Was Ryu a Gamble?

Is Hyun Jin Ryu’s early-season success a surprise? Definitely not for many KBO observers who have thoroughly followed Ryu since 2006. Ryu’s stellar performance against the Angels on 5/28 has commanded attention and recognition throughout the realm of Dodger Blue, but Korea Baseball still remains as an unknown territory for many baseball fans in North America. Ryu’s repertoire consists mainly of four pitches: a fastball, a slider, a curve, and a change-up. Below is Ryu’s pitch type data in his last KBO season:

52.3% (143.7km/h) 13.2% (129.8km/h) 13.3% (111km/h) 21.0% (127.6km/h)

Ryu’s pitch type classification in MLB until 5/28

53.1% (90.0mph) 13.3% (82.1mph) 10.4% (70.9mph) 23.2% (79.2mph)

Here is a look at Ryu’s average fastball velocity from 2008 to 2012

2008 143.20 km/h
2009 142.37 km/h
2010 142.22 km/h
2011 142.34 km/h
2012 143.70 km/h

Ryu is throwing his fastball a little bit harder in MLB. His fastball is still an average pitch, usually sits around 88-92 mph and peaks at 95. Many pitchers in Asia are often asked to throw 120+ pitches per start. As a result, Ryu has tendency to build through the game, starting with slower fastballs early and throwing harder in later innings "if needed" in Korea. He has adopted the same approach in MLB and finding it working well early in the season. Personally, I like to call it as energy efficiency pitching model. Hyun Jin Ryu’s two-hit complete game shutout is a great example. Ryu frequently dropped his fastball to 87-91 mph range in first seven innings. Ryu realized he would have a shot at first MLB career shutout late in the game and hiked the fastball up to 95 mph, so he does have the extra gear. Ryu recorded a 92.6 mph fastball average velocity in last two innings against the Angels, 1.5 mph faster than game average and 2.6 mph faster than season average.

Change-up is Ryu’s out pitch. He uses it as a soft pitch so he can change speeds as well as locations. The table gives a good understanding of Ryu’s change-up effectiveness.

Swing Whiff/Swing BABIP GB/BABIP
RHH & LHH 53.05% (262) 30.94% .122 60%
RHH 52.55% (255) 32.09% .125 60.38%
LHH 71.43%(7) N/A 0 50%

Ryu’s change-up Whiff/Swing rate is mediocre, and he uses the pitch almost exclusively to right-handed batters. His deceptive change-up induces a Santana-like BABIP at .122 with a 60% of groundball rate. Ryu also throws a tight slider with late bite. According to Baseball America, Dodgers believe more in Ryu’s slider, which he mainly uses it to put out lefties.

Ryu’s heat maps by type from FanGraphs ( 4/2/13 to 5/28/13 )





It is reasonable to conclude that Ryu has success so far this season by painting outside part of the plate with his change-up. The charts also indicate that he likes to throw his slider inside to right-handed hitters and outside to left-handed hitters. Ryu isn’t overpowering. Ryu has a good understanding on how to work the strike zone to his favor. he utilizes both sides of the plate and keeps the batters off balance and uncomfortable by changing speeds. Can you call it pitchability?

The key factors why Ryu can sustain success in his first major league season:

1. Ryu pitches in National League, a safe heaven for pitchers.
2. Dodger stadium is one of the most favorable places for a pitcher to call home.
3. Some say LA hosts the largest Korean population outside of Seoul in a playful manner; nevertheless, Ryu is likely to find the transition to America a lot easier with a huge Korean community in town.

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