Command, velocity, and a changeup are the words that describe Ryu Hyun-jin (36, Toronto). He doesn’t have a fastball, but he has a precise delivery. In addition, his changeup is considered a plus pitch in the major leagues.
However, the changeup is rarely the focus of Ryu’s games these days. That’s because his main weapon is so well known, but there’s another pitch that stands out more than the changeup. It’s a curveball with a big drop. The commentators on Sportsnet, the Canadian sports network and host broadcaster in Toronto, as well as opposing team broadcasters and various media outlets, have been focusing on Ryu’s curveball. There is also a sense of curiosity.
Ryu was not a pitcher who didn’t throw a curveball. He has thrown it occasionally since his KBO days. But it wasn’t a deciding pitch. It was more of a showcase pitch, or a way to get strikes in the early innings. Even in 2013, his first season in the majors, his curveball percentage (9.8%) was worse than his slider (13.9%). The curveball was at the bottom of Ryu’s pitch mix. His changeup, his primary weapon, was at 22.7%.
But Ryu has had his ups and downs. He had shoulder surgery, and as he got older, his velocity wasn’t what it used to be. The 95 mph (152.9 km/h) he could hit when he set his mind to it was fading away. So Ryu began throwing a variety of pitches to get through the crisis. He threw his sinker and cutter, and increased the percentage of his curveball. He learned to cook hitters with a variety of pitches and the differences in velocity between them. Freaks were freaks, and geniuses were geniuses.
Ryu’s curveball rate, which was in the low teens, gradually increased to 17.8 percent this year. It wasn’t just the percentage of his pitches that increased. He’s been using it more often when it matters. Until 2021, the percentage of curveballs after 2S was only 15.3%. The changeup was still the deciding pitch (28.2% after 2S). Cutters (29.5% since 2S) were the go-to pitches when he needed to get in front of hitters because of the decline in his fastball.
This year, however, his curveball rate has risen to 21.9% after 2S. His BABIP after 2S is just 0.100 and his long ball rate is very low. On the flip side, he has a 25% swinging strike rate. His average curveball velocity since 2S is just 67.9 mph (109.3 km/h). This is even lower than his average curveball velocity this season (68.7 mph). When he throws his deciding pitch, he throws it slower. The idea is to throw hitters off their timing, and it’s a great feeling to be able to control this velocity.
Ryu’s average curveball velocity this year (68.7 mph) isn’t even near the bottom of the major leagues, it’s dead last. It’s the lowest among pitchers with at least 100 pitches. Second on the list is teammate Chris Bassitt (70.6 mph), who still averages over 70 mph. He’s the only player with a curveball that averages in the 60s. Instead, he has a big drop, and he drops it wherever he wants. He even drops a 70 mph changeup and immediately follows it up with a slower one. It’s crazy for hitters.
With a 40+ mph difference in velocity, hitters have a hard time dealing with the curveball. If you’re looking for a curveball and a different pitch comes in, you can’t hit it at all, so you have to take the gamble of throwing away your other pitches. Sometimes this gamble pays off, but more often it doesn’t. More often than not, I would get a rookie strikeout right in the middle of a curveball. 먹튀검증
The trajectory of the curveball itself is so good that it has a 35.8% swinging strike rate this year and is tied with Forsythe for the most strikeouts (9). It’s not an easy pitch to hit, even if you’re aiming for it. Ryu’s curveball has an expected batting average (xBA) of just .169. It’s even lower than his actual BABIP (.219), indicating that his curveball is holding up well in unlucky situations.
If you take out the players who throw more than 15% of their pitches with their curveball and have more than 300 total pitches, there are only about 10 players with a lower xBA than Ryu, including Blake Snell (San Diego, 0.100), Tyler Glasnow (Tampa Bay, 0.109), and Corbin Burns (Milwaukee, 0.123). Ryu’s curveball is developing into one of the most powerful in the majors. Now, the key to watching Ryu’s games is when and if he drops his rainbow curveball to freeze hitters in their tracks.