Good debut, but Ryu has work to do

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Good debut, but Ryu has work to do


When the 2012 Korea Baseball Organization season ended, Korean fans’ interests were focused on the country’s ace pitcher, Ryu Hyun-jin, who had consistently said that he would try to join a Major League Baseball team. Fans’ interests were so high, not only because he was trying to move to the major leagues, but also because he would be the first Korean pitcher to move directly from a KBO team to a MLB team. Ryu had said that he would not sign a minor league contract.

Many top Korean baseball talents such as Park Chan-ho, who finished his 17-year MLB career with a record of 124-98 and a 4.36 ERA, have made the leap to the MLB, but only Park and Choo Shin-soo have had a consistent level of success there - and neither of them played in the KBO before they went to the MLB. Kia Tigers veteran pitcher Seo Jae-weong, Nexen Heroes sidearm pitcher Kim Byung-hyun and many other young top talents spent some time in the major leagues but returned to Korea for different reasons.

“I suggest young players to become the best in the KBO, to be scouted with a high salary rather than being scouted as just one prospect, because it gives them a bigger chance to be included on a big-league roster,” Seo said in a phone interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily.

In December, the left-handed Ryu, 26, became such an example as he signed a 6-year, $36 million-deal with the MLB’s Los Angeles Dodgers. When Ryu arrived at spring training, however, many people were dubious of his ability because people in the United States generally consider the talent level of the KBO to be equivalent to AA or AAA teams in the minor leagues. Ken Gurnick of also doubted Ryu’s stamina after seeing cigarettes in his locker, while others said he looked overweight and worried that he eats too many hamburgers.

Such suspicions got stronger when he lost his debut game against the San Francisco Giants on April 3, when he allowed three runs on 10 hits in six and one-third innings. Most of his fastballs were between 89 miles per hour and 91 miles per hour and his changeup, which is his best breaking ball, wasn’t sharp. But Ryu bounced back. He earned his first career win against the Pittsburgh Pirates on April 8 and ended that month with a 3-1 record and a 3.35 ERA. He then went 3-1 with a 2.38 ERA in May.

In six April games, Ryu averaged 11 strikeouts per nine innings thanks to his sliders and curveballs. Among MLB batters he was considered a two-pitch pitcher who threw fastballs and changeups. According to, 28.3 percent of his strikeouts came from sliders and 21.7 percent of from curveballs, while only 15.2 percent of them came from changeups.

As batters adapted to his sliders and curves, his ratio of strikeouts per nine innings decreased by half in May to 5.3. Ryu then started throwing more changeups, which he had improved since the beginning of the season. His ratio of strikeouts per nine innings increased to 7.22 at the end of the season and 31 percent of his strikeouts came from changeups. The index was meaningful for Ryu because he produced 28.6 percent of his strikeouts with changeups in the 2012 KBO season, which meant that the changeup that dominated the KBO was working out in the MLB.

“I’m a slow starter,” Ryu said after the season. “As the weather got warmer, my fastballs got better, which positively impacted my changeup. Maintaining these two pitches in good shape was the key for me.”

However, Ryu has some homework he needs to do during the offseason. He often struggled in away games. His ERA at away games was 3.69, compared to 2.32 for home games. In four games against teams in the American League East, he went 1-2 with a 6.45 ERA. He also allowed two runs on 11 hits in five and one-third innings when he faced the Cubs in Chicago, the most hits he allowed in one game.

“He needs to improve his stamina to solve the away game problems and also needs to improve his sliders and curveballs more,” baseball analyst Heo Koo-youn said. “In the games that those second and third pitches worked effectively, he performed a lot better. He also needs to pitch better in the first inning.”

Can Ryu survive in the major leagues as a competitive pitcher? I suggest that he work more on his stamina and breaking ball pitches rather than showing up on TV entertainment programs during the offseason.

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