(Photo by John Cordes/Icon Sportswire)
In fantasy, I’ve come to have a certain distaste for players who come out of nowhere to produce. I put a lot of thought and work into this, damn it! Who are these little try-hards to swoop in and outperform the thoroughbred can’t miss prospects with the million dollar smiles and billion dollar pedigrees?! For me, Jakob Junis was one such player last year. I was confounded by his relative success and took to calling him by a mature play on his last name that rhymes with two things you can do in a bathroom. But, if I’m anything, I’m a hypocrite. I scooped the largely undrafted, unheralded hurler off waivers prior to his first start against Detroit and have been smiling ever since. Now that it benefits ME, let’s take a look at how he his baffling hitters and if it may continue.
The stats so far are obviously excellent. We’re very early in the season but an ERA of zero and two wins over two starts will even play in your two team MLB + KBO league. He’s been lackluster in the strikeout department (5.7 k/9) but his career mark of 7.1, while still not impressive, may suggest there is room for some improvement there.
Now, you don’t need me to tell you that his .111 BABIP, 0.0% HR/FB and 100% LOB rate are all going to regress, and regress hard. If we are looking quickly at the overall package, we see a relatively soft-tossing hurler that has been extremely fortunate in the early season in the luck department, and one who doesn’t miss bats very frequently, either. Ride him while he’s hot and ditch at the first sign of trouble, right? WRONG! WRONG, I SAY! All you need to do is watch him to see that Junis has great stuff with tons of natural movement. Observe exhibits A and B, below:
Exhibit A: Mariners Beer Keg and DH Dan Vogelbach calls into question if Jakob’s mother really has Celiac’s disease or if she is just hopping on the gluten free fad, and Junis serves him this heat-seeker:
The above is not necessarily a great pitch in its own right, but an illustration of how much natural movement Junis has on his slider. Let’s take a look at how Junis can use his natural movement to, you know, get outs. I present to you, ladies and gentlemen, Exhibit B – a four pitch strikeout of Jean Segura.
Exhibit B: Junis gets a called strike one on a four seamer with plenty of arm-side ride in to the batter and then unleashes a salvo of nasty breaking pitches that Segura can do nothing with, all either inside on the black or diving down in the dirt out of reach:
I think Junis is a great example of a guy you need to watch pitch to understand why he is effective. He was the definition of effectively wild in his near no-no vs. Seattle, with his stuff darting all over the place, homing in on right-handers and rarely catching the middle of the plate. Below is a scatterplot of all the pitches he threw on Monday vs. the Mariners, from Brooks Baseball. Look below at all of the fastballs on the inner third and outer third of the plate, and the sliders buried down and away:
There’s another reason that gives me hope for Junis, and it can be uncovered with xStats. Al Melchior touches on it briefly in an article over at Rotographs here, and I’d like to talk about it quickly. Junis, so far, has done a really great job at inducing very weak contact. We’ve already referenced that he has a somewhat superficially low BABIP, but a .237 xBABIP suggests that it’s not ALL luck. Take a look at the batted ball profile Junis has induced vs. league average in the table below:
|#BIP||Avg Exit Velo (MPH)||VH%||DB%||GB%||LD%||HD%||FB%||PU%|
Over an admittedly small sample of 36 balls in play, Junis has been above average at suppressing exit velocity, getting popups, and limiting line drives. His value hit percentage (VH – well struck balls resulting in near automatic extra base hits) has been a third of league average so far.
It’s still quite early, and there is some debate as to how much control a pitcher has over their batted ball types and distributions, but it jives with the eye test that a guy who can move the ball all over the place and be consistently right on the edge of the strike zone would be difficult to square up. I love how few line and hard drives Junis has allowed so far, as those are the most consistently dangerous batted ball types. Pitching half of his games in Kauffman Stadium will suppress some homers a bit and allow him to limit the damage on the fly balls he allows. It will be interesting to look into this further once we have more data on barrels in 2018 and some more Junis starts to analyze.
It’s easy to dismiss Junis’ early success as a product of the luck dragons, but I wouldn’t be so sure. His interesting arsenal and feel for pitching make it look like he may be successful more often than not despite the fact that he is not naturally overpowering. His inability to consistently miss bats and incoming regression ensure that there will be some rough starts ahead, but I think he has the look of a useful arm in leagues of 10+ teams for the foreseeable future. Feel free to run him out against all neutral and favorable matchups, of which there will be plenty as he continues to pitch in the weak AL Central.