The Road to ROTY Goes Through Hyun-Jin Ryu

He leads all rookie pitchers with 1.0 WAR, and is tied with the thus-far sensational position players Evan Gattis and A.J. Pollock. Sunday night, Hyun-Jin Ryu completed six innings against the San Francisco Giants, and though he took a loss, Ryu induced weak contact from a line-drive team. If the national audience was paying attention, they saw perhaps the best rookie in the league.

Ryu allowed four earned runs on the night and only collected a pair of strikeouts, but the lefty had the misfortune of well-aimed weak contact. Said ESPN’s Dan Shulman after an Andres Torres duck-snort single in the fifth inning:

That’s how it’s going: The Giants with broken bats and getting jammed are coming up with hits and the Dodgers have hit two or three on the screws right at people.

Ryu’s 30% strikeout rate shrank to 27% after the outing against the Giants. And though his walk and strikeout totals do not impress, the performance appears more acceptable when we consider the K-resistant Giants lineup:

K-Rates NL

Despite a somewhat deflating start against the Giants Sunday night, he has already shown the poise we might expect from a seven-year veteran of professional baseball — as he is — and the effective pitches that we might have never expected from the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO).

When we add his impressive demeanor and repertoire to a solid Dodgers defensive and a pitcher’s park, it appears we may have a Rookie of the Year coming to Southern California.

So what does Hyun-Jin Ryu throw, and what does he throw well? According to the default PITCHf/x algorithm, Ryu throws five pitches, but I defy any reader to explain to me the difference between his supposed two-seamer (FT) and four-seamer (FF):

We can also see the PITCHf/x algorithm is confusing at least a few sliders for curves. (Click on the “CU” icon and you will notice a half dozen “curves” clustered with the sliders.) Moreover we can see the two-seam and four-seam fastballs have almost identical horizontal movement and velocity. That suggests to me these are either the same pitch or pitches so similar as to be unworthy of separation.

But what sticks out to me the most, and what should surprise any veteran observer of PITCHf/x data, is that the highest pitch — the pitch with the least “drop,” we could say — is Ryu’s changeup. I have never seen anything like that, especially in a starting pitcher.

Ryu’s changeup registers somewhere around the high 70s to low 80s and has no arm-side tailing action. Instead, it appears to cut away from lefties a little. (Keep in mind, the zero-line on the x-axis above does not indicate zero horizontal movement.) This suggests he throws a straight strange or palmball as opposed to a circle change. I have not been able to see good enough video of his changeup grip to know for certain.

UPDATE: Thanks to commenter bip for pointing out my swapped axes. With x and y in their proper places, we see Ryu’s changeup exhibiting a more normal circle-change tailing action. This makes much more sense — and also nullifies my need to study Ryu’s changeup grip, given its much more normal movement. *Phew!*

Our friend bip also observes — and indeed the correct axes help illustrate this — that Ryu’s change has a lot of variability when it comes to both horizontal and vertical location. This is something worth watching going forward. Perhaps he hones that movement into greater consistency as time goes, or maybe he allows it to flutter like a quasi-knuckleball? It will be interesting to see develop.

Despite the relative lack of arm-side tailing action, The changeup has gone mostly to opposite-handed batters. Take a look at Ryu’s two-strike approach against both righties and lefties:

Almost 50% of his pitches were either sliders or changeups in two-strike situations, but we can see he has used the changeup almost exclusively against righties. I count only three change-pieces versus self-same southpaws.

Which brings us to the slider. Entering Sunday night’s game, Ryu’s slider had accrued the highest linear weights run value of all his pitches. His changeup had a good showing against San Francisco, jumping from 0.00 runs added to its present 0.94 runs saved per 100 pitches. His slider, meanwhile, continues to dominate his repertoire with 3.40 runs per 100 pitches.

Both hands, we can see above, get a hearty spoonful of slider. Click the “(All)” button in the above “Strikes” category. We can quickly see (1) Ryu throws his changeup like mad against righties (one out of every four pitches is a changeup) and (2) he throws his slider down-and-in on righties and down-and-away on lefties — and he does this with almost equal frequency.

