Royals: Jakob Junis needs a breakthrough in 2020

Kansas City Royals, Jakob Junis (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Kansas City Royals, Jakob Junis (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images) /

The Kansas City Royals need consistent starting pitching and one starter needs to make his claim to continue his role in the rotation.

Now that the Kansas City Royals are well into the offseason, it’s time to start taking a look at what may come in 2020. So far, the team has not made any big moves on the free-agent market, unless you count a one-year deal with Jesse Hahn as big, and only took one pick in the Rule 5 Draft.

The team has consistently said they are focused on pitching and working on the bullpen, but so far, little work has been done to improve the pitching quality. It’s likely this will remain consistent, and the Royals will bank on many of the players already on their roster coming around and finally finding their footing in 2020.

While this may be the case for some, there are doubts for others. Some pitchers have the stuff, they just need to be more consistent and show they can continue at the major league level. One player that needs to have a good year and prove his worth is Jakob Junis.

Junis has been a staple in the Royals lineup since 2017 when he made his major league debut and started 16 of the 20 games in which he appeared. He went 9-3 that year and held an ERA of 4.30 over 98.1 innings pitched, striking out 80 along the way.

Since 2017, Junis has seemed to regress in some areas. He has been a consistent arm, starting 30 and 31 games in 2018 and 2019 respectively, and his strikeouts per 9 rate has increased every year, posting an 8.4 in 2019. Unfortunately, he has had losing seasons every year, and his ERA continues to rise, hitting 5.24 in 2019 over 175.1 innings.

While it’s still not as high as some others, his 3.0 walk rate per 9 in 2019 is a jump from a 2.2 in 2018, suggesting some control issues causing his seasonal stats to further regress. To speak to this, even more, Junis also seems to be susceptible to the home run more than some others.

For Junis, 2020 is more than just another season, but it’s a season where he really needs to show his worth. Starting the season at 27 years of age, the Royals’ patience with Junis may soon run thin with a large core of young pitchers stewing in the minor league system.

Junis needs to be able to show consistency in more categories than games started and innings pitched. The rise in his strikeout rate is promising, but if it comes with a rise in walks and control issues, it may not be worth it.

Junis has earned his place in the Royals rotation for now, but there could be changes in his future. If he can step to the mound in 2020 and show improvement in control and knock his ERA back down, he will likely be able to continue his starting gig, but if he cannot get his games back on track, he may see himself moved to the bullpen.

There have already been talks and rumors about Junis moving to the bullpen, so this move may come sooner than some think. It’s been done before with other pitchers and Junis may be the perfect candidate for a bullpen turn around and for the Royals to gain a strong long reliever, something they continually struggle to find.

Either way, Junis will likely be under the microscope for the 2020 season to see where he may fit best. His consistent ability to start games and continue to see his strikeout rate increase is promising, but he needs to put the pieces together if he wants to lock down a spot in the future Royals rotation.

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If the Royals hope to progress and wave the 100 loss seasons goodbye, they need to do something about their pitching. While it looks as though there will not be any large offseason moves, here’s to hoping the pitchers already on the roster can find their confidence, and turn things around for 2020.