After a stellar campaign in which he was the ace of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitching staff for much of the season, Hyun-Jin Ryu was named among the finalists for 2019 National League Comeback Player of the Year.
So too were Atlanta Braves third basema Josh Donaldson and Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Sonny Gray. The NL Comeback Player of the Year, along with other 2019 Players Choice Awards, are due to be announced later this month.
The Comeback Player Award was the first honor distributed in the inaugural Players Choice Awards in 1992. Dennis Eckersley and Barry Bonds were the first two players to receive the award.
Ryu is the Dodgers’ second player to be nominated for the award, following in the footsteps of Matt Kemp after his resurgent 2018 season. Kemp won the award and was also named NL Comeback Player of the Year by Sporting News.
Ryu had an encouraging 2018 season and returned to the Dodgers after accepting the one-year, $17.9 million qualifying offer. Although Ryu is now a year old, the personal gamble to delay free agency until after the 2019 season appears to have been a sound one.
He led the Majors in several statistical categories for much of the year and is a Cy Young candidate, if not the frontrunner. The southpaw went 10-1 with a 1.93 ERA in the first half and was named the NL’s starter in the All-Star Game.
Ryu became Dodgers’ first starting pitcher in the Midsummer Classic since Zack Greinke in 2015. He joined Hideo Nomo (1995) and Fernando Valenzuela (1981) as international pitchers who have held the distinction for the franchise, and was the first Korean born pitcher overall to receive the honor.
Even with some struggles and regression in August, Ryu finished 14-5 with a 2.32 ERA, 179 ERA+, 3.10 FIP and 1.01 WHIP in 29 starts. The ERA crown may factor into the Cy Young Award debate, which Ryu deemed a surprise and said his focus this season was on remaining healthy.
The Dodgers’ early elimination from the postseason limited Ryu to just one appearance in the postseason. He started Game 3 of the NL Division Series, allowing two runs on four his over five innings of a win against the Washington Nationals.
Although some were surprised the Dodgers opted to have Ryu’s start come on the road, the 32-year-old was understanding of the decision. “There was no issue at all,” Ryu said at the time.
“And getting that extra days of rest is always helpful. They told me how we have four guys that could literally be a first guy up, so I had no problem having other guys start before me or after me.”