The Blue Jays’ starting rotation should get a big lift in 2020 thanks to the presence of Hyun-Jin Ryu, and signing him could help the training staff too.
In a little over a month, pitchers and catchers will start reporting to Spring Training, and the Blue Jays will finally get to see Hyun-Jin Ryu take the field in a new uniform.
There’s little doubt that Ryu will make a difference for the Blue Jays in 2020 and beyond, but it sounds like he could have some added bonuses. In fact, there are reports that the new Toronto ace will be bringing some medical expertise along with him, and that’s probably not a bad thing.
According to a tweet from our own Jason Lee, reports from Korean media have suggested that the Blue Jays will hire Kim Byung-Gon to join the training staff. Lee mentions that Byung-Gon’s primary focus will be on working with Ryu, but that he will also work with other Blue Jay players as well.
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There are two things that I know right now about Byung-Gon. First, he’s worked with the Korean National Team, starting in 2014, and was also part of the 2017 team that competed in the World Baseball Classic. The second, and far more important part of this, is that obviously Ryu trusts him, or he wouldn’t be coming to work for the Blue Jays.
That could be very important, especially as the Blue Jays try to get as much value as they can from Ryu’s left arm. There’s no doubt that he’s a premiere MLB pitcher when he’s healthy, but that’s been his primary problem since coming to North America. He’s dealt with a variety of injuries including shoulder and elbow problems earlier in his career, and more recently he was sidelined in 2018 with a serious groin injury, as well as some setbacks because of his neck. That extensive injury history is what scared a few teams off, despite the fact that Ryu led all of baseball with a 2.32 ERA last season.
Thankfully a 32-year-old Ryu was healthy last season, and threw 182.2 innings for the Dodgers on route to the NL ERA title. He actually had the lowest mark in 2018 as well, but 82.1 innings didn’t qualify him for the leaderboard. However, that’s the kind of performance he can put up when he’s right, and Byung-Gon will be tasked with helping him stay on the field.
The Blue Jays have had a tough time dealing with injury issues over the last few seasons, mostly notably with Aaron Sanchez and his chronic blister and fingernail problems. They also had a change to their Head Trainer role, promoting Jose Ministral to take over for the departed Nikki Huffman, and even though Ministral served under Huffman, it’s probably safe to expect a few adjustments to how things are handled.
As for working with Ryu, rather than having to spend a great deal of time familiarizing themselves with the pitcher (which they’ll obviously still do), they’ll have a professional to help guide them through the new relationship, and one who is very familiar with what works for his client. It obviously doesn’t hurt that they’re fellow countrymen as well, which can’t hurt Ryu’s chances of feeling comfortable with his new team.
Considering that Ryu has been healthy and incredibly effective for the last season and a half, it would appear that he’s found a system that’s working for him. If that means including Byung-Gon on the Blue Jays’ training staff, that’s not a very difficult thing for the club to allow for their new ace. In fact, and with all due respect to the last few training teams (I was/am a big fan of Huffman’s), having another voice and another approach in the clubhouse might not be a bad thing at all.