(Photo by Adam Davis/Icon Sportswire)
Los Angeles Dodgers starter Hyun-Jin Ryu was pitching pretty well in game two of the 2018 MLB World Series, carrying a 2-1 lead through 4 innings. The bottom of the fifth inning started out innocent enough for Ryu; two quick outs on three pitches followed by a 0-2 count to Christian Vazquez.
Ryu started Vazquez out with a 75 MPH curveball for a (questionable?) strike, followed by whiffed cutter up, in, and out of the zone. Ryu then went back to a similar location with another cutter that Vazquez was just a little late on; he got good extension but just didn’t time it right.
Then Ryu tried to bust Vazquez inside and the 91 MPH four-seam fastball ended up a (questionable?) ball that could have (should have?) been strike three; a great choice by Ryu– inside to tie him up and right in the pressure zone. Then Vazquez simply guessed right. Ryu tried to sneak in another cutter but Vazquez poked it out into right field.
Vazquez got his arms extended and timed the pitch pretty well, hitting the pitch at a 92 MPH exit velocity which was just slow enough to accommodate the 16o launch angle. Ryu spread his velocity, changed eye levels and mixed his pitches pretty well. Except if you watch the gif above, you’ll see the catcher wanted the cutter down and away, which was ideal considering batting average against lefties in that zone.
That missed location was a big mistake. If you look around the area where Ryu placed the cutter, you’ll see that Vazquez doesn’t hit well at all on pitches away– except for the zone where he hits .400. We now have a runner on first with the best hitter in baseball coming to the plate.
Mookie Betts is hard to fool. It’s in the pitchers best interest to disguise pitches and keep him off balance by changed speeds and eye levels. And what does Ryu do?
Back to back cutters in the same exact zone and the same exact velocity. Look at Chart 2 below; unless you attack Betts up and in (where he almost never swings), you’re going to have to be creative to get him out.
Now, it was a good location choice initially because it’s essentially the safest place to throw in terms of Betts making strong contact. But to go right back to that spot isn’t going to fool even a decent hitter. This breaks so many of Perry Husband‘s Effective Velocity rules.
At this point, Ryu still has a chance to get out of the inning unscathed but you’ve got another strong hitter coming up in Andrew Benintendi. As Chart 3 shows, Ryu threw everything but the kitchen sink at Benintendi.
It seemed as though here is where Ryu started to lose his composure. Back to back pitches, the catcher wanted up in the lower corner of the zone but Ryu threw them into the ground.
Ryu then comes back with two strikes; an 89 MPH cutter that was fouled off (which honestly should have been crushed) and a pretty 76 MPH freeze pitch curveball taken for a strike.
Ryu then offers a throw-away four-seam fastball way inside followed up with a ball four curveball that Benintendi helped him out on by swinging at.
Ryu challenges Benintendi again– another curveball that could have been hammered but Benintendi barely swung under the pitch and fouled it off. Another situation where Ryu got lucky on a slight miscalculation by the hitter.
But in the end, it didn’t matter. Ryu badly missed his target (check the catcher’s glove location) on pitch eight and walked Benintendi to load the bases.
All this occurring with Ryu being one strike away from a clean inning. Instead, the Dodgers turn to reliever Ryan Madson who gives up a walk to tie the game followed by a single from J.D Martinez that knocked in two runs; the Red Sox never looked back.
The Dodgers will now head home down two games to zero and all the momentum on the side of the Red Sox.
Ryu had been pitching pretty well up until this point and an argument can be made on both sides over whether Dodger manager Dave Roberts waited too long to pull him. After the Vazquez single, Ryu started to unravel by making a big mistake with Betts and then losing a battle with Benintendi that could have gone either way. As I said, he varied his speed and pitches but in a manner that allowed Benintendi to stick around despite making some foolish choices. The further in the count Ryu got, it seemed his control started to fall apart even with Benintendi doing everything he could to set Ryu up for the final out. You could blame Madson for the loss after the walk and single, but there isn’t much doubt that Ryu set him up for failure.