Is Hyun-Jin Ryu a viable option for the San Diego Padres?
The options are now limited for the San Diego Padres to add an ace to their pitching staff.
Every World Series-winning team has an ace or a guy that they can put on the mound in October and know that they’ll be getting a great outing. The Padres hope that MacKenzie Gore, Chris Paddack, or Luis Patino can be that type of pitcher in the future. There are a few remaining All-Star-type pitchers available on the free agency market. There is one pitcher who is an option, and that is Hyun-Jin Ryu.
The left-hander enjoyed a fantastic 2019 campaign, in which he finished in second in NL Cy Young Award voting. In 182.2 innings, Ryu recorded a league-low 2.32 ERA. He also put up a 1.007 WHIP and had 163 strikeouts. It is not like these numbers are outliers from his career stats. Although this was a career year for Ryu, he has always been a stud on the mound for the Los Angeles Dodgers. His career 2.98 ERA and 1.164 WHIP are among the league’s best since he joined the Major Leagues in 2013. These career numbers are better than both Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg, who both got paid well over 200 million dollars each.
So why is Ryu considered second-fiddle to these guys when it comes to free agency this offseason?
The biggest problem for the Korean pitcher is his ability to stay healthy. His 2014 season ended a bit early due to a shoulder injury, which also forced him to sit out the entire 2015 season. In 2016, he only made one start and was put back on the disabled list and missed the rest of that season. That was the worst season of his career. Despite recording a 3.77 ERA, he had two DL stints in 2017 for a hip and foot injury. 2018 was off to a great start for Ryu as he put up a 2.22 ERA through April. In his first start in May, Ryu left in the second inning due to a groin strain. He would return in August and finish the season with a 1.97 ERA in 82.1 innings.
It is clear that Hyun-Jin Ryu is one of the game’s top pitchers when healthy. If teams weren’t concerned about his health, he would be getting money, similar to Cole and Strasburg.
Ryu has a very interesting style of pitching. He throws both a four and two-seam fastball. Neither really jump off of the table at 90-91 mph. However, his two-seam fastball has an ample amount of late movement that often gives hitters fits. His best off-speed pitch is his changeup, which sits 79-81 mph. He throws this pitch 27.5% of the time, which is among the highest in the league. To complement these primary pitches, he also throws a slider, a cutter, and a curveball. His ability to command all of these pitches on both sides of the plate often leaves hitters guessing and is why he is so effective despite only throwing 90 mph fastballs.
This is an interesting case for Ryu. There hasn’t been a free agent pitcher who has been so consistent on the mound, yet so undervalued in free agency in quite some time. General managers like San Diego Padres’ GM A.J. Preller, are very skeptical of giving Ryu money. They don’t want to risk being invested in a player who has an injury history as extensive as Ryu.
Teams could take advantage of their leverage and give Ryu a chance to prove himself on a one-year deal. He can prove that 2019 wasn’t a fluke and that he is an elite pitcher capable of staying healthy. For the Padres, giving Ryu a chance to pitch in Petco Park might provide them with the pitcher they need to make a playoff push in 2020. Early reports are that Ryu is looking for similar money to what Arizona gave Madison Bumgarner (five-year/$85 million), if not more. We will see how the Padres approach their next move.