Blue Jays: Would Hyun-Jin Ryu fit the bill for Toronto?

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 21: (L-R) Rich Hill #44, Hyun-Jin Ryu #99 and Kenta Maeda #18 look on during the first inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Dodger Stadium on August 21, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 21: (L-R) Rich Hill #44, Hyun-Jin Ryu #99 and Kenta Maeda #18 look on during the first inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Dodger Stadium on August 21, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

FanGraphs ranked Hyun-Jin Ryu in their Top Six of 2020 free-agent starting pitchers. Does he fit the bill for the Blue Jays?

In previous articles, I argued that the Blue Jays should have as many irons (contract discussions) in the fire (free agent pool) as possible. This tactic would reduce the risk of missing out on all of the attractive 2020 free agent starters.

In the first piece, I concluded that Michael Pineda was a pitcher who could improve the Blue Jays starting rotation. My next article identified Zack Wheeler as a candidate worthy of serious consideration. Based upon estimated contract terms from FanGraphs and other sources, I determined that both pitchers could be signed at reasonable terms. Unfortunately, both of those recommended targets signed elsewhere. Hyun-Jin Ryu remains a free agent and, given his track record, is a starter who deserves consideration as a Blue Jays target.

Note that this article is not about if the Blue Jays will sign Ryu; it is a piece that examines whether the Blue Jays should sign Ryu and, if so, what would a reasonable contract look like.

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After a successful career in South Korea, where he was a seven-time All-Star, Ryu made his MLB debut on April 2, 2013 at the age of 26. During the 2013-2014 period, he pitched 344 innings and posted an ERA, FIP, SIERA, and fWAR of 3.17, 2.97, 3.40, and 7.8, respectively. In 2014, he developed shoulder discomfort that ultimately led to surgery on his labrum. He missed the entire 2015 season and only pitched approximately 30 innings in 2016; Ryu had elbow surgery in September 2016. Since then, he has not missed any days related to arm/shoulder problems; of his 160 days missed, 117 were attributed to groin issues.

After the conclusion of the 2018 MLB season, the Dodgers made a 1-year, $17.9 million Qualifying Offer to Ryu, which he accepted. Accordingly, there are no draft-pick compensation or international signing bonus pool money ramifications for a team that signs Ryu after the 2019 season.

Pitch and batted ball profile

Brooks Baseball describes the 2019 Ryu as follows:

"His change generates a very high amount of groundballs compared to other pitchers’ changeups, has slightly below average velo and has some natural sink to it. His fourseam fastball has some natural sinking action and has essentially average velo. His cutter has slightly above average velo, has some natural sink and has strong cutting action. His sinker is a real worm killer that generates an extreme number of groundballs compared to other pitchers’ sinkers and has some natural sinking action. His curve has sweeping glove-side movement, has below average velo, generates more whiffs/swing compared to other pitchers’ curves, has a sharp downward bite and results in somewhat more groundballs compared to other pitchers’ curves."

Table 1 shows that in 2019 Ryu was no worse than 88th percentile in terms of xwOBA, Barrel %, and Hard Hit %. His batted ball profile also shows that he induced ground balls at a rate (52.5%) that is higher than the MLB average of 45.4%. His fly ball rate is six percentage points lower than the MLB average. These latter two metrics are positive omens given a potential Ryu switch to the American League East and the Rogers Centre specifically.


Ryu’s innings were limited in 2017 to 126.0 due to hip and foot issues; in 2018, his innings count was only 82 because of a groin injury. Given that his innings total over these two seasons was 208, I combined his 2017 and 2018 seasons and presented that data as a comparable for his 2019 campaign (182 innings).

Table 2 illustrates some statistics of note from the 2019 campaign and the 2017-2018 period. His 2019 season was outstanding, as evidenced by his second place finish in the 2019 National League Cy Young voting. The highlights are as follows:

  • In terms of quintiles, Ryu was a #2 starter in respect of K%, BB%, K%-BB%, and SIERA during the 2017-2018 period;
  • His 2017-2018 ERA was 92nd percentile and his FIP was 64th;
  • Ryu’s HR/9 was 33rd percentile, which can be attributed to a career-worst 1.56 HR/9 in 2017 (minimum 100 innings);
  • His 2018 HR/9 was 0.98, which was close to his career 0.88 rate;
  • Ryu’s 2019 was terrific given that his K%, BB%, K%-BB%, ERA, and FIP were no lower than 93rd percentile; and
  • He posted a 3.77 SIERA, which ranked in the 88th percentile.

Park factors

According to FanGraphs 2018 park factors for home runs (2019 data is not available yet), the park factor for the Dodgers was 101 and 102 at Rogers Centre; the league average park factor is set at 100. The Rogers Centre had 4% more home runs than the league average park (halved so 104 becomes 102 in 81 games). At the home of the Dodgers, home runs were 2% higher than they would be at the league average park.

Division factors

There are quantifiable differences pitching to National League West teams compared to American League East teams. In 2019, NL West teams (ex-Los Angeles), hit 830 home runs; AL East teams (ex-Toronto) hit 981 home runs (18% more). These NL West teams produced a wRC+ of 87; the AL East teams noted generated a 103 wRC+.

League factors

In 2019, the average ERA, FIP, and SIERA for AL starters was 4.76, 4.63, and 4.59, respectively. The comparable NL stats are 4.33, 4.39, and 4.50, respectively.

Given the noted park, division, and league factors, we should expect Ryu to have higher HR/9, ERA, FIP, and SIERA numbers as an AL starter compared to his NL career (all things being equal).


The contract analysis has three steps:

  1. Determine a non-Blue Jays specific contract value for Ryu
  2. Address Blue Jays-specific issues
  3. If applicable, evaluate compensation draft pick and the reduction of international signing bonus pool money (“Bonus Pool”) ramifications

For a detailed analysis of the three steps noted, please refer to Schedule A.

A summary of these steps is as follows:

  • Before considering Steps 2 or 3, a rational, non-Blue Jays specific contract for Ryu would be a 3-year, $54 million deal (see Table 3)
  • Assuming that the Blue Jays have to pay a 20%-premium to attract free agents (taxes and other factors), a 3-year, $64.8 million contract would be reasonable
  • The draft-pick compensation and international bonus pool money ramifications are not applicable with the signing of Ryu

It is important to note that a reasonable contract value falls within a range of other reasonable contract values; call it a zone of reasonableness. There is not a precise number for a contract; it is not like going to the grocery store to buy broccoli. For example, my upper-end for a 3-year deal for Ryu would be a $72 million deal. I could justify that with a projected 7.5 fWAR over that term. Although I believe that the 2019 fWAR projections (courtesy of Depth Charts and Steamer) reflect Ryu’s extended stays on the Injured List in the past, I would not be comfortable with a 4-year contract for the 32-year old starter.

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The last word

Ryu is a free agent worth pursuing. His 2019 metrics and projected 2020 fWAR are strong indicators of a very good 2020 season. He would be the ace of the Blue Jays next season and would continue to be at least a #3 in the final two campaigns of a 3-year deal. Also, his estimated contract terms are supported by various predictive metrics. Ryu should be on the Blue Jays free agent sensor.