Blue Jays: Hyun-Jin Ryu’s projections undervalue his talent

Hyun-Jin Ryu’s projections for the 2020 season aren’t as flattering as you would think, but the Blue Jays shouldn’t be too concerned about it.

Late last week there were a lot of Top 10 lists flying around baseball circles and social media, and one of them in particular caught my eye.

If you ask the MLB Network, the Blue Jays made a big splash by signing one of the top-5 starting pitchers in baseball “right now” when they landed Hyun-Jin Ryu. They released a top 10 list on February 1st and Ryu was behind only Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, and Max Scherzer, which is pretty exceptionable company. It was compiled by a system they call “The Shredder”, and wasn’t influenced by the opinion of any of us mortal humans.

However, Ryu isn’t viewed in that same tier by everyone, or so it would seem. It was originally brought to my attempt when I saw a tweet from @BKayZone, who happens to be be Bobby Kay, the brother of Blue Jays pitcher Anthony Kay. He tweeted a photo of the opinion of Sarah Langs’ of the MLB Network, and she didn’t include Ryu in her top ten. Langs is far from the only one with that opinion, and the more I looked into it, the more surprised I was by how differently Ryu’s value is interpreted by different parties.

When I challenged another user on that same thread, he rightly pointed out that the projection systems aren’t all that kind to Ryu. Naturally that led me to go have a closer look for myself (which I hadn’t done yet, oddly enough), and I was pretty surprised by what I found. With my apologies to @Maherwrites, you were correct.

If you ask the Steamer projections, which can be found over at Fangraphs, they seem to think that Ryu will have a difficult time adjusting to life in the American League East. Despite the fact that they’re predicting a healthy season of 31 starts for the 33-year-old, they project that his ERA will jump almost full full runs from 2.32 in 2019 up to 4.26. Granted, Ryu had a pretty special season in 2019, but he’s been on an absolute tear since the middle of the 2018 campaign, posting the lowest ERA in the National League over that time. With that in mind, why are they so down on his potential for this season?

I could get into all kinds of stats here, but I’ll stick with ERA for the time being. Looking at the Rotochamp numbers, they also see a big jump up to 3.75 for Ryu this season, and ‘ATC’ foresees a 3.87 ERA in 2020. Baseballreference.com is the most optimistic one I could find, as they have him projected for a 3.06 ERA for the season ahead.

There’s no doubt that Ryu will face some new challenges with a new team, and against a more difficult hitter’s division. He’s trading in a fairly light-hitting NL West consisting of the Padres, Giants, Diamondbacks, and Rockies for the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays, and Orioles, and it also comes with better hitter’s parks (with the exception of Coors Field) and the designated hitter.

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Despite all that, I’m more inclined to agree with “The Shredder” than I am with most of these projection systems. It’s more than fair to expect some regression from the Korean southpaw in 2020, but I don’t think that’s going to take him out of the top tier of starters in baseball. He’s quietly been one of the best in the game for almost two years now, and as long as he can stay healthy throughout the season ahead, I believe most of these “projections” will look a little silly by year’s end.

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