Hyun-Jin Ryu’s contract might end up as one of the most heavily debated deals among fans, analysts and executives in recent memory. So what kind of contract should we expect him to get?
This was a point of topic on the latest episode of Dodgers Nation’s “Blue Heaven” podcast. If Ryu is looking in the ballpark of a 5-year, $150M deal as a 33 year-old, should the Dodgers pursue?
Ryu is probably looking for 5 year, $150M . . . . should the Dodgers risk it him at 33 years oldhttps://t.co/OpnklCgDt5
— Dodgers Nation (@DodgersNation) October 25, 2019
A breakdown of Ryu
Ryu is coming off the best season of his career, posting a 2.32 ERA in 182 2/3 innings. He also has a strong track record when he’s on the mound. His stuff isn’t overpowering but he knows how to pitch and has elite command, which could benefit him long term.
He’s also heading into his age 33 season and has an extensive injury history. He missed all of 2015, pitched 4 2/3 innings in 2016, threw 126 2/3 innings in 2017 and 82 1/3 in 2018. The injury list includes nearly everything a pitcher wouldn’t want—back tightness, shoulder surgery, elbow surgery and a “severe” groin strain where he tore the muscle off the bone.
Still, Ryu holds a career 2.98 ERA, 3.32 FIP, 8.08 K/9 and 1.99 BB/9 in 740 1/3 innings pitched since 2013. Those numbers put him in a very good tier of starters. Since his debut, Ryu is eighth in ERA, 18th in FIP and 23rd in BB/9. The problem is the number of innings, where he ranks 83rd.
Contracts of comparable pitchers
In 2015, Jon Lester signed a six-year, $155 million ($25.8 million average annual value) deal with the Cubs while entering his age 31 season. Lester has posted slightly worse career numbers than Ryu but he’s thrown a lot more innings. He also had a strong playoff history and that was something the Cubs wanted at the time.
In 2016, Johnny Cueto signed a six-year, $130 million ($21.7m AAV) deal with the Giants. He was entering his age 30 season, so he was three years younger but he was coming off back to back years that are very comparable to Ryu’s 2019. They have posted similar numbers in their careers, but Cueto had the longer track record and had been an innings-eating workhorse.
In 2017, Rich Hill signed a three-year, $48 million ($16m AAV) deal with the Dodgers. Heading into his age 37 season, he was four years older, but he might be one of the most similar comparisons for Ryu when you compare their production and injury history. The biggest difference is the four years in age.
In 2018, Yu Darvish signed a six-year, $124 million ($21m AAV) with the Cubs heading into his age 31 season. Darvish was coming off a season where he struggled and he had a decent sized injury history, but he also had top of the rotation stuff and a track record of being a front line starter.
Another comparable starter who signed in 2018 is Alex Cobb, mainly due to the injury history. Heading into his age 30 season, Cobb signed a four-year, $57 million ($14.25m AAV) with the Orioles. The oft-injured starter has been solid when healthy but he is a tier or two below Ryu skill-wise.
In 2019, J.A. Happ signed a two-year, $34 million ($17m AAV) deal with the Yankees. The deal also includes an option year if Happ throws 165 innings or starts 27 games in 2020. Happ’s career hasn’t been as good statistically as Ryu’s but he did have a good four year stretch from 2015-18 that makes him statistically comparable to Ryu during that time. He was also heading into his age 36 season at the time of the deal.
Also signed in 2019 was Patrick Corbin, who inked a six-year, $140 million ($23.3m AAV) deal with the Nationals. Corbin, who was heading into his age 30 season, had a much worse track record but he also had fantastic stuff and was coming off a stellar 2018 season. By some numbers, his 2018 was better than Ryu’s 2019, but he also has some 4 and 5 ERA seasons mixed into his career.
What Ryu should expect
On talent alone, Ryu probably deserves a 4 or 5-year deal worth around $22 to $26 million per season, which would put him somewhere from the seventh-highest to the 15th-highest-paid pitcher in baseball by AAV. Keep in mind, some players signed team-friendly deals before free agency, are still pre-arbitration, or are in their arbitration years.
When you factor in his injury history and age, Ryu will probably lose a year and some cash. It’s hard to see a team committing to him for more than four seasons. He will probably have offers with higher AAVs on shorter-term deals, but Ryu may take less per season to guarantee a longer deal.
It Ryu wants a longer-term contract, expect his AAV range to be from $19m to $21m. If he prioritizes money per season and is willing to cut a year or two out of his deal, it wouldn’t be shocking to see him reach a $25 million AAV.
Keep in mind, Ryu is a Scott Boras client.
Ryu will sign a four-year deal worth $80 million, signing him through his age 36 season at an average annual value of $20m.