Looking at the FIP leaderboard from the past regular season, most of the names on the top of the list come as no surprise. Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez, and Chris Sale are always near the top of the list. Corey Kluber, Jake Arrieta, and Garrett Richards had well-documented breakout seasons. When you look at all of the pitchers with at least 100 innings, though, you’ll find one surprising name of a guy who was just the number three pitcher in his own rotation. While Hyun-jin Ryu has turned himself into a highly successful major-league pitcher in the two years since coming over to the United States, he’s still overshadowed on a team filled with stars. Even within the rotation, he has to compete for headlines with the likes of Kershaw and Zack Greinke. Despite that, he’s made clear strides in his time in the majors, and has established himself as a top-20 starting pitcher.
Although he was limited to 152 innings due to shoulder issues at the start of the year, Ryu was still able to put up strong numbers across the board. He racked up 14 wins, and was able to put up a 3.38 ERA. Based on his peripherals, though, that was still an underwhelming performance. The 27-year-old posted a 2.59 FIP and 3.13 FRA in 2014, both significant improvements from his first year in the league. In fact, his performance was up throughout his stat line. He saw his K/9 rise by a full strikeout-per-nine-innings, his BB/9 fall from 2.3 to 1.7, and his HR/9 tumble to just 0.5. This all happened while his ground-ball rate held steady around the 50 percent mark and his velocity rose slightly throughout his repertoire.
Speaking of that repertoire, Ryu became a much more complete pitcher last season than he was in 2013. In his first year in the majors, he was mostly a fastball/changeup pitcher, working in his slider and curveball periodically to keep hitters off-balance. In 2014, though, he used his breaking balls much more often, and with more confidence, too. You can see the difference in usages here:
Ryu was considerably more well-rounded in 2014, relying more heavily on breaking balls. Not only did he use them more, though, he also used them much more effectively. His slider moved by about an inch-and-a-half more on the vertical plane, while his curveball saw more movement on both planes. With the more effective movements came more desirable results, specifically with the curveball. In 2013, that pitch led to a .290 opponents’ batting average and a .171 opponents’ isolated power. One year later, those numbers dropped all the way down to .171 and .057, respectively, and his whiff rate on the pitch rose by five percentage points.
Finally, his breaking balls managed to limit serious damage all season. To wit, Ryu’s slider and curveball combined to allow 47 hits in 2013, with 34 percent of them going for extra bases. One year later, those pitches yielded 34 hits, with just 16 percent of them going for extra bases. Most impressively, all of those extra-base hits in 2014 were doubles, with all of Ryu’s home runs being hit off his fastball or changeup.
Though he’s remained relatively under-the-radar in his two years in the states, all signs point to Ryu having a real breakout in 2015, turning himself into a solid no. 2 option in fantasy leagues. He showed huge improvements between his first two seasons, both in his numbers and his repertoire. Best of all, he’ll be 28 next season, putting him firmly in his prime. His numbers compare favorably to others in history, too, with the top comp on his player card being Johnny Cueto. Names like Orel Hershiser, Roy Halladay, and CC Sabathia also appear on that list.
Having shown a clear ability to adjust and improve, Ryu is a safe bet to provide good value in drafts next year, assuming he stays healthy.