Jays Journal contributors will be authoring Toronto Blue Jays report cards based on how each player performed in 2020. In this edition, we take a look at Hyun Jin Ryu.
When the news broke that the Jays had signed Hyun Jin Ryu to a four-year $80,000,000 deal, I’m sure I was not the only fan that had mixed feelings about it. On one hand, Ryu was coming off a stellar year and had been a consistent front-end starter on the Dodgers for five seasons and had experience pitching big games in October. On the other hand, he was an injury-prone 32-year-old with declining velocity that had very little experience pitching against AL East teams.
With that said, I think all of the concerns surrounding Ryu have gone out the window after he led the Blue Jays staff to a postseason berth. He proved without a shadow of a doubt that he was worth every cent. Ryu put up a 2.69 ERA, a 1.15 WHIP, with 72 SO in 67 innings pitched. The numbers speak for themselves, but what impressed me the most about Ryu this season was his ability to keep hitters off balance and consistently create soft contact.
Ryu was able to this by mixing his pitches masterfully. He upped his use of the cutter 5% from last year and threw his changeup more than any other year of his career, throwing it 27.8% of the time. His location was impeccable for the most part, constantly getting ahead of hitters and finishing them off. Most of the time he did it with his two off-speed pitches, the curveball and changeup, which accounted for over 60% of his strikeouts.
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Strikeouts are fun to watch and Ryu provided enough of those this season, but what made him so successful this year, especially with runners on, was his ability to get ground ball outs. Ryu’s arsenal seems like it was designed to get hitters to roll over. He had the highest ground ball rate of his career at 51.1%, a big reason he was able to leave 80% of his baserunners stranded.
As impressive as all these numbers are, the last memory we all have of Ryu is his start in game two of the Wild Card series. There was plenty of controversy surrounding the decision to start Ryu in game two but ultimately, he didn’t pitch well enough for that decision to matter. Ryu got rocked; his velocity was down, his location was off and the Rays being the team they are, capitalized.
He was the anchor of the rotation, but when it mattered, the Ryu we had relied on all year, didn’t show up. In no way am I saying the Jays would have won the series had Ryu pitched well, but his playoff pedigree was one of his selling points in free agency and he ultimately didn’t deliver when it counted.
Overall, Ryu’s season went better than most expected, and in a year as challenging as this one, that cannot go under appreciated. I’m sure Ryu will come back next year motivated to prove he is the big game pitcher the Jays need to contend for a World Series.