By signing his 6-year, $36M contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Hyun-Jin Ryu became the fourth Korean born player to join Major League Baseball. Ryu follows Hee-Seop Choi, Jae Seo, and most notably, Chan Ho Park as Korean born players to join the MLB. Ryu has had success in Korea, and even in international baseball; but how will he fair in the MLB, and more importantly to us, in fantasy baseball?
Ryu figures to be the Dodgers’ fourth starting pitcher in their rotation for 2013. He will be behind ace Clayton Kershaw, incoming superstar Zack Greinke, and disappointing veteran Josh Beckett. The fifth spot in the rotation is a little less clear, with Aaron Harang currently leading Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly and Chris Capuano going into Spring Training.
The team is also hoping Adrian Gonzalez will return to form, while they will simply be hoping that addition Carl Crawford can play baseball.
Ryu arrives in Los Angeles having done almost everything possible on an individual level in the Korean Baseball Organization. He dominated across the board in the KBO, winning their Rookie of the Year and MVP awards in 2006 after securing their Pitching Triple Crown. With seven All-Star Games, five Strikeout Titles, two ERA titles and two Gold Gloves all under his belt in the KBO. There’s really nothing left for him in Korea.
Ryu has played all seven years of his professional baseball career with the Hanwha Eagles in the KBO. Over those seven years, he amassed an incredible 98-52 record with a 2.80 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 1,238 strikeouts over 1,269 IP.
The KBO is considered to be below Nippon Pro Baseball of Japan in terms of international standing. While the statistics seem strong, it’s important to keep expectations in line with who he was playing against in Korea, as they have very few players with actual MLB talent.
Ryu brings the Dodgers a four-pitch arsenal anchored by a low 90’s fastball which tops out at 95 MPH. His curveball and slider are considered to be average. The pitch that will determine Ryu’s MLB success will be his best pitch, his deceptive changeup. With Ryu’s fastball, and other two pitches have been considered average, so his changeup will have to be filthy for him to be dominant in America.
Ryu is a baseball veteran coming in with success on some big stages. He’s pitched successfully in both the 2009 World Baseball Classic and in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing; both times for South Korea.
Coming into the Majors as a number four starter, slotting against other teams’ back-of-the-rotation pitchers, Ryu will have a chance to see fantasy success early, especially considering the Dodgers’ offense.
My prediction for Ryu’s rookie fantasy season?
I think he’ll end up out-playing Beckett for the number three spot in the Dodgers’ rotation. While it’s extremely difficult to try to translate an international player to the Majors, Ryu will be an interesting prospect for fantasy managers to target. If you can grab him in the later rounds, he will come with very high upside. Ryu plays for a championship-ready team, and has enjoyed success throughout his entire baseball career. With over $60M invested in him, the Dodgers will give Ryu every opportunity to perform, so that alone should give fantasy owners confidence.
One other thing fantasy owners should note, is that Ryu has proven to be a horse during his time in Korea. He routinely went 7+ innings for the Eagles, a team that has had bullpen problems for the past few years. While the KBO hasn’t been a hot-spot for MLB talent, the Dodgers have seemingly plucked one of, if not the, best players the KBO has to offer today.
I have his overall fantasy value ending up better than the likes of Bud Norris, Johan Santana, Tommy Hanson and Ricky Romero for 2013. Ryu has major fantasy upside, although it may still be unproven.
I would draft him anywhere after the 13th round, and would consider him a safe gamble as a fourth fantasy pitcher.
2013 Fantasy Baseball Projection: 16-9, 190 IP, 3.65 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 177 strikeouts.
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