Dodgers: Has Clayton Kershaw been usurped as the Dodgers’ ace?
The Case for Ryu
Hyun-Jin Ryu is putting up a career year right under our noses. I think we’ve given him plenty of credit, and the team and fans have embraced his amazing start to the season. Manager Dave Roberts named him the starter for the National League which was well deserved.
But is he really the ace of the consensus best team in baseball to this point in the season? And even if he is the ace this season, does he have the staying power required to be an ace?
For me, it’s tough to tell.
For starters, Ryu’s soft tosser style doesn’t quite fit the mold of the traditional ace. But to refute that right away, there are plenty of accuracy-based aces that have graced the game with Hall of Fame-caliber play, most notably of course former-Dodger (and I suppose more notably former Atlanta Brave) Greg Maddux.
Beyond his slower-than-average fastball, the biggest knock against Ryu’s pending ace hood is his lack of track record. Now part of that has to do with him coming over to the United States later than most American-born pitcher of his caliber would, which automatically weakens his track record and exposure in America. Add on top of that the injury-limited seasons on the back of his baseball card and you can start to see why he isn’t really a solid choice to compare to other aces.
But should that be the case?
Since July 1 of last season, Hyun-Jin Ryu has the most WAR of any pitcher in the Dodgers rotation. His 4.7 WAR over 168.2 innings in that span tops Zach Greinke (4.6 in 232.2 innings), Noah Syndergaard (4.5 in 202.1 innings), Walker Buehler (4.4 in 195 innings), and Clayton Kershaw (4.3 in 209.1 innings). All four of those pitchers are aces who threw more innings than Ryu in that span, but on a per inning basis, Ryu was more valuable than all of those arms, each of which is widely considered to belong to an ace.
To continue Ryu’s argument for dominance, his 1.81 ERA since July 1, 2018, is the best in baseball. His is the only starting pitcher ERA under 2.00 in that span, and the next closest ERA belongs to Jacob DeGrom, the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner. His ERA since July 1, 2018: 2.40.
Based on all of this, and the many hours I have logged watching Ryu pitch like its an art form, not an occupation, I would dub Ryu an ace. Regardless of the shorter seasons he has had and his injury history. Right now, over the past year, there is no better Dodger starting pitcher who has taken the mound. Those are the facts.
And yet Ryu still may not be the ace of the Dodgers. I think there’s a pitcher, a right-handed pitcher to be exact, who may be slightly more in position to take on that mantle from Kershaw this postseason.
And that man is Walker Buehler.