When the Toronto Blue Jays signed Hyun-Jin Ryu to a four-year, 80-million-dollar contract, they expected him to be an anchor in the starting rotation.
In his first season with Toronto, Ryu was exactly that. In twelve regular-season starts, the “Korean Monster” pitched to the tune of a 2.69 ERA that helped him finish third in AL Cy Young voting.
Hoping to recreate that success in his second season, Ryu has instead faced a season full of adversity and inconsistency.
In twenty-six regular-season starts, Ryu has struggled (for his standards) to find any sort of consistent success. After last night’s start against Baltimore, Ryu’s ERA sits at 3.92, hardly a number Blue Jays fans expect from one of their best starters.
Like his inconsistent performance this season, it’s hard to pinpoint one clear reason behind Ryu’s struggles.
Early in the season, there were some velocity concerns, with Ryu’s fastball barely touching 90 mph in some starts. Fortunately, those issues were alleviated after Ryu identified and fixed some mechanical issues with pitching coach Pete Walker. Despite helping the southpaw regain his pitch velocity, those mechanical fixes have been unable to help Ryu truly find consistency with the command of his pitches.
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As a pitcher who relies on command and guile for success, it’s no surprise that Ryu’s struggles came soon after he lost the feel for his pitches this season. However, despite all the talk and worry of age-related decline and discontent of subpar performances, the Korean ace is still quietly managing to put together a valuable season for Toronto.
In eighteen of his twenty-six starts, Ryu has given up less than three runs. Moreover, he has pitched at least six innings in fourteen of his starts this year, with twelve of those being classified as quality starts.
Altogether, Fangraphs has valued Ryu’s production this season at 2.0 WAR (as of August 30) and his season total will likely end up somewhere in the mid twos. Considering that the cost of one WAR in free agency is around $8 million (according to Fangraphs), Ryu is still projected to be worth around the $20 million he receives each year.
In a season full of ups and downs for the Blue Jays, the starting rotation has been a consistent shining light. Perhaps not the ace-like production that many fans expect from him, Ryu, like his fellow rotation-mates, is still giving his team a chance to win this season.