2014 Fantasy Baseball

2014 Fantasy Baseball: Why Hyun-jin Ryu Will Avoid the Sophomore Slump

Hyun-Jin Ryu Fantasy Baseball
Photo credit: sec116pix

In anticipation of the upcoming 2014 Major League Baseball season, I will be looking at players who you should be targeting on draft day. Hyun-jin Ryu, the second-year starter for the Los Angeles Dodgers, will be the subject in this instance.

Much like his fellow countryman Psy, who produced the viral hit song “Gangnam Style”, South Korean native and southpaw Hyun-jin Ryu quickly became a sensation during his rookie season with the Los Angeles Dodgers . After spending seven seasons in the Korean Baseball Organization, Ryu transitioned better than anyone could have imagined and flourished for the Dodgers in a season which resulted in 14 wins, 3.00 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, and a 154/49 K/BB ratio in 192 innings.

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Ryu’s arsenal consists of five pitches, a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, slider, changeup and curveball. Ryu’s four-seamer is nothing to write home about as it usually sits in the 89-92 mph range, although when his adrenaline is pumping he can bring it as high as 95 mph as evidenced by his NLDS start against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Hyun-jin  Ryu fastball
Courtesy: Dodgersnation.com

Ryu butters his bread with his off-speed pitches. He averages 79 mph with his changeup, 82 mph with his slider, and 72 mph with his curveball. Similar to Yu Darvish, Ryu can really take a lot off his curveball and can throw it effectively from the high 60 to mid 70 mph range. With a 20 mph difference between his fastball and curveball in the two gifs, Ryu provides a devastating speed difference to keep hitters off-balance.

Hyun-jin  Ryu changeup
Courtesy: Dodgersnation.com

Ryu’s repertoire lends itself to mixing speeds often and with a roughly 8-18 mph difference between his fastball and off-speed pitches, Ryu can fool hitters quite easily with his assortment of pitches.

While looking through FanGraphs and BrooksBaseball to identify any potential trends in Ryu’s pitching performance from last season, it was interesting to see that Ryu performed better against right-handed batters than left-handed batters. This is noteworthy because left-handed pitchers typically hold a sizeable advantage against left-handed hitters. In the tables below (via FanGraphs), you can see the difference in Ryu’s splits.

2013 Hyun-jin Ryu Splits

Split

K%

BB%

GB%

LD%

FB%

HR/FB

LOB%

BABIP

FIP

xFIP

LHB

18.4%

7%

46.6%

21.2%

32.2%

10.6%

84.2%

.310

3.76

3.74

RHB

20.1%

6%

52%

18.1%

29.9%

7.9%

76%

.291

3.08

3.37

2013 Batter Results vs. Hyun-jin Ryu

Split

PA

H

2B

3B

HR

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

wOBA

LHB

201

50

12

0

5

.270

.322

.416

.738

.322

RHB

582

132

18

2

10

.245

.291

.342

.633

.280

It’s not like Ryu was only better in a couple categories, he fared much better against righties across the board (besides LOB%) and he faced right-handed batters more often over the course of the 2013 MLB regular season. Knowing this, I thought it would also be helpful to examine if Ryu pitched differently to hitters of each handedness.

 Ryu vs. LHH

Count

4-Seamer

Changeup

Curveball

Slider

All

57%

6%

8%

29%

First Pitch

67%

1%

4%

28%

Batter Ahead

69%

6%

1%

24%

Even

57%

6%

8%

29%

Pitcher Ahead

48%

8%

12%

32%

Two Strikes

50%

11%

10%

29%

Against left-handed hitters, Ryu mainly throws his four-seam fastball and slider as evidenced by the table above. It seems as if Ryu likes to throw his four-seamer or slider to get ahead in the count but is very hesitant to throw his changeup and curveball to open up the at-bat. By getting ahead in the count with his four-seamer and curveball, Ryu has options on what pitch to throw later in the count and subsequently leaves the hitter guessing as to what pitch may be coming next. What is very interesting is that based on the average whiff percentage Ryu generates between left and right-handed batters with his changeup, he doesn’t seem to use it enough against lefties. Take a look at the graph below.

Hyun-jin  Ryu Whiff Percentage

But if you take a closer look at Ryu’s whiff percentage versus only left-handed batters, it shows that Ryu wasn’t generating any swings and misses at the beginning of the season but the changeup became much more effective as the season wore on.

Hyun-jin  Ryu Changeup Whiff Percentage

Ryu’s strategy of what pitches to throw against right-handed hitters is much different than the one he employs against left-handed hitters. Instead of primarily working with his four-seam fastball and slider, he primarily uses his four-seamer and changeup while also mixing in his curveball at a higher rate.

