Things for the Kansas City Royals post-trade deadline have been rough to say the least. The team as a whole has been struggling in every facet of the game. A lot of this can be blamed on the pitching staff (30th in ERA and 27th in FIP in August). A chunk of the lackluster production has come from the three pitchers acquired from the San Diego Padres.
The Padres pitchers (Cahill, Maurer, Buchter) since being traded to the Royals:— Shaun Newkirk (@Shauncore) August 10, 2017
And a majority of that has come from the presumed headliner in the deal, Trevor Cahill.
In three starts since the trade:— Josh Vernier (@JoshVernier610) August 10, 2017
Travis Wood - 16 IP, 6.19 ERA. 19 K, 7 BB, 4 HR
Trevor Cahill - 11 IP, 8.18 ERA, 6 K, 9 BB, 4 HR.#Royals
Those tweets say it all. The recent trade with the Padres has left the Royals pitching staff in shambles for the time being.
I was on-board big time with the trade when it went down. I though the Royals were easily improving their roster for 2017. Though I particularly wasn't sold with Cahill as a starter in the long run, as I pictured him fitting nicely into a swingman role. Hopefully that can still hold true. And now with a combined lack of performance and injury, there is a rotation spot temporarily open for the Royals. The likely man to fill that spot is Jake Junis.
The story on Junis this season is he has dominated at in AAA and been a mixed bag of results at the major league level. His struggles in the bigs have related to really only one thing - home runs. He has given up 1.84 home run per-nine innings, which would be tenth-highest in the Majors if he qualified, according to Fangraphs. I hold hope though that statistic is an outlier for him, as he's never really struggled with home runs in his minor league career.
His start in the second game of last Sunday’s doubleheader against Seattle gave me hope. I was most impressed with his fastball. Junis had struggled with it at the big league level this year, allowing a .310 BA (31 for 100) on heaters, giving up 7 of his 13 home runs on the year. In his last start, he was keeping his fastball down in the zone, commanding it very well. He was able to establish it, throwing a higher percentage of fastballs than he has in any other start. You can see highlights from the start here.
Command hasn't really been a problem for Junis all year. He's had quite the year in AAA, posting by far the best strikeout-to-walk ratio of his career, leading the Pacific Coast League by a decent margin for pitchers with a minimum of 70 innings pitched.
And I haven't even mentioned his slider yet. Even at the major league level, it has been dirty. There's a lot to love about it so far. Opponents are batting .145 off of it (8 for 55). He's getting an above-average amount of swings and misses on it, with a rate of 5.01%. Righties can't hit it (.167 BAA) and lefties can't hit it (.105 BAA). Just look at the nasty bite on this 0-2 slider to Josh Donaldson.
So in short, if Junis has his fastball and slider working, he'll be just fine.
What does this mean?
With Trevor Cahill going on the DL for who knows how long, his spot in the rotation would presumably go to Junis. At this point, it all depends on how Jakob pitches. If he does end up pitching well in the rotation, Cahill could find himself back in his old role, the bullpen. So, this is where my curiosity kicked in. I took a peek at the rest of season projections from ZIPS. And.....
- Jake Junis: 33 IP, 5.19 ERA, 4.98 FIP, 6.61 K/9, 2.48 BB/9, 0.2 WAR
- Trevor Cahill: 23 IP, 4.21 ERA, 4.28 FIP, 9.00 K/9, 4.32 BB/9, 0.1 WAR
Hopefully Junis can slide into the rotation and performance. If Cahill can come back healthy (???), I hold hope that he can fill a swingman role. Because after those two, the Royals don't have much. Trade? Eric Skoglund? Onelki Garcia? Yikes. With those options lined up next, the Royals need Junis to perform.