2013 Dodgers in Review #33: SP Hyun-Jin Ryu

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3.00 ERA / 3.24 FIP 192.0 IP 7.22 K/9 3.14 BB/9 3.1 fWAR (A+)

2013 in brief: Fantastic debut season, and might have been the Rookie of the Year if he’d signed in the American League.

2014 status: Firmly entrenched as a member of the Dodgers rotation.

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Everyone give a hearty welcome to “TellMyWifeISaidHello”, who was a huge help by contributing a much-needed — and thorough! — Ryu review. 

By the start of last off-season, we were all well aware of the Dodgers’ new-found financial power, already having seen them lay down 42 million for a yet to be fully understood Cuban outfielder and one of the biggest financial trades in sports history in the Great Nick Punto deal. All of that, plus an extension for Andre Ethier, and the signing of Brandon “listen I am actually really a nice guy it is not my fault Kasten and Co gave me three years” League. We also knew that the Dodgers were definitely looking for at least one starting pitcher, which led Mike to write in his first article about Ryu that:

“Honestly, if the Dodgers didn’t submit a figure, I’ll be shocked, so this is something we need to be paying attention to since he could be LA property by the end of the weekend.”

Oh boy, was Mike right on this one. The very next day it wasreported the Dodgers won the right to negotiate with Ryu for a bid of $25,737,737, or a little more than what we will bid for Tanaka. Also, apparently the number 7 and 3 are lucky in Korean culture so good on the Dodgers for being respectful and knowledgeable of other cultures. Anyway, at that point we fully expected Ryu to be signed, but were unsure where he would fit in seeing as he would be the seventh starter under contract and we still fully expected a pursuit of Zack Greinke as the number one starting pitcher on the market.

One month later, the Dodgers certainly had themselves a busy day, adding Greinke on December 8, and then barely beating the deadline to sign Ryu the very next day. That seems like a winner for best two days of last offseason to me.

As first reported by Mike, the contract was — when you take into account bonus opportunities — for 6 years and 42 million dollars, making the total outlay for Ryu 62 million without incentives. Which, if you thought Ryu was a reliever seemed high, but not if you believed Scott Boras, who thought of Ryu as a number three mid-rotation starter. That now seems totally reasonable, especially in an offseason where Anibal Sanchez gets 90 million and Edwin Jackson 52 million. All in all, at the time for team willing to spend money like the Dodgers it seemed very reasonable.

I am 100% positive Guggenheim has a vault like this and they let free agents they really want to sign carry out as much as they can in a bag and that is their contract.

It was not really until January, when Ryu came over for his press conference, that we truly began to appreciate how big a star Ryu was in South Korea. “The Monster” came to LA and made sure to visit one of the finest delicatessens LA and America has to offer in In-n-Out. This, along with his robust physique, and comments from him saying he will work himself into shape starting at the beginning of camp like he normally does, caused some concern among the Dodger faithful that maybe the Dodgers had bought someone who did not know when to put the fork down. You hardly could blame people with the Andruw Jones disaster still lingering on the payroll for the last few years.

In February, Spring Training finally started and Dodger fans got their first real exposure to the awesome person that is Ryu. Camp was barely three days old when Ryu laid a gem on us that I feel gave us a pretty good indication of the type of personality we had in Ryu and still makes me laugh. When asked about his first workout running alongside guys such as Clayton Kershaw, Ryu had this to say:

Other players don’t listen to the trainer. The trainer says 35 seconds, why do they run in 26 seconds? I run in 35 seconds. Other people say I’m not in shape. There are two different shapes, one for fitness, one for throwing the ball.”

The above quote, along with ones from A.J. Ellis and Rick Honeycutt, that Ryu had excellent command and “a plus-plus” change up led us to be cautiously very excited about the Dodgers’ new Korean star.

As camp went by, Ryu went out there just like every other healthy pitcher that time of year, and it was not long before he got passed up as far as hot topics go by a certain Cuban. The two big stories of the spring for Ryu were the below gif of him making Rickie Weeks look silly and when Keith Law watched Ryu pitch March 6 against the Indians. Law was not very impressed by what he saw, saying that from what he saw he looked like a “fringy fourth starter.”

Ryu would go on to look better throughout spring training, and ended up starting the second game of the season against the Giants. He pitched well rather well for a 25 year old making his Major League debut, though he would later admit that he did have some nerves. His stat line for the night: 6.1 IP / 1BB / 5K / 10 hits. The ten hits were a little concerning, but in retrospect it was exactly what we grew to expect from Ryu. Solid work — while not Kershaw or Grienke spectacular — but hardly disappointing.

