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Was Hyun-Jin Ryu a mismatch for the Blue Jays?

A boon at the time, did the Toronto Blue Jays’ signing of Ryu match up well with their competitive timeline?


Featured Images Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase


 


It came as more than a small surprise to many when, on December 27, 2019, the Jays announced they had signed Hyun Jin Ryu, one of the top free agent pitchers at the time, to a 4 year, $80 million contract.

 

After all, Toronto had just come off of a 67-95 record in 2019. Many people might have been expecting moves the team would make to be depth moves. Ryu had led all of MLB in 2019 with a 2.32 era and was very deserving of his first MLB all star selection, and his second place finish in NL Cy Young voting.  Committing the money and term that they did to secure his services was no depth move. It was about moving forward and winning.

 

Ryu was as advertised in 2020, his first season in Blue Jay blue. He had a 2.69 era in 12 starts in the Covid shortened season and finished 3rd in AL Cy Young award voting. It’s doubtful that many people would have predicted a playoff berth for the Jays in 2020. They did get in, as the 8th seed, only due to expanded playoffs that season. Their 32-28 record was good for a .533 winning percentage. Had they performed exactly that well over 162 games, they would have gone 86-76. While that is a definite improvement over 67-95, it probably wouldn’t have been good enough for a playoff appearance, not with the usual (at the time) five teams per league getting in.

 

In 2021, the Jays hoped to continue and improve upon the modest success they had in 2020. Ryu was once again dominant in the early going. His era in April was 2.60 and 2.64 in May. He faltered a bit in June with a 4.88 but rebounded in July with 2.73. On July 29th, right before their first true home game in almost two years, the Jays were a 4th place team, barely over .500 at 51-48 and a borderline wild card contender at best.

 

Then something happened. The Jays went on a late season run that saw them go 40-23 the rest of the way and missed extending their season by just one game. Playing home games back in Toronto might have helped give the team a boost. Unfortunately they got little help from Ryu during that stretch. His era in August was 6.21 and worse in September at 9.20.

 

During the shortened spring training of 2022, reports were that Ryu was in the best shape he had been in for several years. Unfortunately that didn’t translate in to on field success. He had a bloated 13.50 era in two starts and was placed on the IL on April 17th. At age 35, with over 2,000 innings under his belt between MLB and the KBO, it’s possible that Ryu’s best days as a professional pitcher are behind him.

 

Just over half of the way in to Ryu’s Jays tenure, the question needs to be asked. Has Ryu been good at any time the Jays have been a legitimate contending team? Considering his age and injury history, was it ever realistic to expect that they would match up in that way?

 

There are different ways to look at this.

 

A while back, in an article I wrote about possibly extending (then Jays closer) Ken Giles, I made the point that signing Ryu did more than just secure the services of a legitimate front of the rotation starter. It was also a signal to the rest of MLB that the Jays were changing directions, from rebuilding to winning. That it didn’t make sense to spend $80 million on a top free agent unless management believed they could win during Ryu’s Jays tenure.

 

Did signing Ryu have a domino effect? One that allowed (or at least helped) the team sign free agent George Springer a year later, or free agent Kevin Gausman a year after that? Was it a contributing factor in Jose Berrios’ decision to sign a 7 year extension with the Jays, a year before he would have been free agent eligible? Only those players know for certain. However, one consistent point that players have made in the last two seasons when choosing to sign with the Jays has been the chance to win, the organization’s commitment to winning, part of which is demonstrated by signing money on proven MLB performers.

 

Ryu is scheduled to make a rehab start at AAA Buffalo on May 7th. It is still possible that he could make a comeback and pitch well enough to help the Jays contend in 2022. But even if he doesn’t, even if his on field performance never helps the Jays win another game, his presence may have helped lead to other moves that will.

 

Editor’s Note: Ryu’s rehab start results:

 

 

 

*Featured Images Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.

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