Baseball

Dodgers Spotlight: Another Weapon They Didn’t Need

It’s bad enough that the Dodgers have a weaponized, flexible, young lineup that’s been punching holes in the ozone all season. The Dodgers have run roughshod over the National League now for basically two and a half seasons. Sure, last season’s record and needing a 163rd game to win the division doesn’t sound like it, but any of their underlying stats told you that they were the class of the Senior Circuit. They apparently are determined to set that record straight this season.

In the past couple seasons, the Dodgers rotation has been good, but beyond Clayton Kershaw it had been more to the functional side than dominant. Perhaps that’s what kept them from capping it all off with a World Series wins, as true nuclear lineups like the Astros and Red Sox essentially pummeled them.

Not so anymore. Kershaw doesn’t even have to be Kershaw anymore, and they’re still rocking five starters with ERAs under 4.00. Walker Buehler promised this last year, Rich Hill infuriatingly has been this effective his whole tenure there. But Hyun-Jin Ryu is the real surprise. Then again, the real surprise is that he’s been upright for more than four or five starts.

Ryu hasn’t made 30 starts in six seasons, and he’s only crossed 20 twice in the five seasons since. So taking the ball every fifth day already this season is something of a win. And of course, when he is, no one has been able to touch him. He currently has a microchip of an ERA of 1.36, a WHIP of 0.80, and a FIP of 2.62. All of which lead the National League (he’s second in FIP behind Scherzer barely) and make Ryu your clubhouse leader for the Cy Young.

Ryu has been using a sinker more often this year instead of his fastball, but it’s his fastball that is showing a heightened effectiveness. Whereas in the past hitters managed a .283 average against his fastball, it’s only .203 now. Ryu is getting more whiffs and foul balls off it, but the contact is just about the same. But Ryu seems to be combatting the new swing planes of hitters by using it only in the upper part of the zone. See for yourself:

Another change is that Ryu is using his change more. He’s throwing it a quarter of the time, up from 18% last year. That’s how he’s been getting all the grounders, as nearly 60% of the changes that are put in play end up with grass stains. It’s become his go-to, as he throws it more than any other pitch with two strikes.

There is an element of mirrors to Ryu’s season so far. He’s got a .248 BABIP, which is some 40 points below his career average. And he’s getting a 94 left-on-base percentage, which clearly won’t last. The Dodgers have a great infield defense of course, so the higher number of grounders should lower the BABIP. But more of those runners will score. Ryu’s 1.6% BB% is simply ridiculous, and would be the lowest since Carlos Silva’s 1.2% in 2005 and no other marks since 1980. Maybe he can keep it up, but it hasn’t been done in a very long time or at all.

Combined with Buehler, Kershaw, and Hill, the Dodgers have a rotation that can slice through anyone in a playoff series, which obscures perhaps their one mini-weakness which is the bridge to Kenley Jansen (who hasn’t been his normal self this year). As if they didn’t have everything already.

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