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Hyun-Jin Ryu pitched for the Los Angeles Dodgers against the Los Angeles Angels on Monday night, and the results were something we’ve quickly gotten used to seeing.
The left-hander put together his ninth consecutive quality start by allowing just one run on seven hits (one home run), no walks, and six strikeouts. This led to his ninth victory in 13 starts, along with helping his league-leading ERA settle in at 1.36 to go with a 2.7 fWAR in 86 innings.
His past eight starts have especially been dominant, as he’s allowed just one more earned run (four) than walks allowed (three). As you can imagine, that hasn’t happened very often:
Is regression coming for Ryu at some point? It’s possible. He’s paired a solid strikeout rate (24.1%) with a minuscule walk rate (1.6%). However, it’s also been accompanied by a very high strand rate (94.7%) and low BABIP (.248) despite opposing hitters posting a 37.6% hard-hit rate and 24.0% line-drive rate.
Still, the 32-year-old has dominated in many areas. His current 50.2% ground-ball is the highest it’s been since 2013 (50.6%), while he’s paired a career-best first-pitch strike rate (64.4%) with one of his best zone percentages (40.9%).
Another part of Ryu’s game that has progressively gotten better is the effectiveness of his changeup.
One of the Best in Baseball
As a rookie for the Dodgers in 2013, Ryu’s changeup was actually his most effective pitch when using FanGraphs’ pitch value per 100 pitches as the gauge.
The southpaw’s changeup produced a 2.95 value in a debut that spanned 193 innings of work. When looking at qualified starters, it was the third-best changeup in baseball, trailing only Cole Hamels and Justin Masterson.
Ryu’s changeup value went down to -0.42 in 2015, which was then followed by a two-year span where he tossed just 4.1 total innings. When he returned in ’17, his changeup value climbed back up to 0.94. That climb continued in 82.1 innings last year (2.99) before settling in at its current 4.06 value through 13 starts.
When looking at this year’s qualified starters, Ryu’s changeup has the fourth-best value in baseball. Only Lucas Giolito (4.22), Sonny Gray (5.00), and Spencer Turnbull (5.18) have a higher changeup value entering Tuesday’s games.
As the effectiveness of this pitch increases, it’s not shocking to see Ryu’s usage of it also increase. After returning in 2017 and tossing it at a 25.4% clip, he threw it just 18.6% of the time last year. So far in 2019, that number is back up to 25.7%, which is on pace to be a career high.
Just Look at These Progressions
I’m a big fan of seeing how things progress over a number of years. Upon seeing how dominant Ryu’s changeup has been, I immediately had to take a peek at whether this was a slow trend since getting back on the mound a couple seasons ago.
Spoiler alert: it has.
Check out how opposing hitters have performed against this pitch since the start of 2017:
It’s not as if this is the only pitch he’s had success with, of course. When looking at offerings he’s tossed at least 130 times in 2019 (four-seamer, changeup, cutter, sinker), the highest opponent wRC+ is 76. But again, it’s not a surprise to see Ryu is leaning on his changeup more than ever right now.
There’s not question that the hurler has been worthy of Cy Young consideration thus far. However, the only question moving forward will be how long he can remain this dominant (or close to it). And if this stretch comes to an end, how much negative regression will hit?
He hasn’t tossed more than 150 innings since 2014. With the way the first-place Dodgers handle their pitchers, though, you better believe they’ll be ensuring he’s as fresh as possible once summer turns into fall.
About Matt Musico
Matt Musico currently manages Chin Music Baseball and contributes to The Sports Daily. His past work has been featured at numberFire, Yahoo! Sports and Bleacher Report. He’s also written a book and created an online class about how to get started as a sports blogger. Check those out and more helpful tips on sports blogging at his website.