I spoke with a variety of KBO fans and observers regarding Ryu and his pitches. The consensus among Korean-based fans was that Ryu’s changeup was his strongest pitch. Jeeho Yoo, sports writer for Yonhap News Agency, and Danny K, founder of, both felt that Ryu departed the KBO with an MLB-ready changeup.

I discussed Ryu with an MLB scout in Korea and he likewise praised the changeup. He also noted that Ryu’s changeup, which has stayed mostly away from righties, has shown a diversity of location in the MLB that Ryu did not employ in Korea:

His change has always been his best pitch. But something he’s doing more in the US is throwing his change inside on RHB.

Again, with “(All)” selected under both balls and strikes, we can click the blue “CH” icon and notice about 10 changeups coming in on righties (edging over the left side of the zero line). If we filter outcomes (“des2”) to include only hits (“In play, no out” and “In play, run(s)”), we can see see none of these inner changeups have gone for any damage yet.

And while the Korean contingent has good words to share about the changeup, our own Bryan Smith likes the slider most:

Might the Dodgers mammoth payroll have a bargain, after all? Ryu has looked good, commanding his fastball, living on the outside corner, and showing a real good slider.

Smith also thinks — or at least thought a month ago — that Ryu’s curve would not last in the majors. It certainly got the least praise from my variety of sources, and it did not seem to have terribly great effectiveness through his first few starts. Then came the Colorado start:


Why, yes, that is 5 of 12 Ks coming on the curveball. He also had a bat-toss swinging strike (not shown) thrown in for good measure. All this is to echo something Jeeho Yoo said:

Not a lot of lefties can throw four different pitches for a strike, I don’t think, but Ryu has shown he can do just that.

Smith and myself both agree that Ryu’s fastball is not a strength. The pitch has solid, but not blazing speed, and it lacks the movement to be much more than a change-of-pace for his changeup, ironically. His three other pitches, however, have enough movement and life to allow him to use his fastball to setup other pitches or to catch hitters off-guard with a burst of speed.

My Korean contacts also confirmed that Ryu had the mental mettle necessary for sustained success at the MLB level. This is an element we do not stress a lot at FanGraphs because we cannot objectively, or at least partially-objectively, evaluate. But the reports from the peninsula have given every sign that Ryu has the odd and necessary blend between competitiveness, laid-backness and playfulness that composes a player who gets along with teammates and works hard — at least every fifth day.

Said MyKBO’s Danny K:

I like that he’s also relaxed and a joker. When the Dodgers brawled with the Padres earlier this season, I liked how the pictures of Ryu were just him standing there with his hands in his pockets.

Relaxed might not work for some players or some positions, but I prefer stoic, un-rattle-able pitchers than excitable, exploitable pitchers.

I think many rookies struggle with nerves. It is again an issue quite impossible to quantify, but nerves can ruin an inning or likewise an outing. In his major league debut, Yu Darvish admitted to being out sync with his body. Darvish came to the US looking to prove himself as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, pitcher in the world. Ryu seems kind of like the pitcher who crosses the ocean just to see what’s on the other side.

Given his likelihood to improve his ERA as a mere byproduct of playing in the Dodgers’ stadium with the Dodgers’ defense; given his impressive outlay of pitches and early signs of sustainable success; given the prosperity of circumstances that landed him in the starting rotation from Opening Day; and given his mental acuity and pro experience, it seems quite likely the other side of the ocean had a ROTY award waiting for him all along.

NOTE: I want to send along thanks to the many people who helped with this piece. Also, I want to throw a plug out there for the amazing work Clint Husley does at I R Fast (see his KBO WAR piece). Though I did not have an opportunity to use his work, I have found his blog a potent tool in navigating KBO data.