Ryu would start the season with a bang. In his first 18 starts before the All-Star break, he went at least 6 innings in all but two games, including what was probably his best start of the year (non-playoff edition) on May 28 against the Angels. His line that day was 9IP / 0BB / 7K / 2H. That was a game started against old friend Joe Blanton and Luis Cruz hit a go ahead HR. Crazy, I know. In those 18 starts Ryu posted a ERA of 3.09 and FIP of 3.58.

Ryu being excellent was especially important for the Dodgers, because along with Clayton Kershaw, he was one of the few consistent players on the Dodgers in one of the most tumultuous first halves in Dodger history. (As I’m sure you haven’t forgotten, this team was on pace for the worst record in LA Dodger history as late as June 22.) So like Mike did in his post at the All-Star break noting Ryu was an “Unsung Hero” what I am trying to say is without Ryu it could have been a lot worse.

From the All-Star break on, Ryu would only pitch in 12 game,s mostly because of the break being so late in the season and the Dodgers being able to skip him in September once when he had a sore back. For my money, the best start of the second half for Ryu was July 27 against the Reds, when he pitched seven innings and struck out nine allowing only one run and only walked one. Although he would not make it out of the 5th inning four times (though one was a meaningless warm up game at the end of the season) in the second half compared to only two in the first he actually pitched better with an ERA of 2.87 and FIP of 2.73.

Before we get into the whole season pitching numbers for Ryu, another thing we learned during the first year in the big leagues is that despite his physique, Ryu is definitely a world class athlete and competitor. Which is easy to see when you look at the fact that despite supposedly not having hit in a game-time situation since high school, he was still able to manage to get 12 big league hits this year, including three doubles and a triple, which led to him being given the nickname “Babe Ryuth.”

Ryu also was rated by Fangraphs as having saved 6.2 runs with his defense, which when combined with his only slightly below average base running and his bad (although good for a pitcher) hitting, he was able to provide a whole .3 fWAR before we even account for his pitching. Not bad for a guy who got more than his fair share of chubby jokes.

Okay so what of the end of season numbers. An ERA of 3.00 was 14th best among qualified pitchers. His FIP of 3.24 was 17th among qualified pitchers. He had an over 3 to 1 strikeout to walk ratio which included the 29th best walk per nine innings ratio in baseball. By ERA- Ryu was the 24th best starter in baseball with an 84. So while the strike out numbers are not exactly outstanding, with “only” 7.22 per nine innings, the whole package is one of a very solid number three if not number two starter even going by WAR he was 38th best pitcher in baseball above names like Gio Gonzalez, Ervin Santana and Jeff Samardzija.

When Mike took a look at Ryu at the midseason point one of the concerns for Ryu was that as the season was going on to that his velocity was decreasing and so were his strikeouts. Ryu had thrown 182.2 the year before for Hanwha, but he had done that with five days off in between starts unlike in the US where there are only four off days between starts. However, as you can see in the chart below after dipping to its lowest monthly average in May of 90.62 miles per hour his fastball ticked right back up in June to above 91 MPH where it stayed the rest of the season.

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While Ryu never did increase the strikeout numbers significantly over his first half numbers, the key to Ryu getting even better in the second half was the reduced number of walks. Ryu allowed only 1.19 walks per nine innings in the second half compared to 3.01 in the first half. If Ryu can be anywhere near that second half number going forward he won’t need to strikeout more than 7 per nine to produce terrific numbers.

Going into the postseason there was some concern about Ryu and how he would handle his first post season in the big leagues. There was even some debate in September about whether Nolasco should start ahead of Ryu. That pretty much ended when Nolasco ended his hot streak and got lit up a few times in September. The uneasiness of having to start a rookie in the postseason was not helped by the news of Ryu throwing bullpen session in front of Neal ElAttrache someone whose name you never want connected to a pitcher.

Ryu, in his first postseason game, was while not a disaster certainly his worst effort of the year as he only went three innings and allowed four earned runs. Although Ryu did bring home one run on sacrifice fly. The Dodgers went on to win the game so the poor night was generally forgotten until Ryu was sent to the mound in game three of the NLCS with the Dodgers behind 2-0 and desperately looking for some life after two very close heartbreaking losses in St. Louis.

Ryu was not only down 2-0 and facing the cardinals one of the best lineups in baseball in 2013 he was also going head to head with Adam Wainwright a top 5 pitcher in the NL. Ryu responded with one of his finest games of the year seven shutout innings three hits one walk and four strikeouts in a game the Dodgers had to have. What a way to end the season for a rookie.

