Jakob Junis Is The Latest Giants Pitching Revival – MLB Trade Rumors

Jakob Junis Is The Latest Giants Pitching Revival - MLB Trade Rumors

Entering the 2021-22 offseason, Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi and general manager Scott Harris had the unenviable task of filling not just one or two, but four rotating spots. Each of Kevin Gausman, Anthony DeSclafani, Alex Wood and Johnny Cueto were free agents. Of the team’s 2021 starters, only Logan Webb was under club control.

Granted, much of this was the office’s own doing. Generally a risky unit, at least as far as signing free agents to lucrative multi-year commitments, the Giants inked each of Gausman, Wood and DeSclafani to one-year contracts before the 2021 season. The continued with a generally risky contrarian approach this past offseason, replenishing their rotation for a combined $125MM paid to Charles Rodon (two years, $44MM), DeSclafani (three years, $36MM), Wood (two years, $25MM) and Alex Cobb (two years, $20MM).

Obviously, a $125MM investment is hardly a risk-free proposition, but spreading that number across four pitchers without doing more than three years in length doesn’t exactly work without a net for a team that averaged a $179MM payroll from 2015-19, topped by $200.5MM in 2018, and averaged a $152.5MM salary over the past two seasons.

The quintet of Webb, Rodon, DeSclafani, Wood and Cobb had a lot of potential to be a strong group. It also had a lot of potential to be an injured unit, which created extensive headaches for the front office. Each of Rodon, DeSclafani, Wood and Cobb came with long injury histories. Depth beyond that group was needed, and the Giants lacked it in the upper minors.

A series of sensible additions followed. Matthew Boyd inked a one-year deal worth $5.2MM as the Giants hoped the longtime Tigers mercenary would return from flexor surgery in mid-June. Former Royals right Jakob Junis put pen to paper on a one-year, $1.75MM contract after being non-tendered by Kansas City. Carlos Martinezformer All-Star with the Cardinals, signed a minor league contract.

Of all the names in that group, Junis was probably the most anonymous. A 29-year-old righty and former 29th-round pick, he looked the part of a player development success story for the Royals during his first two seasons before catching fire in his final three years with Kansas City. From 2017-18, Junis gave the Royals 275 1/3 innings of 4.35 ERA ball with a strikeout rate just below the league average, a strong walk rate and slightly below-average ground ball tendencies. It wasn’t a star-caliber profile by any means, but ask any scout in the world and they’d be thrilled at the notion of finding a viable fourth or fifth starter in the 29th round of the draft.

The 2019-21 seasons, however, did not pan out as either Junis or the Royals had hoped. Although he made what is still a career-high 31 starts in 2019, his ERA rose to 5.24 as his walk rate increased and he began allowing increasing amounts of hard contact. Things got even worse in 2020, and by June of 2021, Junis found himself optioned to Triple-A for the first time since 2017. Between that and the 5.36 ERA Junis posted from 2019-21, it was no surprise that the Royals. chose not to offer him a contract, instead putting him on the free-agent market.

Junis’ one-year deal with the Giants looked like a sensible depth charge from an experienced arm with one minor league option year remaining, but it’s proven to be much more than that. In 17 games for San Francisco, 14 of them starts, Junis carries a 4.04 ERA with a 20.9% strikeout rate and an excellent 4.7% walk rate. Fielding-independent metrics like FIP (3.83), SIERA (3.72) and xERA (3.85) all feel like he’s been quite a bit better than that. For much of the year, he sported an ERA in the mid- or low-3.00s, though a recent pair of six-run homers inflated his ERA a bit.

Even with his recent struggles, however, Junis has been much more than a simple shortstop in the rotation. He’s only averaging about five innings per start — more or less in line with the league average at this point — and has held opponents to three or fewer runs in 13 of his appearances on the season.

The Giants changed Junis’ pitch selection and did so to good effect; he throws his slider a career-high 51.9% of the time and has hit just .210/.255/.359 in the 192 plate appearances that ended with that pitch. He’s also effectively scrapped his four-seamer and his cutter in favor of a pitch that he throws at a 30.6% clip, and while the pitch still gets hit hard, opponents do far less damage against the pitch than either of the previous two fastballs. repetitions that Junis used at a much higher clip.

Junis will likely end up giving the Giants anywhere from a win to two wins above replacement this year — he’s at 1.6 bWAR and 0.9 fWAR currently — which is a solid return on their minimal investment in himself. But the Giants will also retain Junis’ rights through the 2023 season, as he is still arbitration eligible and will finish the year with five more years of service. He’ll get a raise on this year’s salary, but jumping into the $3MM range for a serviceable fourth starter is still a bargain.

The Giants already have four starters under contract in 2023 — Webb, Wood, Cobb and DeSclafani — but could very well lose Carlos Rodon to free agency if he declines his player option (which is a lock, as long as he stays healthy). They’re not just going to replace Rhodes with Junis and call it a day, so it’s likely they’ll add an effective starter and enter 2023 with Junis as the sixth or maybe even seventh starter. That would land him in the bullpen early in the season, likely in a long relief role, but given the injury histories of DeSclafani, Wood and Cobb, there should be innings available to him next year.

The Junis pickup obviously isn’t a master stroke that will change the course of the franchise for years to come, but he’s quietly been quite valuable to a Giants club that has had its share of pitching injuries — and he’ll continue to pay dividends. their investment into the 2023 season. Not a ton has gone right for the Giants this year, but their ability to rehabilitate and, in some cases, reinvent pitchers remains pretty strong.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.