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Hyun-jin Ryu has turned into the Dodgers’ hottest ace

Left-hander hasn’t allowed a run in his last 31 innings

Los Angeles Dodgers v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Hyun-jin Ryu has become a master of control, and the veteran left-hander has been a force at the top of a strong and deep Dodgers starting rotation.

Ryu walked a batter on Sunday, issuing a free pass to Reds third baseman Eugenio Suarez in the first inning in Cincinnati. That in itself was news, since Ryu hardly walks anyone these days. It was just the fourth walk in 59⅓ innings for Ryu this season, to go with 59 strikeouts.

Ryu’s walks in 2019

Batter Team Date Inning
Batter Team Date Inning
Paul Goldschmidt StL April 8 1st
Jesus Aguilar Mil April 20 6th
Brian Dozier Was May 12 4th
Eugenio Suarez Cin May 19 1st

Keeping people off base has been paramount for Ryu, whose active scoreless streak of 31 innings is the longest in baseball this season. Ryu lasted seven innings on Sunday against the Reds, his fifth straight start of at least seven frames. He hasn’t allowed more than two runs in any of his nine starts this season.

Ryu leads baseball with a 1.52 ERA this season, and his 1.78 ERA since the start of 2018 is also No. 1.

The key has been the command for Ryu, who posted a career-best 4.6% walk rate in 2018 and has followed that up with a minuscule 1.9% rate this year, the best in baseball. He has issued zero or one unintentional walk in 23 of his last 24 starts. Combine that with a strikeout rate of 27.4% that is also a career high for Ryu, and the Dodgers have another ace atop their rotation.

It was Ryu who got the start in Game 1 of the NLDS in 2018 over Clayton Kershaw, though that was more a function of timing more than anything, allowing the Dodgers to keep their top two starters on a somewhat regular schedule. Kershaw started Game 1 in both the NLCS and World Series, his usual position.

But that Ryu was even a viable option is a testament to how remarkable the left-hander’s reemergence has been.

Ryu was in the upper echelon of National League starters in his first two seasons (2013-14) after coming over from South Korea. Surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder wiped out 2015 for Ryu, as well as the bulk of 2016. He made one start that July but was then shut down and had arthroscopic elbow surgery that cut another season far too short.

Best ERA in MLB, 2018-19

Pitcher Team Starts ERA
Pitcher Team Starts ERA
Hyun-jin Ryu Dodgers 24 1.78
Jacob deGrom Mets 41 2.14
Blake Snell Rays 40 2.19
Justin Verlander Astros 44 2.49
Trevor Bauer Indians 37 2.62
Chris Sale Red Sox 37 2.69
minimum 20 starts Source: Baseball-Reference

His comeback as a serviceable starter in 2017 — 3.77 ERA, 110 ERA+ in 126 innings — was a major success after two years of rehab, but he was disappointed after getting left off the Dodgers’ postseason roster that year.

Since then Ryu has been one of the best pitchers in baseball, when he’s on the mound at least. Ryu posted a 1.97 ERA in 2018, but was limited to just 15 starts after missing three months with a torn groin muscle. This year Ryu was on the disabled list again with a groin strain, but nowhere near as serious, basically missing just one trip through the rotation.

When on the mound, Ryu is pitching like an ace. He’s averaging 6.59 innings per start this season, second in MLB to his teammate Kershaw (6.61).

Dodgers starting pitchers as a group are second in the majors in ERA (2.99), fourth in FIP (3.57) and fourth in K-BB rate (19.3%). Thanks in large part to Ryu’s excellence.

Ryu could have been a free agent after last season, but accepted the Dodgers’ qualifying offer of $17.9 million in 2019. So far it’s looking like a steal for Los Angeles. Ryu could be one of the prized free agents this winter, assuming teams decide to spend again, and won’t be shackled by the qualifying offer, which would require a signing team to forfeit a draft pick. That penalty, coupled with the asking price, could be prohibitive — just ask Dallas Keuchel, who still hasn’t found a 2019 home, and likely won’t until after the June draft — but without it Ryu should still see a hefty payday this offseason.