The Tigers were already struggling to find a fifth starter when they rolled into Chicago for a weekend series against the White Sox at the end of August. With their second Saturday doubleheader in as many weeks on the slate, the Tigers also needed a sixth arm. They turned to left-hander Kyle Ryan and got more than they bargained for, as Ryan delivered six shutout innings in a crucial 8-4 Tigers victory.
The start was Ryan's MLB debut, and he would pitch another 4 1/3 innings in September. Not many people expected Ryan to contribute this soon, though. A 12th round selection out of high school in the 2010 draft, Ryan ended his 2013 season in Advanced-A Lakeland. He went 12-7 with a 3.17 ERA for the Flying Tigers last season, but a 4.02 FIP indicates that he wasn't quite as dominant as the numbers suggest.
Ryan began the 2014 season in Double A. He got off to a rough start, allowing a 5.77 ERA and 1.38 WHIP in his first seven starts. He had a couple of gems mixed in -- including a seven inning effort with just two hits allowed -- but allowed four runs or more in four of those starts. He settled down soon after, holding opponents to a 2.50 ERA and .633 OPS in his next eight starts. His peripheral numbers were not impressive, with just 24 strikeout to 14 walks during that span.
Ryan hit his roughest patch of the season in July when he gave up 15 runs on 23 hits in his first two starts of the month. He only suffered one loss, though, as his offense picked up the slack in a wild 10-9 victory. That would be his last shelling of the season. He gave up a 3.51 ERA in his last four outings at Double A, bringing his season-long ERA down to 4.55.
After his final start of July -- another seven shutout inning performance -- Ryan was called up to Triple A. He made five starts for the Mud Hens, allowing just eight runs (six earned) in 33 innings. He only walked five batters during that stretch, giving him a stellar 4.0 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He went seven innings or more in three of his five starts.
Ryan's next start would be in a Tigers uniform. The then-22 year old scattered five hits and two walks in six shutout innings as the Tigers staked him a 5-0 lead. The bullpen would nearly give it away in the eighth inning after Ryan had departed, but a three run ninth inning cemented Ryan's first career win. He would pick up a second win in a relief outing against the Minnesota Twins on September 15th. Ryan did not allow a run until his sixth MLB appearance, when he gave up three runs in 1 1/3 innings against the Twins.
If we combined Ryan's stats across all three levels he pitched at in 2014, the results are pretty solid. He totaled 170 innings with a 3.86 ERA, and struck out 102 batters to 39 walks. The Tigers would be ecstatic with numbers like that from their fifth starter in 2015, as it roughly translates to a two or three win pitcher for the league minimum salary.
I toyed with the idea of giving Ryan something in the 'B' range due to his low preseason expectations, but 10 1/3 innings -- even good ones -- aren't really that meaningful int he grand scheme of things. Ryan struggled at times in Double A and was solid in a short stint at Triple A, but his low strikeout totals suggest that he may struggle in a large sample.
Odds are Ryan will be in the mix for the fifth starter spot in 2015, but he seems to be fourth on the pegging order at the moment. Kyle Lobstein is the obvious leader due to his 2014 performance, with Robbie Ray and Buck Farmer also in the conversation. Can Ryan beat these three out in Spring Training to win the job? It's possible, but odds are we will see him at Triple A to start the year in 2015.