And speaking of things I didn’t have a chance to use, he’s another interactive visualization — a bonus! This one is designed to show the called balls and strikes for Ryu. It looks like, at least anecdotally, that Ryu is not getting the “lefty strike” with any consistency. The lefty strike is the zone between -1.0 and -1.4ish that typically goes for a strike against left-handed batters. The lack of a lefty strike could be, however, a product of bad framing from the catcher or a clustering a umpires who call tighter zones. I’m not sure.

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Bradley writes for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. Follow him on Twitter @BradleyWoodrum.

46 Responses to “The Road to ROTY Goes Through Hyun-Jin Ryu”

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  1. Jaack says:

    This Road also goes through Ken, Guile, Zangief, Chun-Li, Blanka, Dhalsim, and E. Honda. After that, you have Balrag, Vega, and Sagat before M. Bison.

    +37 Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. Boomer says:

    I really don’t like the fact he’s eligible for ROY, he’s been playing for over 5 years. I would love it to go to Gattis that would he a great story. Saying that its a very intresting article, the Dodgers have to be pleases with that pickup

    -16 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Bullpen Bully says:

      All major league ballplayers have been playing for over 5 years, be it in KBO, college, the minors or anywhere, really. He’s an MLB rookie the same way that Gattis or anybody is. As for loving great stories, I’ll simply remind you that you’re on an analytic website where information holds higher value than narratives.

      +15 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Oasis says:

        5 years ago Bryce Harper was in high school …. So no, not all major league players have played 5 years of professional baseball … Thanks for playing

        -6 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Mrs. Gattis says:

        Gattis was a janitor five years ago. Just sayin.

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  3. tyke says:

    those graphs are amazing

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  4. capnsparrow says:

    The reason is the catcher is raising his shoulder,and blocking the umpires view with his head when reaching for the Lefty strike.Instead of moving his feet and sliding over to recieve the ball.Hernandez isnt that good of a catcher anymore. LA would be better served to get that kid Federowicz who is a real good catch and throw guy back in there

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  5. PioneerSkies says:

    Nolan Arenado begs to differ.

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  6. Corey says:

    Why has Patrick Corbin been left out of this discussion? He has just as good a WAR as Ryu and a better ERA.

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  7. Pat G says:

    Shelby Miller gets no love?

    +16 Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. Ph.Hanson says:

    As a Korean and KBO fan, I know Ryu’s 2006, 2010 and 2012. Ryu’s 2012 was… like Cliff Lee’s 2012. Surely amazing performance, the best pitcher(2.66 ERA was 5th in the league) and strikeout king of korean baseball, but only 9 wins and 9 loses? That was never fair! Shame on you, HANWHA EAGLES! He threw a magnificent gem(10IP with 12K) in the last game of his KBO career and ended up with no decision. He almost showed some tears in the post-game interview for failing to extend his consecutive 10-win seasons!

    I hope he can win 10, 15, or even 20 in the major leagues even with some terrible ERA, but that seems impossible because the Dodgers are… whatever.

    +6 Vote -1 Vote +1

  9. l1ay says:

    Ctrl + F for “Miller”, first result is in the comments.

    Ryu: 3.14 SIERA, 2.83 FIP, 3.16 xFIP
    Miller: 3.31 SIERA, 2.99 FIP, 3.38 xFIP

    As for what the voters want, they will probably end up similar Ks and Miller will get more Ws because he plays on a team that’s actually good.

    So, the slight advantage Ryu has in his ERA indicators over Miller is enough to say the road is his and Miller shouldn’t even be mentioned?

    +9 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Anon says:

      And with RoY being a voter decided award, ERA will matter. Miller holds a huge edge there right now (enough that it will affect full season numbers).

      +6 Vote -1 Vote +1

  10. Dexter Bobo says:

    20 too many ABs last season for Jean Segura. Pity.

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  11. Pete G says:

    Ryu is off to a good start, but to say the Road to ROTY ‘goes through’ him is a bit strong. As others have said, Shelby Miller has the best pitching numbers right now. And no one has mentioned Jose Fernandez and his 3.48 ERA and 1.06 WHIP.