Ryu vs. RHH

Count

4-Seamer

Changeup

Curveball

Slider

All

53%

28%

10%

9%

First Pitch

61%

23%

11%

4%

Batter Ahead

54%

38%

3%

5%

Even

55%

26%

11%

8%

Pitcher Ahead

50%

22%

15%

13%

Two Strikes

49%

30%

9%

12%

Compared to his minimal use of the changeup against lefties, Ryu uses the changeup 22% more often against right-handers. Ryu’s changeup consistently generates the most whiffs out of all his pitches so it makes sense that he would use this pitch against the side he has the most success against. If Ryu learns how to use his changeup against left-handed batters more often and more effectively in the upcoming 2014 season, he could become very tough to hit as it seems he has already figured out how to pitch effectively versus right-handed batters.

Why Hyun-jin Ryu won’t have a disappointing year in 2014

Ryu produced a 3.1 WAR during his rookie season in 2013, trailing only Jose Fernandez who had an absolutely magnificent season himself. While Ryu wasn’t the flashiest guy to own for fantasy baseball owners, he was remarkably consistent throughout the season, something all fantasy owners covet out of players on their teams. Out of the 30 games he started for the Dodgers, Ryu only failed to go less than 5 innings in one of his starts, his last start against the Colorado Rockies on September 29 which was planned so he would be well rested for his first playoff start. For a rookie pitcher, that’s quite the accomplishment. Furthermore, he only had five starts with 4 ER or more given up (season high of 5 ER allowed) and 22 of his 30 starts resulted in quality starts.

Although Ryu may not necessarily have a go to punch out pitch, his 50.6 GB% rate combined with the way he is able to alter speeds is a recipe for success for limiting damage to opposing hitters. Fantasy owners may be unimpressed by his mediocre 7.22 K/9 and 19.7 K% but that’s simply not his forte at this stage of his career and fantasy owners can bank on the fact on that Ryu will provide a good ERA with solid peripherals and a decent amount of strikeouts.

Ryu posted a good HR/FB ratio of 8.7% and since he will be pitching half of his games in pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium, potential fantasy owners shouldn’t be worried about him giving up an abundance of homers as he surrendered 15 round-trippers in 2013. One statistic where Ryu is likely to regress is ERA. A couple of advanced statistics that help back this up are his strand rate of 78.2% while his xFIP was 3.46 in 2013. It is unlikely that he will be able to strand nearly 80% of the runners he puts on base again and a slight regression in that area will in turn lead to more runs being allowed. His 3.46 xFIP is a good indication of where Ryu’s ERA should end for the 2014 season and that isn’t a bad mark at all. According to FanGraphs, the Steamer projection for Ryu in 2014 calls for a 3.56 ERA.

If you happen to select Ryu in your upcoming fantasy baseball drafts, don’t expect him to repeat his 3.00 ERA from 2013, but anything in the range of a 3.20-3.60 ERA would be acceptable. If you were asking me to make a prediction for what he will produce in the 2014 season, I would say 15 wins, 3.45 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, and 155 strikeouts. Just to clarify, although his ERA is likely to slightly regress in 2014, that doesn’t mean he will be a disappointment for fantasy purposes. He pitches in a great stadium for pitchers and with two of the most talented pitchers in the league ahead of him in the rotation to learn from in Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, he should only get better from here on out. The fact that he was able to post a 3.00 ERA in his rookie season is a testament to his talent and game management skills.

According to NFBC ADP, Ryu’s ADP comes in at 151, which would make him a 13th round pick in a standard 12-team mixed league. Don’t be afraid to select Ryu if the price is right as he is a steady and consistent option. Ryu also recently said that he is in much better shape coming into spring training this year than a season ago, which can only be viewed as a positive thing as he gets ready to handles the rigors of his second MLB season. Ryu should be a top 30-35 SP option with the upside for more and if you can snag him as a SP3/SP4 for your fantasy team you should be quite satisfied.

Thanks to FanGraphs, Baseball-Reference, BrooksBrothers and NESN for the statistical information. You can follow me on Twitter @MattMoczy and feel free to send me any fantasy related questions you may have. 

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2 Comments

  1. Dan MacLean
    February 13, 2014 at 1:19 am — Reply

    I think RYU will be just fine during his second season. Great pickup for me last year, the guy knows what he’s doing.

  2. February 13, 2014 at 11:25 pm — Reply

    Dan,

    I tend to agree with you that Ryu will be a solid SP option this year. He certainly rewarded fantasy owners who snagged him towards the end of drafts last year or picked him up off the free agent list. His seven years of experience with the Korean Baseball Organization seems to have prepared him quite well for the challenges of facing the abundance of talented hitters in Major League Baseball. While hitters and coaches will have a blueprint on how Ryu likes to operate against hitters as he embarks on his second MLB season, I think he’ll be a quality option for fantasy squads this year.

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