Will B.J. Ryan Regain Reliever Royalty?

One of the game’s top closers in 2005 and 2006, B.J. Ryan came down with an elbow injury in 2007 that required Tommy John surgery. Ryan was back pitching in 2008 and after a month regained his closer’s job. He posted a solid season in his first year back but was not quite the pitcher he was before the surgery.

None of Ryan’s ratios matched what he did in the two years prior to the operation. The most significant drop came in his BB/9. Command was a problem for him since entering the majors in 1999. But Ryan nevertheless saw his BB/9 fall four consecutive years, bottoming out at a nifty 2.49 in 2006. But that number was 4.34 last year.

His Zone% fell from 56.9 percent to in 2006 to 52.1 percent and his F-Strike% dropped from 67.8 percent to 59.0 percent. Those numbers were far from elite for relievers in 2006 and fell to poor levels last year.

Ryan had a nearly two-mph drop in velocity to go along with his command problems, but batters were unable to take advantage. His BABIP was .285 despite a 19.4 percent line drive rate. And while he did give up a fair amount of fly balls (41.9%), batters hit only 6.2 percent of those for home runs. This good fortune resulted in an ERA (2.95) noticeably lower than his FIP (3.68).

The positives are that Ryan was able to come back so soon after surgery and pitch so well with diminished stuff. His velocity was the same in September that it was in April. But if Ryan is going to improve in 2009, he is going to have to reduce his walk rate as it is unlikely that he will be as lucky on batted balls next year as he was in 2008.

Ryan faces no serious competition for the team’s closer role and the $20 million owed him over the next two seasons makes it unlikely he would be dealt to a team and converted into a setup man. He is a safe bet for 30-plus saves and he remains a top strikeout artist, as his 58 strikeouts in 58 innings last year showed.

But ultimately his value will be determined via his WHIP and ERA. Ryan is a high-end number-two closer in a 12-team league, with the potential to do more if he can get his walks under control. But expecting him to be an elite closer again on draft day is a risky move.

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I think his command struggles are pretty consistent with guys coming off TJ surgery. Not to mention the Jays rushed him (I think he was back pitching fully in like 9 months) but he performed fairly well considering.

When I watched him pitch, he was always labouring and looked frustrated. I think if healthy, and a full spring, he will be close to his 2006 form, but not quite the K/9, K/bb and bb/9 levels. The defense behind him as always, is tops.