Joe Ryan's new look, my take on Kershaw, most valuable Twin [5 Thoughts]
Hey folks, a few quick notes before we get into it this morning.
*The Twins have a rare 10am day game today if you happen to have Monday off, or if, you know…
*Sonny Gray hit the IL for his hamstring injury, but I’m not fretting just yet. Josh Winder looked pretty good at Fenway Park cleaning up for 5 1/3 innings.
*Byron Buxton slammed the ground in frustration and walked off the field. The baseball world watched and said ‘Here we go again.’ But the latest word I’ve gotten is that he should avoid an IL stint, which is relatively good news and an indicator that this latest knee injury is not a major setback.
Welcome to new Members Kyle, Erik H., “Berg” and “Jammen.” Thank you for supporting this work. Great to have you aboard and welcome to the club!
This column presents 5 Thoughts on the Twins through 9 games.
#1 - A new wrinkle for Joe Ryan that’s worth watching.
Joe Ryan topped the Twins last year in terms of his four-seam fastball frequency. No Twins pitcher was more fastball-first, fastball-to-finish than Ryan, as the “young” pitcher debuted oozing California Cool and going to his heater two-thirds of the time. It worked out great for him last year.
Anecdotally, I would have said that guys who rely on the fastball that much – especially those who like to climb the ladder and pitch at the top of the strike zone – are walking a fine line. For sure, you’ll get some swing-and-miss up there, with a fastball as good as Ryan’s. Equally, if the hitter does catch up to it, those are the areas where homers are born.
I came into the year thinking that Ryan could possibly overcome those odds at 25, prove people wrong, and be a successful big league starter with an over-reliance on a 91 mph fastball. His Opening Day start, then, was a little mixed bag. Ryan pitched 4 innings against the Mariners at Target Field on Opening Day, he walked 4 hitters, but it’s the first inning that I’ll key in on here.
He hit a batter with his four-seamer and with two outs, faced Mitch Haniger. Ryan got ahead 0-1 with his fastball, but then threw another heater in the middle of the plate to a guy who hit 39 homers last year, and Haniger was happy to rack up his first long ball in his first 2022 trip to the plate. On the day, 60% of his 70 total pitchers were fastballs, a little lower rate than Ryan used in his 5-start debut in 2021.
I say all of this to set up one thought. I came away really impressed with Ryan’s performance at Fenway, his second start of this young season. One interesting antidote for a pitcher who has thrown 60+ percent fastballs in his first 6 big league starts: come out against an aggressive Red Sox lineup and throw more sliders than fastballs. After filling it up with fastballs in his first start, Ryan tipped the scales to 40% sliders – he threw 33 vs. Boston after going to the pitch just 66 times in all 5 starts last year. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one struck by Ryan throwing more than twice as many sliders in a start as he ever had before.
The result? A huge jump to 11 swing-and-misses on his slider, helping Ryan to get through 6 innings in Boston with 1 earned run, no walks and 7 strikeouts.
#2 - OK, let’s talk about the Kershaw thing.
So, Clayton Kershaw gets pulled from his start against the Twins after 80 pitches through 7 perfect innings. Debates raged. Territories established. Takes rained down.
In a bright-line world, you’re either for it or against it.
You’ll find my opinion to be refreshingly simple. A quick explainer:
Kershaw is no longer young, has not been durable in years, was not given a typical offseason thanks in part to the owner’s lockout, and has himself said that he supported the decision. The obvious answer for the question of whether it’s in the Dodgers’ best competitive interest to let Kershaw keep pitching to chase perfection was, resoundingly, no.
Still, we shouldn’t pretend like there’s an easy answer one way or another. The “two sides” of the Kershaw debate are not listening to each other. I know you didn’t open this newsletter wondering what Reggie Jackson thought about the moment Dave Roberts yanked his starter instead of letting him try to make history. And yet, here you go, seeing as Mr. October speaks for a big group of people here.
And here is the Yankees Director of Player Health and Performance chiming in.
I guess I’d like to close with this. Let’s take for a given that the sports medicine group knows exactly what they’re talking about with their pitch limits, acute-to-chronic workload ratios and preventative arm care routines – which, I think you’d have to say, is a generous interpretation because nobody seems to have solved the riddle of pitcher health. But those folks know a lot more than you and me and they’re saying the decision is obvious.
What I’m saying is, there’s room for both to be right. Probabilistically, maybe it does make sense to have Kershaw sit rather than risk throwing 15-25 more pitches in chilly Minnesota. It might have a positive downstream effect on his health, which is of course good for the competitiveness of the Dodgers. But from a fan interest standpoint, a perfect game is the kind of thing that breaks through the noise. One thing that’s popping up more and more in my brain these days is that the “fan interest” perspective and the “competitive interest” of Club X are not necessarily aligned.