The TLDR: Ryu was excellent in his first year as a Dodger. 192 innings with a 3 ERA is awesome for any pitcher, especially one in a new country and a new league. While Dodger fans were cautiously optimistic about the southpaw Korean being a valuable member of the rotation in 2013 I do not think anyone besides maybe Ryu himself could say they expected him to come over and be as effective as he was in this year. Ryu was legitimately one of the best 35 starters in baseball and even better by many metrics. He would have a good argument as the number one starter on about half the teams in baseball. On the Dodgers he was just the third best, what a wonderful blessed time this is to be a Dodger fan.

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Next! Edinson Volquez. Sigh.

Los Angeles Dodgers tickets

The Key To A Dodger Miracle: Two Lefty Starters Lined Up

kershaw_all-star_2013-07-16As the NLCS takes a travel day, the odds are still stacked against the Dodgers. They have to win each of the next two games, while the Cardinals need only win one, and they need to do it in St. Louis, where they dropped each of the first two games. It’s far from impossible that a team this good can manage to win two road games in a row, but it’s also going to be extremely difficult, especially with how limited Hanley Ramirez has been and the incredibly up-and-down nature of the offense as a whole, particularly with Michael Wacha & Adam Wainwright looming.

But if there is one thing that Dodger fans can hang their hats on, it’s this: Clayton Kershaw in Game 6, Hyun-jin Ryu in Game 7. That’s not just because it’s “the best pitcher on the planet and also a very good pitcher,” but also because if the Cardinals want to advance to the World Series, they’re going to be staring at two lefty starters in a row to do it — and we know that’s their primary weakness.

For example, Viva el Birdos on what lefties are doing to St. Louis first baseman Matt Adams:

Adams has gotten badly exposed against the Dodgers’ pitching, and their left-handers in particular. Adams had a strong platoon split in an admittedly not huge sample size in MLB: he has a 61 wRC+ for his MLB career against lefties, but hits right-handers for a 138 wRC+. Even taking the sample size into consideration, it seems likely that Matt Adams poses a serious liability against lefties. With Allen Craig out with a serious injury, the Cardinals don’t have a lot of choice about what they do at first base. The current plan seems to involve burying Adams at 6th or 7th in the order and crossing our collective fingers.

They go so far as to suggest perhaps starting David Freese at first (a position he has exactly one career start in) to save Adams for big pinch-hitting spots against righty relievers, though that seems unlikely to happen. (It’s also a good reminder that for all the injury woes the Dodgers have had, losing Craig — along with earlier injuries to Jaime Garcia, Rafael Furcal, & Chris Carpenter — has been a huge blow to St. Louis.)

It’s not just limited to Adams’ 2-for-14 against lefties in the playoffs, either. Matt Holliday is 2-for-12. Matt Carpenter is 2-for-13, with a triple. Yadier Molina is 1-for-9 with a walk. Jon Jay is 2-for-9. It can’t be ignored that most of those plate appearances came against guys like Kershaw, Ryu, and Pittsburgh lefties Francisco Liriano, Justin Wilson, & Tony Watson in the first round, because those are all extremely quality pitchers, but St. Louis troubles against lefties have been a season-long concern. And, obviously, it’s not like the Dodgers don’t have plenty of offensive questions themselves.

But if the Dodgers are going to make a miraculous comeback, it’s going to start with pitching, especially if Zack Greinke really is available to back up Ryu in relief in Game 7. Having two lefty starters lined up, especially with how fantastic Ryu looked in Game 3, is just about the best possible position to be in to take advantage of St. Louis weaknesses.

NLCS Game 3: Dodgers 3, Cardinals 0, Momentum Changer?

In the three games of the NLCS, Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, & Adam Wainwright — who are only three of the what, six or seven best starters in the NL? — have all pitched. They’ve all pitched well… and not a single one of those aces left the park after their starts knowing that he’d pitched his team to victory. Baseball is a weird, weird game sometimes.

In what was clearly the toughest matchup of the first three games for the Dodgers, Hyun-jin Ryu came up huge. He came up huger than huge; in what was unarguably the biggest game of the year to this point, Ryu was not only phenomenal, he was rarely even in trouble. With a fastball that occasionally touched 95 (higher than I’ve seen it all year) and taking advantage of what was a big strike zone for both sides, Ryu allowed three lone hits, at one point setting down 11 in a row.

