If I told you a Dodger left handed starter would have started the season with a 1.93 ERA, a 2.22 FIP, everyone would have said that pitcher was Clayton Kershaw. And with good reason. It certainly wasn’t going to be Paul Maholm. Hyun-Jin Ryu’s been solid, but could we really expect that much of a step forward? Well, we’re 15 games through the new season, and that starter with those stellar numbers is not Clayton Kershaw. It is in fact, Korean starter Hyun-Jin Ryu.
This guy is excellent. Ryu’s has easily been the Dodgers best starter, no question about it, and probably the stopgap between having the 6th best staff ERA, and a disaster from the a starting pitching perspective. He’s been crucial to the success of the staff, and yeah he had that one stinker versus the Giants, aside from when he was awful, he was really damn good! But seriously Ryu’s given up a run in exactly one start this season, and that’s when he was getting papercut to death by the Giants.
I could go on forever on how nice his start to the 2014 season has been, but how has he done it? Well lets start by looking at the plate discipline percentages. Ryu’s improved his total Contact %, hitters are only making contact with his pitches 78.5% of the time, the less contact a batter makes, the better a pitcher will fare. And thus far he’s improved his swinging strike %. Theory is if you induce more swinging strikes, that improves the chances you’ll strike out batters. And while he’s 59th thus far in SwStr% (swinging strike%), he’s ahead of names such as Chris Sale, Clay Buchholz, Tim Lincecum, C.J. Wilson, Adam Wainwright, Anibal Sanchez, to name a few. Again, we’re not talking about an overwhelming sample size, but keeping up that SwStr% is key for his success. Next lets look at the most fundamental thing a pitcher can do. Getting ahead of the hitter. I love this stat because it shows a good pitcher. Get ahead in counts, know how to pitch, and you’ll be just fine. After a mediocre 2013 of having a first strike% of 59.1, he’s upped it over 3% to 62.8% this season.
So lets see, lessen the chance hitters make contact with the stuff you throw, induce more swinging strikes, and get ahead of the hitters more often? That sounds like a recipe for success.
I think this is also a good time to mention how he’s throwing his pitches. He’s almost scrapped his 4 seam fastball and drifted more towards his 2 seamer, he’s only throwing his 4 seamer 15.3% of the time versus his two seamer 38.8% of the time (31.3% and 22.3% respectively last season). That’s the most drastic difference i’ve seen in his game, his slider is still an above average offering for him, and his changeup is an all star level pitch. His curveball is what it is, a sloppy offering that can keep guys off balance, but his fastball, slider, and changeup all show him to be an above average starter. Fangraphs measures starters pitches above average throughout the course of the season, and thus far Ryu’s pitches grade excellently as shown by his 2.8 fastball runs above average (mixes in the 4 seamer and 2 seamer), 2.0 slider runs above average, and 1.4 changeup runs above average.
All very interesting things to pay attention to through the course of this season. He’s getting lucky in terms of his batting average on balls in play (.244), but then again, he’s not stranding runners like he did last season ( 71.4 strand percentage), he’s not giving up home runs which is a sign he’s not leaving meatballs up in the zone, and is striking out 8 batters per 9 innings, and only walking 2.89.
I for one am really excited about what he’s going to be able to do over the course of a whole season, and how much better (or hopefully not) worse he gets. Yeah, that 1.93 ERA’s never going to hold up through the course of 25+ more starts. Yet, it matters little, because for him to be what this team needs, that ERA can be a run higher and he’ll still be amazing. I’d be ecstatic with an ERA under 3 from Ryu. One thing is for sure. He’s proven himself to be a more than adequate ace for the Dodgers in the wake of Clayton Kershaw’s absence which is far more than we could have asked for.