South Korean native Hyun-Jin Ryu burst onto the scene this season, racking up 20 strikeouts in his first three outings, notching two wins with a sub-3.00 ERA. Like many baseball fans and fantasy die-hards, I didn’t know much about Ryu’s repertoire and did little research into his scouting reports from overseas, mainly because it’s difficult to project a guy like Ryu’s prospects in the Majors with success in the Korean leagues, as language-barriers, increased talent level, and moving half a world away can completely change a pitcher’s approach.
Without much info and never having seen him pitch, I decided (and was suggested by a commenter) to watch his start on Saturday against the Orioles to see what his stuff really looks like:
First Inning: Ryu gets three runs of support early in the top half of the 1st and the first pitch to Orioles leadoff hitter Nick Markakis is an 86-MPH fastball on the outer half, 0-1. The announcers called that a change but it looked like a get-me-over fastball to me. Ryu is listed at 6-2 230 – he’s a big, big dude. Ryu misses outside, then an 88-MPH fastball is inside-outed by Markakis between third and short for a single. First pitch to Manny Machado is an 88-MPH fastball on the outer half, 0-1. Ryu again with the fastball at 87-MPH at the letters is called a strike, 0-2. Ryu then goes with a cut-fastball at 83-MPH that breaks in hard from the backdoor for a called strike three on three pitches. Nice pitch. The big lefty delivers his first pitch to Adam Jones and it’s a fastball outside, 1-0. Again outside, 2-0, then I think a change-up that is way outside, 3-0. Ryu gets a fastball over at 89-MPH, 3-1, then hits the outside corner at 80-MPH with a nasty change-up that gets Jones to wave right through it, 3-2. Another great pitch there. Ryu sticks with the change and Jones hooks it foul, then another is fouled down the right field line, then another change-up is low and he walks Jones, only Ryu’s 4th walk on the year. The first pitch to Matt Wieters is an 89-MPH fastball outside, 1-0, then the next pitch is a change-up that Wieters grounds into an inning-ending double play. No damage done.
Second Inning: First pitch to Chris Davis is a fastball outside, then Ryu goes inside and Davis is able to hammer it to right for a single. Then on the first pitch to J.J. Hardy, a fastball is lasered to left and it’s about three rows back for a two-run homer. That fastball was supposed to be on the outer, lower half and it was slightly elevated and right over the middle and Hardy sat on it. Three pitches in and it’s two earned runs. Ryu hits the outside corner, then misses to Steve Pearce, then a change-up is weakly grounded to third, one down. The first pitch to Nolan Reimold is a 90-MPH fastball fouled back, 0-1. That’s the first time Ryu has hit 90 I believe. Ryu misses, then the 1-1 is a huge curveball that somehow dropped on the outer half for a strike. That had some huge bend to it. The next pitch is that cut-fastball at 83 that barely dropped below the knees and almost got Reimold swinging, but he held up. That almost was a strike anyway, another good pitch. Ryu bounces another cut-fastball then hits that change-up on the lower outer half to get Reimold swinging. I like Ryu’s stuff a lot right now. Ryu misses outside with the heater then spins a curveball way outside, then again is outside with the change to fall 3-0 to Alexi Casilla. Fastball is over, then another is fouled off to work it full. Another fastball is elevated a bit too high and Casilla hits a single to center that Kemp boots, allowing Casilla to take 2nd. Markakis fouls the first one off, then a cut-fastball is low, 1-1. Another is fouled off, then a curveball is left high that Markakis tried to hold on but he weakly grounds it right to Ryu to end the inning.
Third Inning: Ok, I’m going to work on being a little more concise now, I promise! First offering to Machado is a change-up that Machado flies out lazily right to Matt Kemp, one down. Easy to be concise with 1-pitch outs! Ryu is at 1-1 and throws a nasty curveball Jones misses, 1-2, then at 82-MPH throws that cut-fastball with similar movement just 10 MPH faster and tighter and Jones misses it for his third strikeout. Ryu falls behind Wieters 2-0, then 3-0 and barely gets a strike, 3-1. Ryu again is in there at 91-MPH, 3-2, then 2 are fouled off before a change-up is low for a walk. Ryu gets ahead of Chris Davis 1-2 and barely misses high with the fastball, 2-2. One is fouled off, then it’s that nice curveball that gets Davis swinging to end the inning on Ryu’s 4th K.
