Chicago Cubs: Team found a gem in reliever Kyle Ryan

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

The Chicago Cubs had little depth in terms of southpaws in their bullpen. Kyle Ryan has been everything the team could have asked for in 2019.

The Chicago Cubs began the season with Mike Montgomery as the sole lefty in the bullpen, but Montgomery dealt with a lat strain for much of spring training. He started the year with the big league club, but something still was not quite right and he was sent to the injured list. During that time, he also became a father.

The team called up southpaw Kyle Ryan on April 5th to have a left-hander in the bullpen. Ryan, 27, was signed to a minor league contract with the Cubs in December 2017. He made his Cubs debut on April 6th in Milwaukee and it was not the greatest outing as gave up two earned runs, one base-on-balls, and did not finish the inning.

Since then? Ryan has not surrended a run in 9.1 innings. During that stretch he has struck out 36 percent of the batters he’s faced while walking just four. He’s also been holding opponents batting to an absurd 0.129 average.

So why has he been so successful since his first outing?

Ryan’s primary pitch is a four-seam fastball that tops out around 90 mph, but he does a fantastic job of locating his secondary pitches, which consist of a cutter, curveball, and sinker. He’s a lot like starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks in this fashion, who can’t overpower hitters with his fastball.

Instead, he relies on the location of his secondary pitches to fool batters. Let’s look at his outing on April 7th in Milwaukee. Below are all of the pitches he threw (via

kyle ryan
kyle ryan /

You can see his curveball (light blue) has that big sweeping motion from left to right and ends just below the zone, particulary useful to get left-handed batters to chase pitches low and away. His sinker (orange) is also in a perfect spot because there is little a batter can do with this pitch. Ryan is getting a career high 61.9 percent of groundballs this year and this is the primary reason (via Fangraphs).

Now let’s look at his outing against the Dodgers on April 23rd. Ryan pitched the final 1.2 innings in the 7-2 win that day. He tossed 15-of-24 pitches for strikes and you will notice a lot of the similarities as the Milwaukee appearance. Below are all of his pitch locations (via

ryan dodgers
ryan dodgers /

The Dodger lineup consists of mostly right-handed batters, so its understable why there were less curveballs in this appearance. That being said, the few curveballs (light blue and changeups (green) that he did throw were perfectly located that guys like Bellinger or Seager could do very little with. As for the right-handed guys, the majority of his sinker are located low and away, which causes the same result as the changeups and curveballs for left-handed batters.

These well placed off-speed pitches keep hitters off balance and because he has so many to work with in his pitching arsenal, it keeps them guessing and often swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone.

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I have been beyond impressed with Kyle Ryan in his nine appearances so far on the young season. The Cubs badly needed a left-handed reliever in their bullpen after Montgomery went down with an injury and on the paternity list. Batters will certainly start to pick up on Ryan’s sequence of pitches and what he likes in certain situations. So it will be interesting to see how he adjusts back.