In a day and age where most pitchers at the big-league level throw in the mid 90’s, Hyun-Jin Ryu is a diamond in the rough. Ryu’s impressive first half earned him the opportunity to start for the National League in Tuesday night’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game, where he pitched one inning, giving up just one hit and no runs. That was a typical outing for Ryu, who has been absolutely spectacular for a Los Angeles Dodgers team that has one of the best pitching staffs in baseball.
The 32-year old South Korean has a 10-2 record this year, along with a major-league leading 1.73 ERA through 17 starts. He has walked just 10 batters in 109 innings, a testament to his pinpoint command. Ryu has also recorded 99 strikeouts. He’s second to only Justin Verlander with an amazing 0.91 WHIP. He currently has the best strikeout-to-walk ratio in the big leagues at 9.90. Ryu has an average fastball velocity of 90.6 mph, well below the big-league average of 93.3. How does he have so much success, despite the absence of a big fastball? It’s a question that a lot of people are definitely asking, but it’s similar to what Dallas Keuchel did in his 2015 Cy Young Award season. Both of these guys locate tremendously and change speeds.
Let’s take a look at what makes Ryu so effective.
Multiple Pitches in His Repertoire
Ryu has five pitches that he can throw for strikes on a consistent basis. A four-seam and two-seam fastball, curveball, changeup, and cutter. He’s throwing the four-seam fastball 30.4 percent of the time and the changeup 26.3 percent of the time this year. Although his heater barely reaches over 90 mph, he consistently paints all four quadrants of the strike zone with the pitch, setting him up to throw his filthy off-speed pitches, depending on the hitter, of course. He throws the changeup more often to righties, as it dives away from them with very good arm-side tail in the high 70’s. The cutter is the next offering he uses most frequently (19.6 percent). Typically, he throws it to righties, using the natural movement of the pitch to either freeze them looking, or tie them up on the inside part of the plate.
Ryu has a 12-6 curveball that he uses just over 10 percent of the time, either to put hitters away, or just get ahead with a first-pitch strike. Lastly, the two-seamer is a pitch that he has developed over the last couple of years. He only throws it about 11 percent of the time. Similar to Keuchel, who was very reliant on this pitch, Ryu mostly uses it against righties to get them chasing out of the zone, as the pitch tails away from them.
Righties are hitting .235 against Ryu, while lefties hit just .186. He has faced a lot more righties this year than lefties, given how most of the NL has more right-handed hitters than left. But regardless of who is at the plate, Ryu has been extremely dominant. It definitely helps when you have a bevy of pitches that you consistently locate. Then, if there is a certain hitter up, he can pitch backwards by throwing his off-speed stuff early in the count, then finish them off with a fastball that will seem a lot quicker than 90 mph because he slowed their bat down with curveballs and changeups.
He doesn’t make mistakes in the middle of the plate very often either, consistently hitting different spots and giving hitters barely any good pitches to hit. The fact that he can throw all of his pitches in all four quadrants of the zone is the number one reason Ryu is enjoying so much success this season. Ryu’s ability to keep the ball down has also helped him induce a lot of groundballs; he has a 53.1 percent groundball rate so far this season.
It’s always going to be a little more difficult for hitters to consistently square you up when you’re left-handed. Ryu has that advantage, but along with that, his delivery is very smooth and deceptive that it’s tough for opposing batters to see the ball out of his hand. He doesn’t have much arm swing as he uncoils towards the plate. He hides the ball extremely well until he releases the pitch.
Ryu has given up more than two earned runs just four times dating back to August 2018. That’s through 26 starts. He had an impressive 1.97 ERA last season, but that was in just 82 innings because he missed a lengthy amount of time with a groin injury. This year he is in another wavelength. He continues to carve up hitters every week and isn’t showing any signs of slowing down, especially with two practically unhittable pitches in the changeup and cutter.
Ryu has a tremendous understanding of how to pitch and is proving to everyone this year that he is definitely a candidate for the NL Cy Young Award.