Normally in my Player Profile series I like to write about players who are being over drafted because of unwarranted hype, or I focus on players that can be hidden gems of production because people are underestimating their value. Today I’ll do something different. I’ll write up a player who has never thrown an official inning as a professional baseball player in North America…
WHO AM I?
Hyun-Jin Ryu is a 25 year old left-handed hurler from Korea (he’ll be 26 on March 25th). The Dodgers believe that he’s a viable option for their starting rotation, and backing up their belief they shelled out a six year deal for $36 million to attain his services. The Dodgers also had to pay just over $25 million with the posting fee to obtain the rights to sign Ryu, so they’ve invested nearly $62 million dollars in the guy for the next six years. So who is this Ryu and why did the Dodgers spend so much money to acquire a guy who looks an awful lot like a fourth starter?
Ryu started his professional career in the Korean Baseball Organization in 2006. He was excellent going 18-6 with a 2.23 ERA and 204 punchouts in 201.2 innings and he became the first player to win ROY and MVP in the same season. He then tossed another 200+ innings while winning 17 games with 178 Ks in his second season. In 2008 Ryu competed in the Beijing Olympics including throwing 8.1 innings in the Gold Medal winning game for South Korea. On the downside, Ryu failed to toss 200-innings each season from 2008-2012, but he was an effective arm throughout. Here are his career KBO numbers (he was an All-Star every one of his seven seasons):
98-52, 2.80 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 8.78 K/9, 3.23 K/BB ratio over 1,269 innings
If a pitcher posts those numbers in the big leagues we have a name for him – it’s Adam Wainwright. But those numbers were compiled in the KBO, hardly a league that offers up the same level of competition as major league baseball. That leaves open the question of how his skills will translate to the majors.
* Ryu had Tommy John surgery while he was in high school, so hopefully we won’t have to be worrying about his elbow blowing up, though as we have seen pitchers sometimes do need to have the procedure done twice (think Brian Wilson and Joakim Soria).
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Ryu throws his fastball anywhere from 88-92 mph. He also throws an assortment of slow, and slower, off speed pitches. Given his build, he’s not going to be on the cover of Muscle & Fitness anytime soon, and manager Don Mattingly likened him to David Wells (he’s 6’2” and reported to camp weighing a whopping 255 lbs. which raised some eyebrows, especially when he was having trouble with some of the conditioning work – more on that below). It should also be noted that the baseball is a bit slicker in North America, so that will take some time to get acclimated, and Sandy Koufax worked with Ryu a bit on alternating the grip on his curve ball a bit to help with the transition.
The Dodgers have a bunch of options than can turn to in their rotation. Obviously they didn’t lavish millions on Ryu to use him out of the pen, or to send him to the minors, so you have to think he’s going to be part of the mix. My best guess on how the rotation is going to play out follows.
Almost Certainly In
Obviously the Dodgers have a bounty of arms, and it’s very likely that once they settle on the unit that a couple of these arms will be dealt to shore up other spots on the club.
If I had to guess what type of effort Ryu will offer this season I’d say that he’s appropriately slotted as the 4th starter for the Dodgers. It remains to be seen how Ryu will adapt to American culture, the minor change with the ball and the change in training methods (he famously had some issues with his first training session in camp as he struggled to complete his work. “I realized today that in America, when they do long-distance running, they run really fast,” he said.). There is also the fact that he hasn’t thrown 200 innings since the 2007 season. I’d think that Paul Maholm‘s 2012 effort (13-11, 3.67 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 140 Ks) would be the high water mark for what your expectations should be for Ryu this year, but even that is likely being far too rosie in the old prediction department. I’d let someone else draft Ryu. It would be a big time shock if he emerged as an All-Star caliber player this season so he’s best left for the reserve rounds in mixed leagues. Don’t reach.
- Don’t forget to pick up your copy of the 2013 BaseballGuys Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide which is now available. Nearly 150 pages of insight to help you dominate the competition in 2013.
By Ray Flowers