This Small Change Made Kyle Ryan One of MLB’s Best Relievers

I was incredibly intrigued when Kyle Ryan debuted with the Chicago Cubs because his release point was so unorthodox. Ryan would come set, then step all the way towards the first base side as if he were picking off a runner, eventually releasing the pitch further toward the first base side than any other MLB pitcher.

Despite that unique delivery, the lefty’s numbers through May (5.01 ERA, 4.03 FIP) were worthy of a discussion about an option to Triple A.  But then something happened, a change that yielded almost magical results. Starting with his appearance on June 5, Ryan shifted his starting position a few inches towards the center of the rubber. He didn’t significantly alter his release point in the process, but the change has coincided with a torrid stretch that has him pitching like a top-tier reliever (1.69 ERA, 2.90 FIP).

If you’re having trouble envisioning this change, we’ve got you covered. In the first image below, we see how the lanky lefty started left of the red line and toward the first-base side of the rubber for his May 25 appearance against the Cincinnati Reds. About 10 days later, we see Ryan more in the middle of the rubber and crossing that red line. Note that these photos are scaled and perfectly overlayed.

We can further quantify this change by looking at Ryan’s horizontal release point data. Pay attention to the higher dots, each of which represents one game, on the left side of the figure. Then note how those dots get noticeably lower and remain there moving forward. This represents a shift of about 7 inches in Ryan’s release point starting on June 5, and he’s been close to dominant ever since.

Since that date, Ryan’s 1.69 ERA ranks 8th best in MLB and 4th best among lefties and he’s been a stalwart for Joe Maddon in the bullpen. More than just a product of small samples or flukey results, a slight shift towards the center of the rubber made all the difference.

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