The Cardinals didn’t have a man reach second until the fifth, when David Freese & Matt Adams led off with back-to-back singles. But even that led nowhere quick when Jon Jay flied out to left, and Carl Crawford easily doubled Daniel Descalso (running for the injured Freese) off of second. Ryu came back to get a 1-2-3 sixth and finish off his night by striking out Adams to end the seventh; he is the first Dodger lefty with seven shutout playoff innings since Jerry Reuss in 1981 (h/t Jon Weisman).

But we’ve seen good pitching before, obviously, and that alone doesn’t win playoff games. After 22 scoreless innings, the Dodgers finally broke through in the fourth, when Mark Ellis “doubled” — if you wonder what those quotes are for, you didn’t see Jay try to play center field tonight — and advanced to third on a Hanley Ramirez flyout. Adrian Gonzalez doubled in Ellis for the first run, and I shouldn’t be glossing that but I am because then (after Andre Ethier grounded out) Yasiel Puig came up and THAT BAT FLIP:

The best part, of course, is that this ball did not go out of the park, and so after a few steps Puig realized he was going to need to start moving… and he still turned the play into a stand-up triple without a throw. (Yes, as some will note, had he been running hard off the bat he may have had a chance for an inside-the-parker. Don’t suck our joy here.) I get why fans of every other team hate him; I do. But it’s not hard to get why we love him, is it?

The Dodgers tacked on an insurance run when Crawford came around to score on a Ramirez blooper in what was an extremely close play at the plate, and there was a dancing rally bear who got kicked out of the park, and Brian Wilson & Kenley Jansen nailed down the final two innings for the win.

Down 2-1, the Dodgers are still in a hole. But Matt Holliday is hitless in the series, and Adams has only one hit, and Freese may be hurt, and Carlos Beltran didn’t have a hit in Game 2 or 3, and the Cards looked pretty goofy on defense and the basepaths today. It won’t be easy, but it’s not over. With the win, Wednesday’s Game 5 (at 1pm!) is now guaranteed… and we wait to see if Ricky Nolasco really starts tomorrow in Game 4.

Pretending I’m Not Worried About Hyun-jin Ryu’s Bullpen Session

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I wanted to do a review of whether Dee Gordon was safe his in steal attempt in the ninth inning last night, but Tom Hoffarth of the LA Daily News did such a thorough breakdown (as did Eric Stephen at TrueBlueLA) that I’m not even sure what I’d add, other than to say this: the play was so, so close that after dozens of replays, I still can’t say definitively whether he was safe or out. That being the case, it’s hard for me to rip the umpire for the call he made. Dodger fans think he was safe, Braves fans think he was out, and everyone’s got a little bias. There’s no guarantee that Gordon would have ended up scoring, anyway.

Due to the loss — which again, is largely on Don Mattingly, but not entirely —  Sunday’s Game 3 takes on all that much more importance. Hyun-jin Ryu against fellow rookie Julio Teheran is a really good matchup, because both have had solid debut seasons and will probably finish in the 3-5 range in a stacked NL rookie field. Over Ryu’s last five starts, he’s got a 21/4 K/BB; over Teheran’s, it’s 30/6 (though Ryu has done slightly better at keeping run off the board).

After two days of Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, and the likelihood of Atlanta throwing out Freddy Garcia in Game 4, this is probably the only one in the series where I don’t feel the Dodgers have a clear pitching edge, and… what… what? No.

For example, Ryu worked out this week with a compression sleeve on his left elbow. He also threw a bullpen session Friday with team surgeon Neal ElAttrache, medical director Stan Conte and manager Don Mattingly watching.

Ryu generally does not throw bullpen sessions between starts, and especially not two days before a start. He appeared to throw without discomfort.

I don’t want to cause a panic, because clearly I’m no doctor and I’m not in the room. But as that Ken Gurnick quote indicates, this is a guy who almost never throws bullpen sessions. When he does, I’m thinking it’s safe to guess that he usually doesn’t do so with one of the most renowned surgeons in the country watching him. So I don’t think it’s unfair to wonder if A) he can even go and B) what sort of strength he’ll be at if he can. It’s not exactly the conversation you want to be having tied at one in a five-game playoff series.

Backup catcher Tim Federowicz caught that session and reported it was positive…

…but while that’s nice to hear, you don’t really expect the catcher to come out and announce to the world that the Game 3 starter is falling apart and has nothing on his pitches. (I’m not saying that’s the case, of course; Ryu might very well have been throwing well. Just saying that Federowicz can’t really be taken at face value here.)

