Blue Jays: Would you rather- Hyun-Jin Ryu vs. Marcus Stroman

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 04: Pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu #99 of the Los Angeles Dodgers throws against the Colorado Rockies during the fourth inning at Dodger Stadium on September 4, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 04: Pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu #99 of the Los Angeles Dodgers throws against the Colorado Rockies during the fourth inning at Dodger Stadium on September 4, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images) /

The Blue Jays have their new ace in Hyun-Jin Ryu, after inking the 33-year-old to a four year deal. Are the Jays better off with Ryu than they were with Marcus Stroman?

With just under two months until teams start reporting for Spring Training, the Blue Jays have the majority of their off-season checklist already taken care of, which is a rare and enviable spot for them to be in at this time of the year.

The biggest need going into the off-season was improving the starting rotation, and Ross Atkins and company have done just that by adding Tanner Roark, Chase Anderson, Shun Yamaguchi, and of course the big free agent prize, Hyun-Jin Ryu.

Getting Ryu to sign on the dotted line required the Blue Jays to hand out the second largest free agent contract in franchise history at four years and 80 million, just shy of Russell Martin‘s 82 million dollar pact, but it also comes with a higher AAV. While it was always assumed that the Blue Jays would direct a good chunk of their payroll to the rotation, it’s great to see the club identify a needle-mover and then go out and acquire him.

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The fan reaction to signing Ryu has obviously been positive, but it’s also brought about a side debate among some Blue Jays fans. In particular, some folks on social media have wondered aloud if the Blue Jays are better off with Ryu, or if they would have been set up better in the long-term by signing Marcus Stroman to an extension rather than trading him to the Mets last year.

To that end, I thought it might be fun to compare the two and see what we find. It’s obviously an imperfect exercise, as the Blue Jays didn’t have to have one without the other, but there’s probably some connection to the Blue Jays being able to spend the money in free agency, however indirect. Let’s have a look at the tale of the tape.

Stroman (6 seasons, 146 appearances/140 starts)

3.76 ERA
1.292 WHIP
849.1 IP
14.5 bWAR

Ryu (6 seasons, 126 appearances/125 starts)

2.98 ERA
1.164 WHIP
740.1 IP
13.5 bWAR

A couple things of note here: Stroman missed all but four starts during the 2015 campaign because of a knee injury sustained during Spring Training that year, and Ryu has had plenty of injury issues of his own. That said, both men were relatively healthy last year, with Stroman throwing 184.1 innings to Ryu’s 182.2.

If we’re talking about who was more productive last season, that honour would definitely go to the new Blue Jays’ left-hander. However, for the purposes of this exercise and for any MLB rebuild, future performance is far more important than what has been accomplished in the past. It’s pretty tough to forecast stats for a four-year period with any accuracy, but has the following projections for next season for the pair.

Ryu:  11-7, 3.06 ERA, 1.145 WHIP, 159 innings pitched

Stro’: 9-11, 3.94 ERA, 1.346 WHIP, 162 innings pitched

Clearly this projection system like Ryu’s chances for success in 2020 a lot better than Stroman’s, and I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a knowledgeable baseball person who would disagree. That said, there are more variables to consider if we’re talking about choosing between the two pitchers when it comes to handing out a long-term deal.

What we do know is that Ryu signed for four years and 80 million dollars, and assuming he remains in Toronto throughout that contract, he’ll pitch his age 33-36 seasons for the Blue Jays. Because he doesn’t rely on a high-velocity fastball, and instead pitches with an assortment of quality offerings, Ryu is the type of arm that should be able to sustain his production, provided he stays healthy. That will almost assuredly prove to be the most important factor for the Korean southpaw’s tenure in Toronto.

As for Stroman, he’s projected to earn roughly 11.8 million dollars in 2020, and will hit free agency after the season. He’ll turn 29 on May 1st, so he has youth and salary on his side compared to Ryu. That said, it remains to be seen how big and how long of a contract Stroman will want once he hits the open market, and his ultimate value could have a lot to do with how he performs during the 2020 campaign. If we’re talking about an extension with the Blue Jays (had they not traded him), does anyone think he would agreed to less than four years and 80 million? In a market that saw the top-end guys just receive an AAV of 35 million, I don’t think he would have, at least not without testing free agency first.

In theory you would be getting the prime from Stroman compared to the latter stages of productive years from Ryu, but there are no guarantees when it comes to pitching at the highest level. On the other hand, trading Stroman brought the Blue Jays a couple of exciting pitching prospects in Simeon Woods Richardson and Anthony Kay, and there’s a chance that both of them could be impact big leaguers. As much as it stung to trade Stroman when it happened, we might be very thankful that Atkins pulled the trigger when we look back on it in a few years.

And as much as I don’t want to pick on Stroman here, there’s final factor to consider would be leadership and clubhouse fit. Stroman was a passionate Blue Jay and an advocate of both Toronto and Canada. However, there were times that he clashed with management, and often in the public eye, and it wasn’t always the greatest look. I didn’t always have a problem with it necessarily, but there were times that I felt things could have been handled in a more professional manner. I could be wrong, but I have a hard time foreseeing that sort of thing out of Ryu, and bringing him into the fold could be a goldmine for Rogers when it comes to marketing in Korea, and also to the Korean population in the city of Toronto. Stroman certainly could have brought value on that end as well, but I’m not sure he has the same potential value to the Blue Jays that Ryu brings with him.

Add it all up and I think you could probably make a solid case for either pitcher, and as I said before, the Blue Jays always had the option of keeping Stroman last season and also pursuing Ryu this winter. That said, it seems very unlikely that the Blue Jays would have spent on two pitchers at 20 million or more per year, and if they had retained Stroman for the long-term, we probably wouldn’t be talking about Ryu today.

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We won’t know the answer to the question for at least a couple of years, but for now I’m pleased with where the Blue Jays landed. They have a legitimate ace, one who finished 2nd in the NL Cy Young Award race last season, and signed him to a reasonable contract for the top-end of the market. And if Kay and Woods Richardson pan out like I think they will, I believe this question will be a no-brainer in a few years’ time.