2020 KC Royals season preview: Jakob Junis

(Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images) /

Instead of progressing like the KC Royals hoped, starting pitcher Jakob Junis took a step back in 2019. What’s in store for this season?

Welcome to the continuation of Kings of Kauffman‘s 2020 KC Royals season previews. Leading up to spring training, we’ll be breaking down 30 different Royals. Our analysis will include what they accomplished last season, what to expect this season, along with any other information pertinent to the player. Today’s subject: Jakob Junis.

Junis burst onto the scene in 2017, posting a 9-3 record with a 4.30 ERA in 98.1 innings of ball. He pitched 177 innings the following year, winning another nine games and seeing his ERA slip just a tad bit to 4.37. Heading into the 2019 season, many expected Junis to put together his best campaign to date. Instead, he struggled more than he ever has.

What did he offer last season?

2019 was not kind to Junis, no matter how you look at it. Although he did win nine games for the third-straight season, those wins were accompanied by 14 losses and a career-high 5.24 ERA. Junis made one more start than the year prior and went 1.2 fewer innings, not being able to go too deep into games. His ERA stood above 5.00 in both the first and second halves of the season.

A breakdown of Junis’ 2019 season by former site expert Ryan Sikes, a much more in-depth look at the pitcher’s struggles, revealed that Junis went to his slider less often and increased his curveball usage last season. Those decisions turned out to be deadly, as opponents teed off on the curve. Both his pitch selection and subsequent numbers were poor.

What should we expect in 2020?

Here are two stat line projections for Junis’ 2020 season, courtesy of Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs:

  • B-Ref: 9-11 record, 164 IP, 4.83 ERA, 8.6 K/9, 2.8 BB/9
  • FG: 10-12 record, 182 IP, 4.78 ERA, 7.91 K/9, 2.73 BB/9

Both B-Ref and FanGraphs expect Junis to improve this season. They view his troublesome 2019 as more of an anomaly than a trend. However, they still don’t think he’ll recapture the success he experienced in his first two seasons. It means something that neither system expects him to be moved to the bullpen. I think Junis will post an ERA in the neighborhood of 4.40-4.50, which should come with improving his arsenal this offseason and getting back to his roots as a pitcher.

The verdict

As we’ve mentioned before at KoK, this is a make-or-break season for Jakob Junis. He’ll turn 28 by the end of the year and the word potential can no longer be used when discussing him. He should be pitching at his highest level over the next few campaigns. Whether that’s in the starting rotation or the bullpen remains to be seen but with minor league studs breathing down his neck, I expect Junis to swim instead of sink in 2020.

Next. USA Today predicts a 65-97 record for the KC Royals in 2020. dark

What do you think, Royals fans? Has Junis run his course with the team, or will he rise to the occasion this season and improve?