The SF Giants only scratched one win against the New York Yankees in a three-game series to start the year. That 7-5 win came in part to a clutch bullpen performance from Jakob Junis, who looked like a much different pitcher on the mound.
Did SF Giants long reliever just become a power pitcher?
Throughout the Cactus League, a lot of attention was paid to Sean Manaea and Sean Hjelle. Both pitchers came into camp flashing a noticeable bump in velocity. Manaea, in particular, spent the offseason at the Driveline Facility in Washington.
It is not uncommon for pitchers to come out of that regimen showing an uptick in velocity and that was immediately the case for Manaea. However, Junis is showing a big spike in velocity as well.
The Giants signed the right-handed hurler to a $2.8 million contract in his final trip through arbitration. He spent the 2022 season with the Giants after appearing with the Kansas City Royals for his first six seasons.
Junis was solid in his inaugural season with San Francisco, posting a 4.42 ERA, 3.65 FIP, 1.29 WHIP, 7.9 K/9, and a 3.92 SO/W ratio across 112 innings. His production provided a much-needed boost as pitchers like Alex Cobb and Anthony DeSclafani spent the early part of last season on the injured list.
In the case of DeSclafani, he only made five starts last year. Junis filled in nicely in DeSclafani's absence due in part to a change in pitch mix. The right-handed hurler has often relied on a pitch mix that includes a slider, four-seam fastball, sinker, and changeup.
The slider is, by far, his best offering and proved to be a solid pitch last year as opposing hitters tallied a .226 batting average against it. Junis flashed that offering 50.4 percent of the time last year, which was a huge usage increase from 39.9 percent in the year prior.
While the slider was his best pitch, the 30-year-old did rely heavily on the sinker as well, using it 31.9 percent of the time. That pitch did not perform as well. Opposing hitters registered a .318 batting average against it in 2022.
The sinker has good vertical movement, but it was not a particularly special pitch, especially as it averaged just 91.9 MPH. That velocity might have been good 15 years ago, but it is on the lower side of the velocity spectrum for a sinker.
That could be changing. The veteran pitcher yielded just one earned run in 2.1 frames on three hits, two strikeouts, and no walks against the Yankees. That earned run scored due to a defensive miscue.
The sinker, however, averaged 94.9 MPH, which is a huge increase of 3.0 MPH compared to just last year. That type of velocity for that type of pitch will play.
Oftentimes, pitchers do show changes in velocity but are unable to maintain it as the season progresses. However, Junis will be filling a bulk innings role with the Giants, so he will be pitching in shorter stints. For years, he worked out of the rotation, but a move to the bullpen may allow him to generate more velocity.
It is only one appearance, but definitely something to monitor. One way or the other, the Giants will need Junis to handle a moderate-to-heavy workload. And, if he is doing that with improved velocity on his sinker, that pitcher could turn into a nice weapon.