If not Ryu, then we’re probably looking at Chris Capuano, who hasn’t started since going only 1.2 innings on September 6 before leaving with a groin injury, his 92nd injury of the season; when he returned, Edinson Volquez had essentially taken his job. Now Volquez isn’t on the roster, and Capuano is a massive step down from Ryu, should that be what happens. (Ricky Nolasco could also move up from Game 4, if it is determined that Ryu needs an extra day.)

As I head off to the airport to see Game 3, I’m more than a little curious about who I’m going to see on the hill.

D’Backs 2, Dodgers 1: Bunted to Death

uribe_2013-09-16First, the good news: Hyun-jin Ryu was outstanding, really, pitching a complete game two-hitter, even though he’ll take the loss here. At one point, Ryu retired 19 consecutive Diamondbacks, and the only real mistake he made was allowing a first-inning Paul Goldschmidt homer, and how can we really harp on that? Goldschmidt always kills the Dodgers.

(Hold on, I’m getting to it.)

The Dodgers, unfortunately, couldn’t take advantage, as their tattered lineup managed only four hits themselves — half by Nick Punto, believe it or not — off Trevor Cahill and the Arizona bullpen. Since Cahill walked four, that means the Dodgers left eight men on base, with a particular sore spot being the top of the sixth inning when they loaded the bases with none out and scored only a lone run on a Yasiel Puig walk.

(It’s coming, don’t worry.)

The inability to make things happen showed up again in the eighth, when pinch-runner Dee Gordon was desperate to steal second, but could never get it to happen as Adrian Gonzalez kept fouling off pitches, eventually flying out on a clear ball four. Gonzalez really just had a brutal game, and when we look back on why the Dodgers couldn’t capitalize on Ryu’s gem, the continued struggles of the offense (in addition to a still-injured roster missing Hanley Ramirez, Carl Crawford, & Andre Ethier) is why.

So all that out of the way….

What the hell, Don Mattingly? I mean… what the hell. I generally try to defend the manager, because we’ve been over so many times how a manager really has so much less influence on the outcome of a game than people think. He wasn’t an awful manager was the team was in last place in May; he wasn’t suddenly a great one when the team was historically hot in July and August.

So while I try to keep that in mind, remain rational, and know that there’s so many other reasons why the team lost tonight… it’s really, truly difficult to look at that ninth inning as anything but a gift to the opposition. Michael Young hit for the struggling A.J. Ellis and singled, then moved to second when Skip Schumaker singled just past the shortstop.

At this point, things are lined up wonderfully because Juan Uribe is walking to the plate, and while Uribe was 0-3 tonight at that point, he’s actually been phenomenal lately. Over the last 30 days, he’s been a better hitter than Puig, believe it or not.

stop_bunting_kennyAnd Mattingly has him bunt. Of course. Because of course.

We shouldn’t be surprised by this, because it’s Mattingly, and that’s the unforgivable sin he always, always falls into. The thing is, there’s actually a somewhat-okay argument to be made for the bunt in that situation, because if you move the man on second to third with one out, you can score on a sac fly, without needing a hit. I certainly wouldn’t have done it, but it’s not the worst strategy in the world.

Except, it is the worst strategy in the world when you are A) taking the bat out of the hands of one of your hottest hitters B) asking Uribe to do something he’s done four times successfully in the last four seasons and C) doing so to pass the bat to Chili Buss, who shouldn’t even be in the big leagues.

Uribe, after showing bunt and taking, then bunting foul, got the ball down… right to pitcher Brad Ziegler, who nailed Young at third, and that’s the problem with this whole thing. Even if it works perfectly, it’s still barely worth the effort… but you can’t guarantee it’s even going to work. That left it up to Buss to ground out, pushing the runners to second and third with two outs, and Mattingly sent Kemp up to the plate.

Kemp stuck out, he looked bad doing it, and the cavemen on Twitter are just killing him over it, much moreso than they are Mattingly. It’s his first game in nearly two months, and to put him in that spot… well, I’m not sure why anyone would be surprised that he was wildly overeager, swinging at the first pitch and a strike three that was far off the plate.

If the job of the manager is to put his players into the best situations to win, that ninth inning was a clinic on how not to do that. You don’t ask Uribe to bunt there. You don’t let Buss hit there. You probably do send Kemp up, I suppose, but you can’t be surprised at what happened. Like I said, there’s plenty of other reasons why the Dodgers dropped another game, far beyond anything that Kemp or Mattingly had control over. But when you look back on this one, that’s what you’re going to remember… and there’s not a lot I can say to refute it, at least as far as Mattingly goes. That one hurts. Just awful.