The MLB’s Best Pitcher is South Korean Hyun-Jin Ryu

Largely overlooked his entire Major League Baseball career, Los Angeles Dodgers’ Hyun-Jin Ryu is now starting to get attention as the league’s best starting pitcher this season.

The 32-year-old baseball superstar, born in Incheon, South Korea, who became the first player from the KBO to join an MLB team in 2013, made an immediate impact upon entering the league. However, injuries would keep him away from the majority of the games in the succeeding seasons after his first year with the Dodgers. He basically missed two entire seasons in 2015 and 2016. 

 

In 2018, he was limited to 15 starts due to a severe groin injury, but when he took the ball, Ryu put up impressive stats, including WHIP, xFIP, strand rate, strikeout percentage, walk rate, strikeout-to-walk ratio, and soft-contact percentage.

For the 2019 season, Ryu became the Dodgers opening day starter after Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill both suffered injuries. On May 7, he pitched his second career complete game shutout against the Atlanta Braves, striking out six, walked none, and gave up four hits in the 9–0 win. On May 12, he finished a game against the Washington Nationals with 8 innings pitched, struck out nine, walked one, and gave up one hit in a 6–0 win. Those two performances earned him NL Player of the Week.

Against the Cincinnati Reds on May 19, he pulled off 7 shutout innings, extending his streak of consecutive scoreless innings pitched to 31. He eventually won Major League Baseball Pitcher of the Month in May, going 5–0 with 0.59 ERA, striking out 36 batters, walking 3 batters while allowing three earned runs.

Ryu’s baseball greatness was highlighted on Sunday after breaking the record for the lowest ERA (earned run average) in his team’s history with 1.26. Used to measure a pitcher’s effectiveness, ERA is obtained by calculating the average number of earned runs scored against the pitcher in every nine innings pitched. 

Ryu’s ERA, which currently leads the Majors, is the lowest by a Dodgers pitcher through the first 14 starts of a season since the stat became official in 1912.

He broke the record once held by Don Drysdale, who delivered a 1.31 ERA after 14 starts during the 1968 season. Also included in the top elite Dodgers pitchers are Sandy Koufax (1.40 ERA in 1966), Larry Cheney (1.51 ERA, 1916) and Don Sutton (1.55 ERA, 1972).

At home, Ryu’s cutter-changeup combo is virtually unhittable so far, delivering a 1.01 ERA in 44 2/3 home innings, while limiting hitters to a .172/.182/.268 line when he’s pitching at Dodger Stadium.

 

He also leads the Majors in ERA+ (336), walks per nine innings (0.5) and strikeout to walk ratio (17.00), which is not too far from Phil Hughes’ MLB record of 11.6, set during the 2014 season.

His stellar performance so far has got fans already looking forward to Ryu’s inevitable first career All-Star Game selection. Ryu, however, says such a possibility is not yet on his mind.  In a recent interview with Sports Illustrated, Ryu revealed that he finds his dominating stats surprising.

“I am very surprised,” Ryu was quoted as saying through interpreter Bryan Lee. “I think every factor has gone my way: the luck, my teammates being behind me, the work I’ve put in. It’s pretty early in the season, though, so I don’t want to get ahead of myself.”

Teammate Ross Stripling pointed out, however, that while the [ERA] number might indeed be surprising, “everyone knew he had the pitchability. When he’s healthy, he has the ability to throw 2–0 change-ups and 3–1 curveballs. Mike Trout struck out twice [against him], and keeping him off balance is nearly impossible. I think we knew it was there. It was just a matter of staying healthy.”

Featured image via YouTube/MLB

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