With a hat tip to Bleed Cubbie Blue, it looks like the Cubs have added another pitcher to the depth stable this offseason, given that lefty Kyle Ryan’s Twitter profile indicates he is now a “LHP for the Chicago Cubs!”
Ryan, whose name sounds an awful lot like a First Order Sith, is 26 and pitched with the Tigers in 2017. A 12th round pick back in 2010, Ryan actually first reached the big leagues with the Tigers in 2014, getting solid results between the rotation and the bullpen for the next three seasons, posting a 3.07 ERA in 2016 over 55.2 relief innings. Dude was a groundballing, contact-managing, no-walking kinda reliever. Not sexy, but very useful.
Moreover, Ryan is exactly split-neutral – a .314 wOBA in his big league career against lefties, and a .314 against righties. That’s always handy if a guy wants to be as useful as possible in a big league bullpen. And, you know, there’s a spot to be won with the Cubs.
But before we get there, what happened that he was available on – I’m guessing – a minor league deal this offseason? Well his 2017 season was a bit of a disaster, with a total inability to find the strike zone in April before a demotion to AAA, where he mostly struggled some more. Specifically, his previously pristine control fell apart, and his walk rate ballooned to unusable levels. He was outrighted at the end of the year and elected free agency.
Is there reason for hope?
Well, I don’t think we’ll know until Spring Training, but I can give you a little context. In September of 2016 – his really good, full season – Ryan was sidelined by a back/scapula/rib issue that he described as a rib popping out of place (uuhhhhh). That could certainly cause command troubles, among other things. The rub, though, is that I can’t find any indication that the problem lingered for him into 2017 – his numbers looked perfectly fine in Spring Training, and his manager indicated in April when he was sent to the minors that, “He was throwing strikes in the spring and he’s having trouble throwing strikes right now.” (Free Press)
So, then, it’s hard to say what exactly happened to a 25-year-old reliever who seemingly just “lost it” in 2017. As I said, I figure we’ll hear a lot more about this when pitchers report to Spring Training in a month and a half.
Interestingly, Ryan was teammates in the Tigers bullpen with now-Cub Justin Wilson – who himself battled control problems last year after coming to the Cubs – and actually credits Wilson with helping him emerge as a quality big leaguer (Tigers.com).
On paper, as far as no-risk minor league signings go, this looks to be a particularly good one. When a guy was effective in the big leagues for a couple years, is still in his mid-20s, and is coming off an extremely aberrant season, he’s sometimes just a quick fix away from being himself again. But don’t let me swing you too far: the rebuilding Tigers did not want to carry him on the 40-man roster this offseason (he was not yet arbitration eligible, so it wasn’t really about money – just the roster spot), so clearly the team that knows him best lost faith.
Hopefully the Cubs can help him figure things out, because they could certainly use another full-inning lefty, especially if Mike Montgomery figures to swing in and out of the rotation again this year.