The Los Angeles Dodgers signed Korean lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu to a six-year, $36 million deal this offseason that indicated that they saw him as a potential mid-rotation starter, a reasonable assumption given his success as a starter in Korea's major baseball league, the KBO.
Ryu faced Cleveland on Wednesday at Goodyear Stadium and was disappointing, showing a below-average fastball, a bad body and a peculiar delivery that were all only salvaged by his above-average changeup and ability to throw four pitches for strikes.
Ryu's fastball sat around 87-89 mph, never getting above 90 mph, without great life or sink on the pitch. It only plays up because he has some deception in his delivery and offsets it with a very good changeup, probably a grade-55 pitch (on the 20-80 scouting scale), although if you wanted to argue it was a 60 (plus), I wouldn't fight you. He gets great arm speed, the aforementioned deception, and has good fading action on the pitch.
Hitters see the ball pretty late out of his hand, which helps both pitches, and he's confident enough in the changeup to double up on it and to use it against left- and right-handed hitters. Neither his curve nor his slider was above-average; he threw the curveball as low as 66 mph, which is very dangerous against big league hitters who will murder it if he makes a slight mistake, while the slider at 79-80 had decent tilt, enough that he has some more margin for error with the pitch than he does with the curve.
Ryu is a husky guy, less than an ideal physique, although he does have strong thighs to help handle some of the stress of throwing. He has a very high leg kick and then drifts off the mound before he even starts his stride; he's barely begun to pronate his throwing arm when that front foot hits the ground. It's unorthodox, and far from pretty, although those characteristics don't make a delivery objectively "bad" for long-term health, and can even add to a pitcher's deception. But given Ryu's price and velocity, I'd at least like to see a more conventional delivery just to feel more confident that he'll remain durable for the life of his contract.
Based on this look, and a scout's comment to me on Wednesday that Ryu was exactly the same guy in his previous outing, I don't see more than a fringy fourth starter here. Lefties with 45 fastballs can succeed in the majors if they have outstanding command and control, which Ryu didn't show, and if they've got a knockout breaking ball to neutralize lefties, which Ryu didn't have in this outing. The changeup is legit, good enough that he'll miss some bats, but I worry about him being homer-prone or even just too contact-prone on the other stuff, especially the fastball, especially once the league gets a few looks at his delivery.
• Yasiel Puig -- another big Dodgers international signing -- got three at-bats and played left field, striking out twice and hitting a hard single to left after fouling off a lot of pretty good pitches in his other plate appearance. His body looks good, a little trimmer than he was last summer, and he's running better as well -- probably not a coincidence.
He seemed to be trying to keep his hands inside the ball, especially against Justin Masterson, who was pounding right-handers with sinkers all day. Puig was overstriding a little and was off-balance on many of his swings, meeting the ball out front and fouling it off when staying back a little would have produced better contact, although his swing path was very easy and consistent swing to swing.