Know Your Enemy: Hyun-Jin Ryu

In November 2011, Scott Boras took on two Korean pitchers in the KBO (Korean Baseball Organization) as clients. Suk-Min Yoon made more waves because, at the time, he was the reigning KBO MVP, but the other pitcher, left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu might be the better of the two. Turning 26 in March, the young veteran was posted by his team, the Hanwa Eagles. The Dodgers won the posting process, bidding a whopping $25,737,737.33 dollars, and have exclusive negotiating rights with Ryu. If signed, he will likely receive a few million dollars per year, for a few years- the Dodgers clearly want him and are willing to spend money. Keep in mind, the winning posting bid for Yu Darvish was about double this amount- Hyun-Jin Ryu is no Yu Darvish. I don't want to say that the Dodgers massivley overpaid, but...yeah.

The Mets will be facing the Dodgers a few times next season, so there’s a chance Ryu will pitch against us. So, who is this guy?

The Hanwa Eagles ace stands at 6’2" and weighs 215 pounds. Compare to Suk-Min Yoon, who he has two inches and thirty-five pounds on. His fastball sits in the high ‘80s/low ‘90s, and tops out in the mid-90s. He compliments that pitch with a wide variety of pitches- a curveball, a slider, and a change-up. Of the three, his change-up is his best pitch, and is a major league quality pitch, meaning he’d likely be a fastball/change-up pitcher in the U.S. His stats for the past five years are as follows:

Year ERA FIP IP K/9 BB/9 H/9 HR/9
2012 2.66 2.51 182.2 10.4 2.3 7.5 0.6
2011 3.36 3.31 126.0 9.1 2.7 7.2 0.9
2010 1.82 2.18 192.2 8.7 2.1 7.0 0.5
2009 3.57 3.58 189.1 8.9 3.2 8.6 0.9
2008 3.31 3.63 165.2 7.8 3.6 7.8 0.7

Here's a highlight video of Ryu striking out 17 batters during the 2010 season, a KBO record for strikeouts in a single game:

Among South Koreans, Hyun-Jin Ryu is known as "Dr. K" because of his propensity to strike batters out at a higher clip than most other KBO pitchers, but it is also apt for a reason that should seem all too familiar to many of us. Ryu burst onto the scene in 2006 as an 18-year-old, and threw 201.2 innings in his first professional season, going 18-6 with a sterling 2.23 ERA and impressive 204 strikeouts, all good enough to win the KBO pitching triple crown. In addition to his Rookie of the Year Award, he also won the KBO Most Valuable Player Award (the KBO does not have a Cy Young). Sound familiar to anyone? A "Dr. K" who burst on the scene and won an impressive amount of hardware within his first year or so of professional baseball? He followed up his MVP season with another 200+ IP campaign that saw him win the strikeout title; his 2.94 ERA and 17-7 record were not good enough to capture a second triple crown.

Hyun-Jin Ryu’s stats are impressive. Since 2006, he has a sub-3.00 ERA and 1226 strikeouts in 1269 IP. The KBO is weaker competition than what MLB has to offer, and even what NPB has to offer, but regardless, those numbers are impressive. An effort was made in 2011 to cut down on his innings, but outside of that outlier season, he has made no fewer than 25 starts per season and no fewer than 165 innings pitched (which is on the heavier side of the KBO). He is the Hanwa Eagles ace because he is good, and because he is a workhorse. All of those innings logged on his arm at such a young age are a red flag, though. He has yet to show that wear-and-tear, and maybe he never will in his entire professional career, but it is something to keep in mind.

Keith Law thinks that Ryu will end up in the bullpen, citing concerns about his build and durability, but this seems silly to me. His ability to have success in the MLB is certainly something that we can wonder, but the lefty has been the workhorse of his team for almost a decade now, and has not shown any signs of slowing down. Like most other Asian pitchers, he regularly threw upwards of 120+ pitches in games that he was involved in with the Eagles. Many innings have been logged on his arm for sure, but there’s no indication that he can’t keep chugging along. As a lefty who hits the 90s and has a few complementary pitches, it would make more sense for him to start- but, then again, Aroldis Chapman is a reliever still, so teams don’t necessarily look at things in terms of what makes the most sense from a value point-of-view.

Wei-Yin Chen is the first comparison I think of when I look at Ryu. Like Chen, Ryu might make his MLB debut at 26, sits in the low-90s with his fastball, and is a lefty. Though the level of competition in the KBO is not up to par with that of Nippon Professional Baseball, I think Ryu’s domination is indicative of his higher talent level as compared to many of his contemporaries in South Korea. The big fish in a small pond isn’t necessarily a small fish in a bigger pond.

Hyun-Jin Ryu being posted (and presumably, being given a contract) might also bring Suk-Min Yoon, another Korean pitcher, to the MLB. Like Ryu, Moon is a top starting pitcher in the KBO who is a Boras client. He passed on the opportunity to be posted last season, but can freely come to the MLB should he chose to for the 2013 season, as he qualifies as an international free agent. He is coming off of a relatively decent season (for the KBO), and as such, it might behoove him to make the transition now for a maximum payoff. If he does, stay tuned for a full write-up of him depending on where he lands (and, truthfully, I already have said write-up written, but just don't have a reason to post it right now!)

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