Monday, October 7, 2013

How Hyun-Jin Ryu can improve his effectiveness against left-handed hitters

Hyun-Jin Ryu’s start in Game 3 of the National League Division Series wasn’t a complete and total failure, and he was lucky the offense (and Chris Capuano) bailed him out. But a weakness of his was exploited last night.

Ryu, somewhat surprisingly, struggles against left-handed hitters. Here are his platoon splits for his first big league season:

vs. LHP
.270/.322/.416, 5 HR, 2.64 K/BB

vs. RHP
.245/.291/.342, 10 HR, 3.34 K/BB

Ryu thrives because of his plus changeup. The pitch allows him to have better success against right-handed hitters. In the regular season, he threw it 22.3 percent of the time. It was his go-to off-speed offering. In Game 3, he threw it 26.5 percent of the time against a Braves’ lineup that featured tough lefties Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward and Brian McCann. Fortunately for Ryu, those five combined to go 1-for-5 with a walk and RBI. Ryu was actually hurt more by Justin Upton and Evan Gattis during his 3-inning outing. He also only threw two of his 18 changeups to lefties on Sunday.

While his changeup is a plus offering against righties, it could also be a plus offering against lefties, if he’s willing to throw it.

Many years ago, I was watching Tom Glavine pitch, and the broadcasters noted that Glavine started throwing his changeup to left-handed hitters. Glavine has one of the best changeups of all-time, and he didn’t have a particularly great breaking ball. Despite that, he had a Hall of Fame career. Johan Santana, while having a better breaker than Glavine, also thrived by using his changeup.

Ryu’s changeup usage against LHH

Ryu began his career barely throwing changeups to lefties. His slider and -- less often -- his curveball, were weapons against lefties.

Then August rolls around and Ryu gets frisky by throwing his changeup to lefties 14.2 percent of the time for the month. Ryu, coincidentally or not, posted his second-best monthly ERA in August at 2.61 (2.38 in May). Despite giving up more hits (40) than innings pitched (38) that month, he also only walked four hitters the entire month.

Lefties hit .133/.235/.333 with a .091 batting average on balls in play against Ryu’s changeup this season. Granted, it was just 15 at-bats, but perhaps it’d be a bigger weapon against them if he decided to throw it more. For comparison’s sake, lefties hit .337/.385/.505 with an abnormally high .369 BABIP against his fastball. His slider against lefties, which wasn’t great in Game 3, was a .196/.237/.250 offering against lefties.

Ryu got lefties to swing at his changeup 68.1 percent of the time -- by far the most of any pitch he threw against lefties. He also allowed the most foul balls on the pitch (31.9 percent), got the most ground balls (17 percent) and the second-most whiffs, as in swings-and-misses, not strikeouts (12.8 percent).

So, for Ryu to get better against left-handed pitching (and it isn’t like he was terrible against them), perhaps his changeup is the answer. He only threw it to left-handed hitters 5.6 percent of the time in his rookie season.

It's worth a shot, especially if his average slider and below-average curveball aren't working for him.

Photo credit: Dustin Nosler, Feelin' Kinda Blue

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