Over the last two months of the 2017 season, there was no starting pitcher more reliable for the Kansas City Royals than Jake Junis. Junis was able to rebound from a lackluster first few months of the season (5.50 ERA, giving up 41 hits over his first 36 innings and an opponent’s slugging percentage against of .521) to becoming the “go to” guy when the Royals need to end a losing streak:
So with that in mind, the question needs to be posed: Can Jake Junis continue the trend he is on and if he does, where does that put his status in the Kansas City rotation?
I mentioned Junis’ last two months of last season and in a lot of ways the numbers just speak for themselves: 62.1 innings pitched, 50 strikeouts, only nine walks and an ERA of 3.61. To stretch that a bit further, he went from allowing a slugging percentage of .521 those first four months of the season to a .392 percentage in August and September. So what changed during his sabbatical to the minors in July?
The most noticeable difference sits with his pitch usage. Junis went from using his four seamer and slider the most to making the sinker a lethal part of his repertoire:
Junis went from using his sinker 7% of the time in June to 20% in August. He also saw a drastic drop in his batting average against the sinker in August, as he went from hitters batting .500 against the pitch to a paltry .136:
Obviously, that also meant the slugging percentage against the sinker took a nosedive:
This also appeared to help his slider, which saw a higher percentage of whiffs per swing:
This might just be a hunch on my part, but it appeared that Junis changed the line of sight for the hitter and focused more on the vertical location than the horizontal:
Essentially Junis added another weapon in his arsenal for the hitter to worry about, and the sinker helped induce more ground balls, which is always better than allowing the batter to put the ball in the air. It was a smart move by Junis that garnered positive results.
Those positive results crept into spring training, as Junis struck out 20 batters in 14 innings while walking only one batter. He has even continued that into the beginning of the regular season, as he was able to pitch seven strong innings against Detroit on Tuesday, giving up no runs while allowing three hits and one walk.
Junis’ ability to mix up his pitches has become a focal point of his arsenal and if he continues to do so he should be able to maintain his recent success. While his slider will get most of the glory and is the pitch with the most movement, it isn’t quite as lethal without a nice array of other pitches to set it up.
He appears to have figured that out and has turned himself into a legit big league starter. The Royals at this point need as many quality starts as possible and Junis’ consistency could go a long way toward solidifying a good rotation.
So if the question is whether or not Junis is for real, in my eyes it appears he is. Maybe the question to ask now is whether he should be in the front half of the rotation rather than the back half. His development over the last year has shown a proclivity to survive and strive.
So what do you think? Is Junis a keeper or is the jury still out?