There are few things more frustrating as a baseball fan than watching a pitcher nibble. Of course, one thing more frustrating is when the pitcher gives up home run after home run, so you understand the nibbling a bit. But watching a pitcher dance around the strike zone, piling onto his pitch count, it can be a bit like watching paint dry.
Jakob Junis has been a breath of fresh air, not only because he has pitched well lately, but because he doesn’t dance. He walks right up to the strike zone and punches it in its big fat face. And it has paid off with low pitch counts each inning. Here are Royals starting pitchers and how many pitches, on average, they have thrown as a starter per inning.
Ian Kennedy - 17.4
Jason Hammel - 16.6
Jason Vargas - 16.1
Danny Duffy - 15.6
Jakob Junis - 15.4
These numbers should not be a surprise to anyone that has watched Royals baseball. Kennedy and Hammel are nibblers. And for good reason. Both can be quite susceptible to the long ball, don’t have overwhelming stuff, and need to be careful in the zone. Hammel even goes further, taking his time with
one of the slowest paces out of any pitcher in baseball.
Jake Junis, on the other hand, is one of the fastest-working pitchers in baseball. Coupled with his pitch-efficient innings, his outings can zoom by. In fact, Junis has been one of the most efficient pitchers in the league. Here are the American League starting pitchers with the fewest pitches-per-inning (min. 50 innings pitched).
How is Junis keeping his pitch totals so low? He pounds the zone. He is second in baseball among starting pitchers at throwing strikes, throwing a pitch in the zone 53.3% of the time, according to Fangraphs. His walk rate may seem rather unremarkable, but it is skewed a bit by his first two Major League appearances, both in relief, in which he walked a pair of hitters. As a starter, Junis has a walk rate of 2.02 per-nine-innings, among the top 15 among all starters in baseball (minimum 50 innings pitched).
Seems like Jake Junis has been commanding his fastball a lot more during his second stint. pic.twitter.com/Tbmo0cdEnW— Patrick Brennan (@paintingcorner) August 30, 2017
So Junis works quickly, throws strikes, and has done so without getting clobbered. He can give up a few home runs as well, but has avoided catastrophe. His ERA as a starter of 4.19 isn't setting the world on fire, but it is serviceable for a back-of-the-rotation starter, and quite frankly, he has been the best Royals starting pitcher in the last month by a long shot.
In the era of the home run spike, you can understand why pitchers would want to nibble. But maybe the other Royals pitchers should heed the lessons from Junis and attack the zone more aggressively. The defense is still a top notch defense, put it to work. With the injuries and the bullpen issues, Royals starters need to go deeper into games. And Jake Junis is showing them how.