The hottest pitcher in baseball this year hasn’t been Justin Verlander, Corey Kluber or Jacob deGrom. It’s been Dodgers lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu who shutout his opponents in 32 straight innings. He only has 4 walks in 65 1⁄3 innings pitched this year with a 1.65 ERA and 70 strikeouts. He’s virtually been unhittable particularly at home where he is 5-0 with a 1.22 ERA, compared to his 2.22 ERA on the road.
Along with having the best walk rate (1.7%) in MLB, Ryu’s willingness to throw more cutters has been one of the biggest differences for him in 2019 because it’s allowing him to miss more barrels. The movement on his cutter has resulted in a significant increase in whiff rate (15.9%). He made a slight mechanical adjustment with his arm angle by releasing the ball higher for a more effective downward break. His cutter usage was at 17.8% in 2017 and has gradually increased to 21.2% this year, according to SI.com. He’s also reduced his four-seam fastball rate from 36% in 2017 to 29.7% this year.
With all the adjustments and success that Ryu has made this year, it unfortunately wasn’t good enough to eclipse Orel Hershiser’s 59 consecutive scoreless innings record. When Hershiser accomplished his record back in 1988, he threw 41 of his 59 scoreless innings on the road. Ryu isn’t just competing against Hershiser; he’s also facing a plethora of premier Dodger pitchers. Don Drysdale is right behind the bulldog with his 58 scoreless inning streak in 1968. Clayton Kershaw pitched 37 straight scoreless innings twice in 2014 and 2015. Zach Greinke pitched 45.2 consecutive scoreless innings in 2015.
Ryu has gradually increased his velocity as he went deeper into last season. His four-seam fastball increased from 91.36 mph to 92.11 mph and his sinker went from 90.15 mph to 91.42 mph. His success couldn’t have come at a better time. Before this season, Ryu accepted a qualifying offer from the Dodgers for one-year, $17.9 million. A qualifying offer was implemented in 2012 where a player has 10 days to accept or decline the offer.
During that time period, he can test the free agent market with other teams. If the player accepts the qualifying offer, he’s committed to a one-year deal at a fixed salary rate. He chose to bet on himself in 2019 rather than testing the free-agent market. So far, it looks that bet has paid off and at age 32, Ryu has set himself up nicely for a bigger contract going into 2020.
With his improved command and confidence at an all-time high, Ryu might not beat the scoreless streak, he is a candidate for one of the biggest comeback players of the year.