Joe Ryan Might Become A Complete Pitcher In 2024

Photo Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The MLB offseason is long. There’s only so much data and film on pitchers for fans to look at, but things don’t change. Joe Ryan’s “new” sinker and revamped secondary pitches made for excellent news after a poor season by his standards, with a 4.51 ERA, 4.13 FIP, and 1.17 WHIP in 161.2 innings.

Ryan has an exciting four-seamer. With a lower ¾ arm slot and a bent back leg to help flatten the pitch out, his rising fastball missed plenty of bats last season. However, it got crushed when hitters made contact. He missed the zone with his sweeper too often, and usually by a distance, so great hitters didn’t offer at it.

With a heavy risk-reward fastball and a breaking ball that hitters didn’t fear, Ryan had to lean on his well-commanded splitter too often. Typically thriving beneath the zone like all changeups, Ryan threw it up in the zone for called strikes where it got hit hard like his four-seamer.

Although he handled business against lefties, he had a pronounced platoon split against righties, which has been the case for his entire career.

But that was the old Joe Ryan. Now fully healthy after dealing with a groin issue and another offseason of work, Ryan might reach his final form in 2024. That final form may look a lot like Luis Castillo and Bryan Woo.

Like Ryan, Castillo and Woo have an absurdly low release point. Both Seattle Mariners pitchers have changeups, not splitters and sinkers they like to run in against right-handers. Woo throws a slider and sweeper like Ryan, while Castillo throws just a slider.

The point is that the three of them might operate similarly in 2024.

They pound the top of the zone with four-seamers, occasionally chucking in sinkers to mitigate hard contact on hitters who think they’re swinging at a four-seamer. Their changeups/splitters live beneath the zone, while Ryan and Woo can earn called strikes with their sweepers. They happen to be the epitome of modern pitching.

While it’s just one start of (hopefully) close to 30, Ryan showcased some of what could make him a complete pitcher against the Kansas City Royals.

His four-seamer provided a stable basis against MJ Melendez in the fourth inning. Throwing three straight four-seamers, Ryan coaxed a whiff on one of them in 1-0:

At 2-1, Christian Vázquez set up for another high fastball, but it fell for a called strike in the lower third of the zone. Melendez might’ve thought it was a splitter that would fall beneath the zone for a ball:

Having gotten into 2-2 with nothing but fastballs, Ryan could take advantage of Melendez’s expanded zone. Ryan still throws plenty of four-seamers in two-strike counts (33.9% of the time last season), so it wasn’t a given he’d throw something offspeed. Alas, Ryan located a splitter low enough to avoid Melendez’s swing:

Ryan’s north-south approach isn’t new, but he’ll be able to do more of it if his gyro slider and sinker work appropriately. It was just 18 pitches, but Ryan’s 16.7% zone rate on his splitter is down dramatically from the 42.1% last year.

Gyro sliders are the worst type of sliders to earn called strikes. Sweepers reign supreme in that department, but that’s not to say gyro sliders can’t also function as called-strike pitches. They’re excellent whiff pitches, like splitters, but are far more reliable in the zone than splitters. After throwing a gyro slider only 3.8% of the time last year, Ryan incorporated the pitch 15 times, 18.5% of his pitches, in his first start of 2024. Increased gyro slider usage should allow him to be a more steady pitcher from start to start, because he won’t have to rely so heavily on whiffs to get through innings.

Part of a pitcher’s inconsistency stems from home run rate. Ryan struggled with the long ball last season, especially against righties (0.530 SLG against righties vs. 0.361 against lefties). 14 of the 19 home runs he gave up on his four-seamer were also against righties, with many of them being fairly high in the zone:

There has been plenty of discussion about adding a sinker to his arsenal this offseason to alleviate this issue. A trendy pitch to mitigate hard contact, high sinkers, can allow Ryan to live up in the zone with fastballs while occasionally throwing a jammer in on a righty’s hands. Woo and Castillo have mastered this skill:

Although Ryan threw only two sinkers, including the one below, to force a groundout, it’s a pitch he might benefit from throwing more.

Ryan is unsure how big the sinker piece of his arsenal pie will be. Castillo and Woo threw sinkers 18% and 26% of the time last season, respectively. Ryan will no doubt be lower, and no higher than 10% is most likely, but it’s something he and the staff will work out.

Regardless of how often he incorporates the sinker, Ryan looks polished in 2024. I haven’t even mentioned his massive velocity gains, which should only make him better.

Ryan had many of the right pieces last year, and this could be his best season yet. He can use his splitter as intended, his gyro slider helps balance him out, and his sinker keeps fastball-hunting hitters honest.

In 2022, he had a more than respectable 3.55 ERA, 1.1 WHIP, and 25-7.8 K-BB%. He could improve on all of those numbers this season.

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