Pittsburgh Pirates: Constructing a Potentially Perfect Off-Season

What would a perfect Pirates 2023-2024 off-season look like?
Sep 2, 2023; St. Louis, Missouri, USA;  Pittsburgh Pirates designated hitter Andrew McCutchen (22)
Sep 2, 2023; St. Louis, Missouri, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates designated hitter Andrew McCutchen (22) / Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
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Hyun Jin Ryu

The off-season wouldn’t be perfect under Ben Cherington’s rule if the Pirates didn’t sign a veteran left-handed starting pitcher. Even if the Pirates were to sign Yamamoto, that would give them three starting pitchers, and leaving the last two rotation spots up to the inexperienced youngsters. Let’s make it a little more stable by adding another SP, this time in the form of Hyun Jin Ryu.

After missing most of 2022 and 2023, Ryu came back in August of this year and pitched pretty well throughout his final games. In 52 frames, Ryu worked to a 3.47 ERA, 4.91 FIP, and 1.29 WHIP. Ryu’s 17% strikeout rate is the lowest of his career, but he still carried a quality 6.3% walk rate. Although Ryu had a 1.59 HR/9, he also had a 16.4% HR/FB ratio. Ryu still carried an above-average 45.6% ground ball rate and 87.8 MPH exit velocity.

Ryu’s ERA estimator numbers weren’t very kind to him. He ended the 2023 season with a 4.41 xFIP, 4.70 SIERA, and 114 DRA-. The underlying number that viewed Ryu in the best light was xERA at 3.90. Though Ryu has consistently been an overperformer with a career 3.27 ERA, but 3.57 xFIP, 3.80 SIERA, and 86 DRA- (compared to a career 82 ERA-). Even in the two years he was a Cy Young candidate (2019-2020), his ERA estimations pinned him at about a run better than he actually was.

While it wouldn’t be all that surprising if Ryu continued to outperform his numbers, keep in mind that Ryu will be 37 for all of next season, and is coming off a fairly big injury. Ryu may never have been a hard throwing pitcher, but his 88.6 MPH fastball velo is the worst of his career. Though in the Pirates’ defense, they were able to make do with a similarly soft-tossing lefty in Rich Hill last season. Despite his lack of velocity, he’s still getting batters to swing outside the zone, and making them hit the ball on the ground softly at an above-average rate.

Again, what kind of off-season would it be if Ben Cherington didn’t sign a soft-tossing lefty veteran starter? I’d estimate that Ryu would make something like most of the Pirates’ previous lefty veteran starters have made. The average salary between Tyler Anderson, Jose Quintana, and Rich Hill is $4.2 million. Even though Ryu was once one of the best starters in baseball, he’s coming off three relatively disappointing seasons and is in his late-30s. Assuming Ryu doesn’t head back to South Korea, I’d say that a contract in the $4-5 million range may possibly get it done.

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