A starting pitcher in baseball’s prime age happens far later than that of an offensive player. Therefore, the Dodgers have a couple members of their starting rotation who are within their best window right now.
Of course, you can imagine who tops the list at number one on a list compiled by MLB.com’s Will Leitch. It is none other than the finest pitcher in the game today, Hyun-Jin Ryu. Moreover, this is recognition that Ryu is gaining mainstream recognition nationally with the game’s biggest names on the mound. Also, Ryu was not the only Dodger to make the list.
— TR Sullivan (@Sullivan_Ranger) August 14, 2019
First, here’s what Leitch had to say about Ryu.
1. Hyun-Jin Ryu, LHP, LAD (1.45 ERA, age 32)
The season Ryu is having feels like it should defy explanation, but it’s worth noting that since returning from missing 2015 after labrum surgery, he has been better every single season. He made one (poor) appearance in 2016, then made 25 appearances (24 starts) with a 3.77 ERA in 2017. His big step forward was last year, when he had a 1.97 ERA, a sterling figure that only looks bloated when compared in 2019. This year, of course, he’s 12-2 with a cartoonish 1.45 ERA that would represent the lowest mark by a qualifier since MLB lowered the mound in 1969. He also has a downright absurd walk rate. (He’s averaging just over one walk per nine innings.)
Another key this year: Staying healthy. He has already made seven more starts than he did last season and is on pace to soar past his career innings high. Like many pitchers on this list, he has recovered from a serious surgery and become something better than he ever was before.
It’s interesting that Leitch points out that Ryu has gotten better with every season (and true). Obviously, Leitch turns our attention to the turning point which was 2018 in which Ryu began to announce his dominant presence quietly.
However, Clayton Kershaw also made the list. While it’s hard to imagine him as an ‘old’ pitcher, the good news is he checks in one spot ahead of Justin Verlander at number six on the list.
6. Clayton Kershaw, LHP, LAD (2.77 ERA, age 31)
The general consensus, particularly after last year’s postseason, was that Kershaw had lost a little something, that he was going to have to make some adjustments as he transitioned into his 30s. The adjustments appear to be going well: He’s not 2013-17 Best Pitcher On The Planet Kershaw, but one suspects he and the Dodgers are OK with him simply being part of the top five. Statistically, he’s almost having the exact same season he had in 2018. The best part about Kershaw: He is in fact the second-youngest person on this list. (deGrom is the youngest, by 92 days.)
And this was before his 7 inning gem against the Marlins on Wednesday night (lowering his ERA to 2.63).
Obviously, neither of these pitchers are anywhere close to being done. Perhaps they’re on the early back-nine of successful careers, but the game is showing us that pitchers can flourish almost into their age-40 years if they want to. For example, just look at what Rich Hill has done in his late 30’s.
I think that MLB.com got this list right – and the take home message is that Ryu isn’t just the best older pitcher in baseball – he’s the best period. What do you think of the list? How much more tread do Ryu and Kershaw have left on their tires? Let us know in the comments below.