    +5 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • BearHunter90 says:

      Miller might have better numbers right now, but Ryu has better indicators. Plays in a bigger market and has a better narrative then miller does. With voting awards that matters.

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      • l1ay says:

        The difference between Ryu’s and Miller’s indicators is immaterial, especially this early in the season. The largest gap between them is xFIP at a whopping 6.9% edge for Ryu.

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    • Mirror says:

      Jose is limited to pitch below 100 or less. He will get less opportunities to win or to show his performance comparing with his ability in Miami. Nobody objects he is one of the greatest new face this season though.

      And we need to remember that Shelby has Jake, Jamie, Lance and Adam.
      Ryu is getting pressure as #2 pitcher as a stranger in a big league.

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  12. David says:

    Is Matt Harvey not a rookie? 59 Innings last year but I’m not familiar with the cut-off.

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    • Evan says:

      50 IP or 130 AB (yes, AB not PA) or 45 days on active roster (DL or military service time is excluded, as are days in September when active rosters expand to 40).

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  13. channelclemente says:

    Krukow, Giant’s broadcaster and former pitcher, indicated he thought Ryo was throwing a screwball at times.

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  14. El Vigilante says:

    For those interested in learning more about KBO (or Ryu), the Korean contacts from this piece are fantastic English-language resources. Both are on twitter (Danny K: @MyKBO, Jeeho Yoo: @Jeeho_1)and in my experiences have been happy to interact.

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  15. Bip says:

    Your interpretation of the first graph is completely wrong because you have the axes inverted

    pfx_x referes to horizontal movement, and it is on the vertical axis, while pfx_z refers to vertical movement and is on the horizontal axis.

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    • Bip says:

      Looking at it correctly, his changeup appears to resemble a typical circle-change in that it consistently has at least 5 in. of armside movement, sometime exceeding 10. It also will vary between a “dies in the air” low-rise change and one with the vertical rise of a fastball.

      One thing we can conclude regardless is that it appears he varies his feel for the change more than with other pitches.

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    • Oh shoot. You’re totally right.

      I’ll fix that right away.

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  16. adrian_brody says:

    So is it trendy now to use graphs for the sake of using graphs??

    John Kruk could have elicited the exact same points in about 45 seconds of airtime and a few videos.

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    • Sure, I’ll accept the criticism of unnecessary charts. I’m a tactile kinesthetic learner, so my analysis of a player begins with these charts. I include them in the article as an effort to help fellow touchy-feely learners out there who might not understand a thing properly until they’ve explored themselves.

      I do object, however, to the insinuation that John Kruk has ever used evidence when making a point. That offends me, sir.

      +11 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • The Foils says:

        Why would you accept that criticism? It’s absurd. :)

        Also this was a lovely line:

        “Ryu seems kind of like the pitcher who crosses the ocean just to see what’s on the other side.”

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    • chuckb says:

      If John Kruk makes an intelligent comment, it’s totally by accident. Even blind squirrels find nuts once in a while.

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  17. Mirror says:

    on the difference btn two seam and four seam.

    I do not know how to record pitchfx. I guess they measure initial velocity including initial direction, and compare the final position of the ball from the initial data and the real final position.

    Usually two seams have more HMov. If they sorted out fastball with specifcally big HMov fastball is two seam, we could be confused if four seam fastball with big HMov is two seam
    For example, two seam should have definitely smaller VMov, however, from above pitchfx graph, the highest VMov pitch is recorded as a two seam.

    I conclude he does not throw two seam fast balls. I did not see any two seam like movement from his pitches on TV

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  18. dodgerblue808 says:

    The korean fans call him the mental king because his KBO team was godawful. they are also calling the dodgers LA Eagles with the recent struggles.

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  19. Tommy says:

    I might also mention that the Rockies K aversion would look a lot more like the giants had they not K’d 12 times v Ryu

    PS which pitch do we call the Hadouken? and can when get Vin to say Hadouken?

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