After July 1, Hyun Jin Ryu has not performed at the level of a front-of-the-rotation starter. However, there is evidence that Ryu will pitch to the level expected of him going forward in 2021.
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Before July 1, Hyun Jin Ryu was performing very well. His ERA and xERA percentile ranking was 79th and 69th, respectively. His Game Score for the April-June period was 56, above average (the MLB average is 50). However, Ryu has struggled since June 30. His ERA and xERA percentile ranking was 35th and 51st, respectively, and Ryu posted a 48 Game Score during this time frame.
On September 19, Toronto placed Ryu on the Injured List with a neck strain. He returned on September 28 to face the New York Yankees and generated a 41 Game Score. Ryu pitched 4.1 innings, surrendered 3 earned runs, 1 walk, and recorded 3 strikeouts. Because of this performance and other poor outings, some people are not comfortable with the idea of Ryu starting a critical game for the 2021 Blue Jays.
On the surface, Ryu’s September 28 start should not inspire confidence. His undoing occurred in the fifth inning. After Brett Gardner grounded out, Gio Urshela singled to right field, and DJ LeMahieu walked. Anthony Rizzo blooped a single to left field that Corey Dickerson fielded. Unfortunately, Dickerson’s throw to the plate hit Urshela, who scored on the play. Charlie Montoyo replaced Ryu with Adam Cimber, who gave up a sacrifice fly to Aaron Judge that scored LeMahieu.
Let’s play what if. Suppose Dickerson’s throw did not hit Urshela, who Danny Jansen tags out at home. Following that out, Judge strikes his fly ball for the third out. The result would be that Ryu’s boxscore would read five innings pitched and one earned run. In this alternative universe, Ryu’s Game Score would be 51, a tick above average.
Of course, this scenario did not occur. However, let’s take a deeper look into how Ryu performed in his previous outing and why confidence in him for the balance of 2021 is justified.
An Analysis of Three Games
On August 26, Ryu faced the Chicago White Sox and gave up 7 earned runs in 3.2 innings. That performance garnered a 12 Game Score, which is awful. The second game is Ryu’s September 8 outing against the Yankees. He pitched 6 innings, scattered 3 hits, allowed no runs and generated a 77 Game Score. The third game under consideration is Ryu’s September 28 start.
From the analysis, I conclude that Ryu’s performance on September 28 was closer to his September 6 outing than the August 26 start. Therefore, people should be more confident that Ryu will perform better in his remaining 2021 starts than he pitched during parts of August and September. Let’s take a look at some data.
OPS and xOPS By Pitch Type
Table 1 illustrates how batters have fared against Ryu’s four pitches during the 2021 season. Hitters have feasted upon Ryu’s four-seamer, as evidenced by the 0.815 OPS and 0.827 xOPS. Contrast those metrics with Ryu’s success using his cutter, wherein batters have generated a 0.639 OPS and 0.675 xOPS.
Pitch Mix, Velocity and Spin Rates
Table 2 illustrates Ryu’s pitch mix and velocity for the noted starts. During Ryu’s August 26 outing, 55% of his pitches were four-seam fastballs. Ryu reduced his four-seam fastball usage to 38% and 31% on September 6 and 28, respectively. Ryu also used his cutter more in his September starts (September 6 – 28%; September 28 – 32%) than on August 26. My view is that one of the reasons why Ryu fared better in the noted September starts was because he was able to use his cutter more than he did on August 26.
Just because Ryu used his cutter more during his September 6 and 28 starts does not necessarily mean he would perform better than August 26. Table 2 and Table 3 show that Ryu’s velocity and spin rates were better on September 6 and 28 than on August 26. I believe that Ryu’s ability to throw more effective pitches, primarily his cutter, contributed to improved results during the noted September starts.
Well, simply because Ryu produced higher spin rates and pitch velocities does not necessarily result in better outcomes. However, the exit velocity data is the proof in the pudding.
Table 3 illustrates that it did not matter what Ryu threw on August 26: the White Sox crushed his pitches. On all four of Ryu’s offerings, Chicago averaged a minimum of 91.1 mph exit velocity. The numbers on his four-seam (95.5 mph) and offspeed pitches (97.3 mph) were awful. Contrast those numbers with the exit velocity on his cutter, which was 81.7 mph on September 28.
Furthermore, on August 26, the White Sox barreled 3 of Ryu’s pitches. Those batted balls resulted in two home runs and a 382 foot fly out. On September 6, the Yankees did not barrel any pitches and only one on September 28. Opposition batters did not hammer Ryu’s pitches on September 6 and 28 as they did on August 26.
I believe a little historical context is warranted. In 2019, Ryu struggled during the latter part of the season. He had four starts between August 17 and September 4, wherein he posted Game Scores of 41, 14, 29 and 42. After the September 4 start, the Dodgers placed Ryu on the 10-day Injured List with a neck strain. In his three outings after returning from the Injured List, Ryu produced Game Scores of 84, 57 and 79. In other words, Ryu had faltered late in a season before and rebounded with very good performances.
Ryu, who returned to the mound in late September after a 10-day stint on the Injured List, was okay in his last start. The time off allowed him to rest, and there were positive signs that he was coming out of his post-June 30 funk. Ryu’s pitches had a little more velocity and more spin than they did during his awful August 26 outing. The pitch mix and batted ball characteristics on September 28 were close to his terrific September 6 start. A little bad luck, namely an errant Dickerson throw to the plate, made a tick-above-average return outing worse than the underlying numbers would otherwise indicate.
Ryu’s Importance to the Blue Jays
I am confident that Ryu will bounce back to his expected form for the remainder of 2021. However, if you do not share my optimism, there is a reality that one must face. The Toronto Blue Jays do not have much choice but to start Ryu because of the upcoming schedule.
Tables 4 and 5 below illustrate that Toronto needs Ryu to start games if they make the postseason. The scenarios outlined are as follows:
- Toronto has one play-in game, a wildcard game and a berth in the ALDS
- The Blue Jays have two play-in games, a wildcard game and an ALDS slot
Suppose there is a four-way tie for two wildcard spots. That scenario is identical to the one play-in game situation in terms of rotation needs.
In my opinion, the Blue Jays will optimize their chances of postseason success if they can avoid using starters on short rest. Hence, Ryu should be part of the rotation as the Blue Jays advance.
The Last Word
Ryu has struggled in the second half of the 2021 campaign. Many of his starts have been below-average, at times poor. However, he has pitched well during some of his September starts. During his last outing, his pitch mix was better-suited to his strengths, and his velocity and spin rates were at higher levels than during his poor outings. Also, batters did not barrel his pitches on September 28 as they did on August 26. Ryu is an essential member of the Blue Jays rotation. His last outing should instill confidence that he can be the Ryu of yore for the balance of the 2021 campaign, which hopefully includes the postseason.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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Bob was a St. Louis Cardinals fan until the Blue Jays arrived on the baseball scene, although he still has a soft spot for the Cards. Similar to straddling the Greenwich Meridian, as depicted in the avatar, Bob applies sabermetrics when applicable, but his heart tells him that Lou Brock belongs in the Hall of Fame.