto reasonably expect to get from their newly acquired staff ace?
One thing to consider when looking at Ryu’s future is that he is 33 years old. He pitched professionally in Korea from ages 19-25 before joining MLB’s Dodgers at age 26. In his entire pro baseball career he has pitched 2,046 innings.
This may have been more of a concern had Ryu been a power pitcher, since inevitably time and innings take their toll on hard throwers who need to “reinvent themselves” to continue to have success. The average velocity on Ryu’s four seam fastball in 2019 was 90.6 MPH, not much different than the 90.3 he had in 2013.
Sometimes, pitchers who (in MLB terms) never threw that hard to begin with, can have an advantage in lengthening their careers.
The key to his success has always been mixing his pitches, changing speeds and excellent strike zone command. Along with a four seam fastball, he also throws a cut fastball, curveball and changeup. His career BB/9 rate of 1.99 is well above average, approaching great.
Ryu is a ground ball pitcher. His ground ball rate in 2019 was 50.4%, 48.4% in his career. For him to have success in a Jays uniform, Toronto’s infield defence will be key.
Realistically they will need to improve on their performance in 2019. Cavan Biggio proved to be a capable defender at 2B, posting 7 outs above average. With Justin Smoak not returning to the Jays in 2020, Travis Shaw (1 OAA) and Rowdy Tellez (-1 OAA) are the most likely options to play 1B.
The bigger concerns are on the left side of the diamond. SS Bo Bichette had -4 OAA while 3B Vladimir Guerrero jr ranked dead last among MLB infielders at -16. Regardless of who is on the mound, they need to get better in this way in order to return to contention in the future.
While Ryu has been a successful MLB pitcher when healthy, he does also have a history of injuries to be concerned about. He missed all of the 2015 season and pitched in one game in 2016 due to a torn labrum in his left shoulder. He also missed three months in 2018 due to a torn groin muscle.
The Blue Jays and their fans need to hope these injuries are behind him.
Ryu might also be able to help the Jays in other ways, aside from his own performance on the mound. There are no shortage of pitchers on the 40 man roster who have talent but who have been hampered by inability to throw strikes. Will some of them be able to learn better control from a veteran pitcher with a career BB/9 rate of 1.99%? Time will tell.
As part of the organizational rebuild, the Jays have put together a number of young, high upside pitching prospects. The hope is that from that group, a rotation of a future Blue Jays contender will emerge. Having veteran Ryu to anchor that staff, with both his on field success and leadership off the field should help guide them in the right direction.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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