Fourth Inning: Ryu starts Hardy with a curveball for a strike, avoiding that first pitch fastball. Man, that pitch still had huge movement to bend into the zone. Ryu misses, then the next one is hammered down the left field line but it’s barely foul, 1-2. After a ball, the 2-2 is a fastball at 90-MPH on the outer edge and Hardy strikes out looking, 5 Ks. Ryu falls behind Pearce 2-0, then that great change-up is waved at and missed, 2-1. After missing low, the 3-1 is a fastball on the outer edge, and the full count curveball is fouled off before a change-up is grounded very softly to Mark Ellis, 2 down. The first pitch then to Reimold is an 80-MPH change-up and Reimold sat on it and crushed it to left for a homer. Second first-pitch homer, with all runs coming off first pitches. Ryu gets Casilla to foul one off, then a curveball stays in the zone, then a nasty cut-fastball gets Casilla to swing and miss for his 6th K.
Fifth Inning: Sporting a 4-3 lead, Ryu on the 1-0 gets Markakis to ground out weakly to Ellis, one down. Again on a 1-0, Machado pops out to Adrian Gonzalez, and its two down on four pitches. Ryu falls behind 2-0, then gets a curveball over, and the 2-1 fastball Jones grounds right to Ryu for the third out on 8 pitches.
Sixth inning: The first pitch to Wieters is a curve for a strike, then he misses outside, then a fastball supposed to be a little further inside on the fists gets too much of the plate and Wieters hits it right to Ethier charging in, but Ethier can’t make the catch. A better outfielder makes that catch easily. Ryu at 1-1 throws the curve that gets Davis to swing badly at it, 1-2, then a change-up is blasted into left center for a double for Davis and Wieters is held at third. I don’t think that was a good pitch to throw there, I would’ve gone to the cut-fastball which hitters have had trouble hitting after the curveball. Then the first pitch to Hardy is a fastball Hardy takes the opposite field to Ethier right in front of the track and it scores Wieters and Davis tags to third. All four runs now via the first pitch. Then a 1-0 to Pearce is laced to left for a single and it scores Davis. Out comes pitching coach Rick Honeycutt for a chat. Ryu has now given up 5 runs. One out, runner at first, and Ryu gets a fastball for a strike to Reimold, 0-1. Ryu misses twice, then the 2-1 is hit deep to right and Ethier has it on the warning track, two down. Then the first pitch to Casilla is grounded weakly into the fielder’s choice, and that does it for Ryu.
Final Line: ND 6.0 IP (95 Pitches) 8 Hits 2 Walks 5 Earned Runs 6 Ks
Final Analysis: A tough start for Ryu, but I really like his stuff. Featuring a great mix of pitches to work off of a mid-to-below average fastball that topped out at 91, with an above average change-up, cut-fastball (full disclosure: FanGraphs lists it as a slider, I think it looks more like a cut-fastball with a tight break and it doesn’t sweep that 10-4 angle you see sliders from left-handers more frequently, it’s more a tight 11-5) and solid curveball, it’s a great arsenal. He’s able to control all those pitches effectively, with a 26:5 K:BB ratio now.
Hardy’s homer was definitely hit well, but I think with its low trajectory it’s off the wall in Dodger Stadium. Then that single by Matt Wieters to start the 6th is probably caught by an average outfielder (sorry Andre Ethier) which also could’ve saved a run. Ryu got a lot of swings-and-misses and a lot of weak ground balls, so I think he looked better than the line indicated.
Four of the five runs in this outing came on first-pitch hacks, a definite red flag. But this Orioles lineup is better than it gets credit for sometimes, and don’t forget Ryu will get to pitch in San Francisco and San Diego a lot this season. Not to mention home games at pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium. Ryu is only 26-years old and I’m really excited for his upcoming career. I think he’s a great target in both redraft leagues and keepers as a back of the rotation guy with every pitching category stat upside, and I don’t think his strikeout rate is much of a fluke.