Hyun-Jin Ryu inked a four year, $80 million deal with the Toronto Blue Jays late on Sunday night. With Ryu coming in as the ninth-best pitcher in ESPN’s Player Rater in 2019, he is certainly worthy of a deep dive. As a reminder, four critical variables when changing teams include:
- Change in home ballpark.
- Change in team defense.
- The combination of offensive environments and hitters that he will face in his division.
- The new team’s approach to pitching and pitching infrastructure.
Homer-Happy Rogers Centre
Rogers Centre, home of the only team north of the border, ranked in the middle of the pack for runs, but oh boy, that was not the case for home runs. Rogers Centre was the best place to hit homers in 2019, nearly 32 percent above league average. Dodger Stadium ranked ninth, in comparison. While ESPN’s Park Factors only include one year of data, FantasyPros’ Park Factors and FanGraphs include three. Both sites rank Rogers Centre as a harder place to pitch than Dodger Stadium. On the surface, this looks like a considerable ding to Ryu’s value.
But, consider the following:
|Ryu HR/FB Rate
Outside of 2017, Ryu’s average HR/FB rate was over two percent lower than the league average. Clearly, Ryu has the ability to suppress homers, and thus may not be significantly affected by the switch in home ballparks. I’m expecting that difference to worsen only half a percent next year, given the downgrade in parks.
Youth Around the Diamond
The Dodgers, despite their veteran infield, ranked 19th in FanGraph’s defensive metric. When looking at UZR/150, they jump to thirteenth. Unfortunately for Ryu, the Blue Jays ranked 24th and 26th, respectively. Similarly, Baseball Savant’s outs above average metric ranks the Dodgers considerably higher than the Blue Jays. The Blue Jays lost Justin Smoak, a historically bad defender, and get Travis Shaw, a historically good defender at multiple positions. Youngsters Vlad Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and Cavan Biggio should continue their progression in the infield, even if they are likely worse than free-agent departures Eric Sogard and Freddy Galvis.
This matters because Ryu is a groundball machine, posting a 50.4% GB rate in 2019. Groundball pitchers typically have higher BABIPs, but his .278 BABIP last year was well below the .298 league average. Ryu keeps hitters off balance due to his great command of several different pitches, as detailed by Eno Sarris. His ability to keep balls on the ground and limit hard contact are likely the reasons why he was able to succeed despite a mediocre fielding team behind him. Heading to Toronto should not change this fact.
As for pitch framing, the Blue Jays ranked near the top of the charts, but only one spot above the Dodgers. Both Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire return (for now), meaning that throwing to different catchers should not be an issue.
AL East > NL West
In what should be a surprise to nobody, the AL East was a much tougher environment to pitch in than the NL West. Here’s the proof:
|2019 wRC+ Rank
|2019 wRC+ Rank
Wow. The AL East was nearly three times better than the NL West in scoring runs. Compound the fact that Ryu obviously didn’t face his former team, meaning that the best team he faced in his division ranked 21st in baseball. This makes Ryu’s starts much tougher. Given his previously established dominance of five different pitches, we don’t want to exaggerate these offenses he will face. Even still, his BABIP, ERA, and WHIP are likely to go up a tick as a result of the change in offensive environments.
At this stage in his career, Ryu probably doesn’t require a grandmaster pitching coach to coax the most out of him. However, based on recent results, the Dodgers seem to be better at churning out and maintaining high-level pitchers. We don’t even need to list those names. Pete Walker has been the pitching coach for the Jays since the 2013 season, coincidentally the same season that Ryu entered the league. Since then, the Dodgers rank third in pitcher WAR; the Jays rank 26th. Despite this large gap, I’m not downgrading Ryu.
The biggest impediment to Ryu duplicating his 2019 season is health. He did not pitch in 2015 and logged just 5 and 2/3 innings in 2016. His 182 and 2/3 innings in 2019 were the second-highest of his career, just behind his rookie campaign. As a result, we certainly have to factor injury risk into the equation for the 32-year old. Even factoring in health and the downgrades from changing teams, I have a much more positive outlook than the public projections:
My projection has Ryu’s ERA going up a full run, plus slight setbacks in WHIP and K-BB rate. And still my projections are pretty rosy when compared to the public.
The early NFBC drafts have Ryu going off the board as the 36th pitcher, and 101st overall. I’m likely taking Ryu before Mike Soroka, who is going ahead of him. Other than Soroka, this ADP feels right. If we were guaranteed 175 innings from Ryu, he would likely jump up twenty picks. If you are a believer that he will stay healthy, go ahead and do that.
More Fantasy Baseball Impacts from Recent Transactions:
- Gerrit Cole Signs with New York Yankees
- Anthony Rendon Signs with Los Angeles Angels
- Stephen Strasburg Re-signs with Washington Nationals
- Tommy Pham Traded to San Diego Padres
- Mike Moustakas Signs with Cincinnati Reds
- Zack Wheeler Signs with Philadelphia Phillies