Tuesday night gave us our first regular season look at Hyun-Jin Ryu. I went back and reviewed his start against the San Francisco Giants to get an idea of what we might be able to expect from Ryu this season.
Hyun-Jin Ryu's repertoire consists of a fastball, curveball, and changeup. His fastball sits 89-91 mph with some late sink, but isn't going to dominate big league hitters. He occasionally throws a loopy, junk curveball, which comes in around 67-70 mph. Ryu's changeup is what will make him an effective pitcher as he showed great feel for the pitch and throws it around 79-81 mph. The arsenal lends itself to mixing speeds often, which is exactly how Ryu got out of some jams in Tuesday night's game, but the lack of a dominant, wipeout pitch will probably keep Ryu's K/9 below 7.0.
Similar to Yu Darvish, Ryu's windup essentially starts from the stretch position before he rocks and fires. He hides the ball well, which helps his fastball/changeup combo play up and as a lefty who winds quickly, runners are going to have a hard time swiping a bag off of Hyun-Jin Ryu.
Ryu's biggest weakness in this start was his lack of fastball command. He fell behind to 7 of the 17 hitters he threw a first-pitch fastball to, and left a couple of fastballs up in the zone that were hit hard (two specifically left up to Joaquin Arias could've meant trouble against any other #6 hitter, but instead were hit hard for only singles). The command of the fastball wasn't poor enough to consider it a lost cause; Ryu must have been dealing with all sorts of emotions in his first start in the U.S. and he could improve the command as he gets settled in. Many of the pitches were close; he just couldn't get the call on most low-and-away fastballs to right-handed hitters. There's a very good chance he shows up pounding the stikezone low and away in his next start and all is forgiven.
To give up 10 hits in 6.1 innings and only allow 1 run usually takes a little bit of luck, but Ryu managed to escape multiple jams by relying on his plus changeup. Only 3 hits were off his changeup, one by Madison Bumgarner who just threw his bat out there on an 0-2 count and found a hole, and another on a hard hit grounder by Hunter Pence right at Justin Sellers who couldn't handle it. It was ruled as a single and was certainly a tough play, but in my opinion should've been an out. Ryu stopped the bleeding in the 4th after giving up 3 straight singles, by striking out Andres Torres on 4 pitches, 3 being changeups. He also used the off-speed pitch to get Marco Scutaro to roll into a 5-4-3 double play to end the 5th.
Hyun-Jin Ryu didn't allow a single free pass, and was never really even close to it. He ran into only 2 3-ball counts, once against Bumgarner where his lack of fastball command was clearly evident, and another on an 8-pitch AB against Posey where Ryu fooled him on a changeup to get the K. A large reason for not giving up any walks was the aggressive approach taken by the San Francisco hitters. There was little effort to get Ryu's pitch count up as only 4 hitters had AB's longer than 4 pitches. Ryu won't get himself into trouble often with walks, but his arsenal requires him to pitch to contact, and he will likely always give up enough hits to prevent him from becoming a WHIP savior. The key is that he doesn't get hit hard as he mixes speeds well and refuses to let hitters barrel any of his pitches.
After watching this start, I have to admit I'm happy I didn't invest in Hyun-Jin Ryu in any of my leagues. I do believe he will find success and should be a nice fantasy asset for the next few years, but he's not the high-strikeout, power pitcher I tend to pick up. If the fastball command doesn't improve and he starts to really fall in love with his changeup, he might get knocked around a few times this year; however, if he can find ways to get ahead early in counts he has the ability to consistently put hitters away. I had Ryu ranked 73rd this week in my SP Rankings and thought I was docking him a few points because he was going up against Madison Bumgarner in his lone start, but 73rd is probably where I rank him now going against a more neutral matchup. Ryu's next start should be Sunday, April 7th as he takes on the Pirates at home. This is a solid matchup for him and it will hopefully come with some more offensive production from his teammates. I'll be watching to see if Ryu can hit his spots better with his fastball, especially earlier in counts. If he does, expect solid numbers and 7+ IP of work and hopefully a win.