When Hyun-Jin Ryu accepted the qualifying offer from the Los Angeles Dodgers last year, some scratched their heads, thinking he could have found a better deal on the open market. Fast forward one year later, and Ryu put together a stellar 182.2-inning season and finished second behind Jacob deGrom in the NL Cy Young race. He may have found a multi-year contract last offseason, but his excellent 2019 has put Ryu in a better position to cash in.
With the Yankees looking for pieces to add to their rotation, Ryu could be a possible addition. We’ll take a dive into his pitching arsenal over the past few years, and see how a few changes he’s made could lend themselves perfectly to the Yankees’ pitching philosophy.
Over the course of his career, Ryu has depended mostly on his four-seam fastball as his primary pitch, while his sinker and cutter provide other fastball options. During 2019, Ryu threw the most fastballs of his career, about 60 percent according to Statcast, but it’s important to mention that for the first time, the four-seam fastball wasn’t his most frequently used pitch. The margin is small, but he threw five more changeups than four-seam fastballs.
Ryu threw 743 changeups, and the pitch generated a .190 batting average, .292 slugging percentage, and nearly a 30-percent whiff rate. He used the changeup mostly ahead in counts and in two-strike counts, per BrooksBaseball. It proved to be his best out-pitch in 2019.
This doesn’t necessarily mean Ryu should crater his fastball usage. During 2019, his four-seam fastball allowed a .222 batting average, .364 slugging percentage, and an 86.3 mph average exit velocity. Generating weak contact is Ryu’s strength when it comes to fastballs. Out of 140 pitchers who threw more than 500 four-seam fastballs and allowed more than 100 of them to be put in play, Ryu ranked sixth in average exit velocity. However, he might want to look into lowering the frequency of his cutter and/or sinker to further unleash a pitch that has consistently produced throughout his career.
Like James Paxton, a southpaw who came to New York from the west coast and found success when he used his curveball more, Ryu might benefit from a similar blueprint. Not once in his career has Ryu thrown his curveball more than 20 percent, but it has repeatedly offered him an above average third pitch. This season it produced a .193 batting average, .316 slugging percentage, and slightly above a 40 percent whiff percentage.
Ryu bumped his changeup usage about 10 points from 2018 to 2019. A similar bump could be in order for his curve next season. His hook has the look of a true top-flight secondary offering, and using it a bit more could make it even harder for opposing lineups to get comfortable against him.
With a changeup, fourseam fastball, and curveball all performing well, it’s easy to why Ryu had such a successful season. It’s simply difficult to find pitchers who possess three true plus pitches, which Ryu has used to produce two sub-three ERA campaigns the two previous seasons. If it wasn’t for his injury history, which allowed him to pitch only 213.3 innings in the four seasons from 2015 to 2018, Ryu could have worked himself closer to the top free agent tier of Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg, but instead is considered with the second tier of current free agent pitchers. The Yankees have taken Paxton and helped him fit into their pitching philosophy. Adding Ryu could give them a similar pitcher with similar production, with ace upside to boot.