Remember when the Dodgers had too much pitching? Ah, fun times. Clayton Kershaw has been as awesome as ever of course, but Chad Billingsley‘s elbow blew up and Zack Greinke got assaulted by Carlos Quentin and Aaron Harang was traded and Ted Lilly was declared legally dead two years ago and Josh Beckett developed a severe case of “old” and Chris Capuano kept getting hurt and Matt Magill wasn’t ready and Stephen Fife was fine, really, when he hasn’t been hurt too, but is still Stephen Fife and…
Phew. Got all that? In the midst of all that uncertainty was perhaps the biggest question mark of all: a chubby 26-year-old lefty trying to make the leap from South Korea who refused to throw bullpen sessions and had proven to exactly no one that he was going to be able to throw hard enough to make his plus changeup matter.
Three months later, Hyun-jin Ryu has proven himself to be steady, if rarely spectacular, and when your rotation is going through all the stress described above, sometimes steady is all you need. In 18 starts, he’s allowed more than three earned runs just three times; only Kershaw has made more starts and thrown more innings among Dodger pitchers. He’s got a top-25 ERA of 3.09 and a top-35 FIP of 3.58, and he’s proven himself to be completely worth the risk and investment so far.
Note that I said “rarely spectacular” and not “never”, because Ryu has had a few phenomenal outings. On April 30, he struck out 12 Rockies in six innings; on May 28, he shut out the Angels on just two hits. He’s not an ace or anything close to it, but when you’re behind Kershaw & Greinke, you don’t really need to be. His stat line is actually oddly similar to Washington’s Gio Gonzalez, who was only a top-3 Cy Young finisher last season.
Now all that being said, there’s a small part of me that wonders how his second half is going to go, because after striking out 55 in 56.1 innings over his first nine starts, he’s whiffed only 37 in 61.1 innings over his second nine. We can see here, from Brooks Baseball, that part of the problem could be that his fastball velocity has declined:
Despite that, he’s actually been using it more of late, almost entirely eliminating the usage of his okay-but-not great curveball:
Don Mattingly appeared to take notice as well, scheduling the second half rotation so that Ryu gets 11 days between starts. That’s probably a good sign, but that’s a worry for the days to come. For now, Ryu has contributed a solid first half when the Dodgers needed it most. Even if he can’t keep it up, we’ll at least always have that.