Fantasy Baseball: Is Hyun-Jin Ryu Worth a Flyer?
Well, the pecking order got a little clearer on Monday, with forgotten lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu completing his long recovery from a seemingly endless string of injuries and earning himself a spot in the Dodgers' rotation after yet another strong spring outing.
Ryu was a popular sleeper pick heading into last season's fantasy drafts, but after the lefty hurler barely cleared four innings of work before succumbing to an elbow injury that eventually torpedoed his entire 2016 season, drafters seem to be taking a decidedly "wait and see" approach with Ryu this year, letting him fall outside of the overall top 400 per FantasyPros average draft position data.
Ryu has probably been drafted in most deep and NL-only leagues, where anyone with a pulse draws interest. But is the once-promising lefty worth a flyer in standard leagues now that a Dodgers' starting spot is his to lose?
Velocity and Arsenal
A prevailing narrative of Ryu's recovery across spring training has been that while his command and health seem on par, his velocity has been a bit down.
Obviously for a player with a history of elbow and shoulder injuries, velocity concerns are, if not an outright red flag, at least a bold yellow. That said, it's worth noting that Ryu has never really relied on plus-velocity to be effective.
In fact, when Ryu was thriving during his two quietly excellent seasons with the Dodgers in 2013 and 2014 -- when he carried a 3.27 expected fielding independent pitching (xFIP) across 344 innings pitched -- his fastball wasn't his calling card. Instead, it was his nasty sub-70-mile-per-hour curveball, which in 2014 induced a zero (that's right, zero) percent walk rate and a 33.8 percent strikeout rate while limiting hitters to a .063 isolated slugging percentage over a not-insignificant 322-pitch sample.
Along with his low-90s fastball and the pairing of the mid-80s slider and low-80s changeup, that utterly demonic curve allowed Ryu to occupy three distinct velocity bands, making his arsenal maximally deceptive and thus allowing him to maintain a respectable 8.8 percent swinging strike rate in 2014 despite his lack of overpowering stuff.
Then again, if his elbow continues to bark, there's a chance that Ryu's slider might find itself on the cutting room floor, leaving the Dodgers' hurler to lean heavily on a changeup that was easily his worst pitch. Look at how the slider and changeup compare, per their 2014 strikeout-minus-walk rate (K-BB%), isolated slugging allowed (ISO) and line-drive rate (LD%).
There's no sugarcoating it -- Ryu without his slider is probably severely compromised. Beyond the obvious worries over injury setbacks, Ryu's possible reliance on his subpar change up should be a chief concern for fantasy owners.
The uncertainty over Ryu's secondary stuff speaks to a larger concern for the Dodgers' lefty -- there's simply no way of knowing what kind of pitcher he is now, two years removed from his last substantial run of work. Is it even fair to use his 2013 and 2014 numbers as a baseline for what to expect from Ryu in 2017?
Perhaps this question runs moot when we consider Ryu's cost. For those who still have drafts yet to run, even a slight reach for Ryu puts him in the range of Shelby Miller, Mike Leake, and Seth Lugo, none of whom are exactly knocking down the door to difference-making fantasy stardom.
Patrick Corbin, a player being drafted in the range of Ryu, is probably a solid comparison for calibrating expectations. Like Ryu, he has both opportunity and some semblance of fantasy-relevant track record, albeit in the distant past. And like Ryu, his recent stock has been muted significantly with injury concerns, so much so that we're not even sure how to value these players as assets going forward.
As we tinker with our rosters in the waning days of spring training, short on relevant data and high on anticipation, a player like Ryu does offer some intrigue as a low-cost flyer who could, if his effectiveness returns and his innings aren't severely limited, emerge as a solid start-for-start asset even in standard leagues.
It's hard to recommend Ryu across the board, of course -- it depends who you're dropping, what starting pitching depth looks like and so on. But perhaps capitalizing on the current uncertainty surrounding Ryu (and thus his depressed price) might prove profitable in the long run. After all, his price can only go up from here.
Just know that a full-on return to form is on the narrow upper end of Ryu's probable range of outcomes.