The New and Improved Joe Ryan

Joe Ryan is back and better than ever.

Joe Ryan has always been an analytical darling more than a visually dominant pitcher. He isn’t going to wow you with 100 mph fastballs or breaking balls that seem liable to slide off the screen if the catcher doesn’t stop them. He’s never needed that to be effective. Last season, however, things went off the rails around halfway through. After starting strong, his season fell apart; he missed some time with an injury, and in his last 16 starts he put up a 6.00 ERA. Some of this was bad luck but regardless, a change needed to be made. Ryan didn’t go as far as to reinvent himself this past offseason, it’s more of an upgrade to the original model. I’ll be using data from 2024 spring training along with his first start of the season to create a sample less absurdly small. Still, this rundown of what he has to offer comes with a disclaimer about small sample sizes and early season freshness.


The Fastball


Joe Ryan’s calling card has always been his fastball. In 2023, he threw it 92.3 mph on average with 14.6” of IVB and 10.3” of arm-side run. More important was his low release height of 4.97 feet. This creates an exceptionally flat VAA of -3.8°, giving the pitch the bat-missing plane it’s known for. This combined with the amount of vertical movement he was able to generate resulted in a VAAAA of +0.71°. That’s how a fastball with below-average velocity was able to accomplish the same whiff rate as Spencer Strider’s.

At some point, Ryan decided this simply wasn’t enough. A change was made and he showed up to spring training throwing harder. He’s averaged 93.4 mph on his fastball since then, a full tick faster. If you look only at the regular season, it’s even more. 1 mph may not seem like much, but the slight jump from below-average velocity to average is the single most important one a pitcher can make if in that position. Moving from 92 to 93 is more valuable than moving from 96 to 97.

This boost didn’t come entirely free of other change, however. His release point dropped slightly which, theoretically, would improve his fastball, but in doing so he lost 0.9” of IVB. When you account for the increased velo, extension, and lower release, it ultimately doesn’t cause a significant change to his VAA. This leads to a very similar fastball but with the added bonus of the velocity boost. Again, the most important boost he could have gotten for his already excellent heater.




The Splitter


The year of the splitter is upon us. The pitch is gaining popularity as the stigma around it seems to fade. Ryan started experimenting with one in 2022, seeking an off-speed as he had had little success with changeups previously. It was a solid pitch in 2023, clocking in at 83.9 mph with 2.4” of IVB and 12.1” of arm-side fade. This gave it good velocity separation and excellent vertical separation. 

His locations of the pitch led to a weaker performance than you’d expect from a stuff profile like this. It too frequently found itself in the bottom of the zone in hittable spots. He also used it against same-handed hitters too often because he didn’t trust his two slider variants enough yet. While hitters didn’t do a ton of damage with it, it wasn’t the put-away pitch he wanted it to be.

This season, like his fastball, he started throwing it much harder. So far clocking in at 87.8 mph, it’s lost quite a bit of its velocity separation. While that may sound like a bad thing, an increase of nearly 4 mph to a pitch makes that worth it in my eyes. The movement actually improved, which isn’t something you normally expect when a pitch gains this much velo. It gained more depth, now down to just half an inch of IVB, and 14.2” of fade. Achieving a steep angle on pitches can be a very difficult thing for pitchers with low releases to do—it’s the drawback of their super flat fastballs. The way to do it is by pushing those IVB numbers as low as possible. In getting his splitter to a point where it’s nearly vertically neutral, he creates incredible movement separation which should cause some very silly-looking swings.




The Slider


Ryan’s slider wasn’t a particularly interesting pitch in 2023. 83.3 mph, 3.4” of IVB, 4.6” of glove-side break. It fit fine in his arsenal but in a vacuum, it was below average. It was probably his worst pitch in 2022 and so he put it on the back burner in 2023. He only threw it 4.5% of the time and it didn’t do well even with the reduced usage. Below-average whiff rate and hitters hit it better than they should be able to hit a slider.

Ordinarily, I’d put the 4th-most thrown pitch in an arsenal in that spot in the order of the article. That said, the changes he’s made to it this season lead me to believe it might be something he’ll be throwing more. Now coming in at 86.6, mph, it’s rising 4.2” IVB, and with about half the horizontal movement. However, being closer to 0” horizontal could make it more effective as pitches that don’t move horizontally tend to be difficult for hitters to track on their way to the plate. 

More importantly, like his other pitches, he’s throwing it harder. Harder breaking balls are almost invariably better breaking balls. He isn’t throwing it so hard that it loses all of its depth and becomes a bad cutter, it’s just a better slider. This can also lead it to function as a bridge pitch to open up his sweeper. Having something with a movement range that lies between the fastball and the sweeper can make those sweepers half a foot off the plate look much more tempting to a hitter.



The Sweeper


Ryan added a sweeper to his arsenal in the hopes that he’d have a weapon to use against same-handed hitters and that’s exactly how he used it. He didn’t throw it particularly hard, 79.2 mph with 0.7” of IVB and 14.0” of sweep. This shape was…less than ideal. Seam-shifted wake can make a pitch more deceptive and move in a way that hitters aren’t expecting it to. Ryan’s sweeper didn’t even have that going for it. It was too slow and uninteresting to be used to great effect. He got some whiffs with it but far too often it was either missing the zone by too much to be enticing. When he was getting it in the zone, hitters were making better contact than you’d want against this type of pitch. It simply didn’t perform the way he wanted it to.

This season, as you may have guessed from the trend that’s forming, he’s throwing it harder. 81.0 mph, with a bit of rise at 2.0” IVB, and 14.4” of sweep now. This is an easy upgrade on the old version. More movement and more velo should lead to more whiffs and worse contact. The question remaining for this pitch is whether having more experience throwing it will lead to a better command of it.



The Sinker


Just a brief segment here, Ryan started throwing a sinker this season. Only 24 of them so far so the sample is very, very small. I’ll be honest, it doesn’t look great. He’s not throwing it quite as hard as his 4-seam, which can be an issue for some pronation-biased pitchers. It doesn’t have a special movement profile, as it lacks depth due to his release, and doesn’t have low enough IVB to make up for it. With only a 5” difference between his fastball’s IVB, I don’t see it creating many ground balls that way. 

The only use I can see for it is to try to run it in on right-handed hitters looking for his usual fastball as it does have a bit of extra run. It might get a few tie-ups and other awkward-looking swings but this one’s probably best left in the back pocket, brought out on rare occasions to surprise a hitter.




The Outlook


Despite the sour note we ended the arsenal breakdown section on, Ryan’s future looks brighter than ever. He’s coming off of a bad second half, but he’s made tangible improvements that should unlock a new level of performance for him. So far he’s balancing his pitch usage pretty well. I don’t really have any complaints there, his fastball actually is good enough to warrant 45% usage. Honestly, the concerns lie more in how he uses his pitches and if this new him is for real. I need to see more splitters below and next to the zone rather than in it. I also need to see the sweeper out of the waste zone more often. From there it’s mostly just hoping that he doesn’t run out of gas and revert back into his former 92 mph fastball self. That form is still a solid starter but the new version pushes him closer to potential ace status.

Jack Foley

Jack is a contributor at Pitcher List who enjoys newfangled baseball numbers, coffee, and watching dogs walk by from the window where he works. He has spent far too much time on the nickname page of Baseball-Reference.

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