The Opening Day Starter Who You Should Get to Know

HAPPY OPENING DAY! IT’S HAPPENING! The 2022 seasons is here and this past weekend was the last one without baseball for the next six months. I’m happy, you’re happy, everyone is happy. You know who else should be happy? The kind people from the Land of 1,000 Lakes aka Minnesota. Not only do they get to see the Wild and T-Wolves compete for playoff spots pretty soon, they also have an exciting MLB season on the horizon (delayed by one day because of weather). This offseason they notably added superstar Carlos Correa, extended Byron Buxton, and brought in some infield support in Gio Urshela and Gary Sanchez. However the most intriguing player on their Opening Day Roster is the 25-year-old starting pitcher by the name of Joe Ryan.

Joe Ryan was the key prospect the Twins acquired in the Nelson Cruz trade last July. Most times when a team makes a deal with Tampa Bay, the automatic assumption is that the Rays won the trade. The only evidence you need for that sentiment is the swindling of the 2018 Pittsburgh Pirates. On this trade, I think the Twins made out like bandits. For a 41-year-old Cruz (who slashed a mere .226/.283/.442 with Tampa and has since moved to D.C.), the Twins got back Ryan and minor leaguer Drew Strotman.

The reason I’m high on Joe Ryan isn’t because he has unreal spin rates or elite velo, it’s because he is similar to other successful rookie starters. In the last three full seasons (2018,’19,’21), there have been four starters to finish top-2 in ROTY voting; Luis Garcia, Trevor Rodgers, John Means, and Mike Soroka.

Most young pitchers will rely on their fastball early in their career and then will add more to their pitch mix as they gain more big-league experience. This is true with all of these pitchers and this is how well all of those pitchers fared with fastballs in their respective rookie seasons

As you can see, despite his limited workload, Joe Ryan has experienced a lot of success when it comes to working with his fastball. He throws it almost 66% of the time and most importantly, he throws it up in the zone.

The other concern is his velocity, as Ryan’s four-seamer only averaged 92mph last year. However, with his low release point (5.1ft) and lack of vertical drop (-18in vertical movement), Ryan can throw deceptive fastballs up and can get batters to swing under it, hence his high fly ball rate of 43.1%. For one reason or another, when Ryan gets hit, it’s a lot of lazy, catchable flyball outs. According to Statcast, his average EV (87.7 mph) and LA (24.4 degrees) produces a mere .103 batting averages and a sea of field outs.

But enough about his fastball. Have you seen this kid’s slider????

One more reason why I want to pump up Joe’s tires (other than his elite first name) is because of what I said earlier about the Twins. They added Correa to the left side of the infield and that should improve the iffy infield defense the Twins fell victims to last year as Ryan works to improve his groundball rate. And those flyballs hit into the outfield? Joe Ryan has Buxton and Max Kepler to run those down.

Before you ask; no, I don’t think Joe Ryan is going to have a rookie year for the ages and lead Minnesota on a ridiculous run to the World Series. But there’s a reason that he is the first rookie to start Opening Day for the Twins since 1969. He throws strikes, doesn’t get hit hard, and can give this team legitimate innings. The Twins are in a division with a clear No. 1 team in the White Sox and a bunch of unknowns after that. With this uncertain competition and an extra Wild Card spot in play, it is that outlandish to think Joe Ryan is going to be a key factor to push this team above the other contenders in that division? Baby steps folks, baby steps.

Enjoy your parting gift of Joe Ryan taking a perfect game into the 7th inning ->

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