Elbow ligament reconstruction (Tommy John surgery) is a relatively conquered field. Compared to the shoulder, the elbow has less complex tissues. Of course, it requires a long rehabilitation period of a year or more, but the chances of recovery are high. There are even athletes who have been hit twice and still throw well.
A common misconception is that Tommy John surgery results in faster velocity. While this isn’t true in all cases, it’s certainly true in a few. There are two reasons for this. First, you can throw the ball without the pain you felt before the surgery. This has a huge psychological impact on the athlete. The second is that long-term rehabilitation for more than a year strengthens not only the elbow, but also the rest of the body. It’s natural for a healthier body to produce a faster ball.
That’s why Ryu Hyun-jin (36, Toronto) has also seen an increase in velocity. Even after his second surgery in his mid-30s, it was expected that his velocity would increase slightly. In 2022, the year before his surgery, Ryu’s average fastball velocity was 89.3 miles per hour (143.7 kilometers per hour). In 2019, his best year, it was 90.7 mph (146 km/h). There was some speculation that Ryu could return to a 90 mph (144.8 km/h) average after his surgery and still pitch well.
However, the bottom line is that such an increase in velocity has yet to be seen. In the five games he’s pitched since returning this year, Ryu hasn’t even reached 2019 levels, let alone last year. As he finds his groove and warms up, it’s possible that his velocity will rise, but not yet.
It’s a mystery locally, too. “Usually when a pitcher comes back from Tommy John surgery, his velocity comes back first,” said veteran commentator Buck Martinez of Sportsnet, the Canadian sports network and host broadcaster in Toronto, “but with Ryu, his command came back first. It was the opposite of other pitchers. Ryu said, “I think my velocity is going to go up a little bit more,스포츠토토” but it’s probably conservative to assume that there won’t be a dramatic increase in velocity this year.
But there’s another way to look at Ryu’s fastball. It’s not the same fastball he was throwing before. Aden Zwelling, a columnist and panelist on Sportsnet, had an interesting analysis of Ryu’s start against Cleveland on July 27. His fastball trajectory has changed. Zwelling concluded that “the sinker or two-seam movement has become stronger.”
Ryu Hyun-jin has begun to mix in a sinker with his existing fastball to encourage hitters to swing at it ⓒYonhap/AP
Ryu’s sinker has become his go-to weapon against righties, along with his changeup.
Ryu has developed an eight-pitch arsenal that includes a fastball, cutter, and sinker.
“There’s no question about Ryu’s command,” Zwelling said, adding, “He’s throwing pitches that are classified as four-seamers in pitch tracking programs, but there’s movement in his two-seam and sinker. I talked to Pete Walker (Toronto pitching coach) and he said it has to do with the two-seam and sinker.” Walker, who has watched Ryu since 2020, has also noticed that Ryu’s four-seam movement is a little different than last year.
“It’s something he went through earlier in his (major league) career,” Zwelling said. In reality, Ryu threw his sinker a small percentage of the time with the Dodgers. He threw it 15.8% of the time in 2013 and a career-high 24.2% in 2014. However, as Zwelling explains, after his shoulder surgery, he threw it less and less, and by 2020, it had virtually disappeared from his repertoire at 10%.
The sinker is a bit slower than the four-seam, but it provides movement in front of home plate to encourage hitters to miss or swing wildly. Typically, a lefty’s sinker will curve slightly to the outside of the right-hander’s body at the last second. A good sinker is a borderline pitch that can be used to immobilize hitters, or it can be used to get them to swing and miss.
In fact, Ryu’s tracking data shows that this isn’t just a hunch. In 2022, Ryu’s forearm drop was 21.3 inches, but this year, his forearm drop has decreased and his horizontal movement has increased. It’s about halfway between his old sinker and last year’s fastball.
‘Statcast’ also realized this and started categorizing Ryu’s pitches again on the 28th. Originally, only the fastball, changeup, curveball, and cutter were categorized, but the sinker was also included. Ryu’s fastball has a drop of 22.3 inches (56.6 cm) and a horizontal movement of 12.5 inches (31.8 cm), while his sinker has a drop of 25.3 inches (64.2 cm) and a horizontal movement of 17 inches (43.2 cm). In other words, many of the fastballs caught so far were ‘fake fastballs’.
Ryu Hyun-jin is now a pitcher with five different pitches, and his future performance is expected to be even better ⓒToronto club SNS
Ryu Hyun-jin goes for his fourth win of the season on Sept. 2 against Coors Field ⓒYonhap/AP
“His sinker gives him a really effective option to get away from right-handers and induce ground balls when he needs to save himself in a bad situation,” Zwelling said, “and he’s got a changeup that he can throw with complete efficiency, which gives him a lot of options against right-handers.” The pattern of running away with the sinker, then running away with the changeup, and then falling away, makes it easier for right-handed hitters to get outside pitches.
Once Statcast began categorizing sinkers and four-seamers, Ryu’s average fastball velocity was corrected to 88.5 mph (142.4 km/h). His sinker average is 88 mph (141.6 km/h). The difference in velocity isn’t much, but the movement is subtle enough that it has become a repertoire that opposing hitters are now forced to pay attention to. Ryu is back to being a “five-pitch” pitcher. Maybe in the future, he’ll use his sinker more.