When the SF Giants signed veteran pitcher Jakob Junis to a major league deal prior to the 2022 season, it did not receive a lot of attention. However, two years later, the right-handed hurler will enter free agency after two quietly nice seasons with San Francisco.
Reflecting on a quietly nice addition by the SF Giants front office
The Kansas City Royals outrighted Junis off of the 40-man roster following the 2021 season. He was eligible for arbitration with a projected salary of $1.8 million for 2022 according to MLB Trade Rumors. However, the Royals had an influx of young pitching, so they decided to part ways with Junis once he cleared waivers.
His time in Kansas City was unspectacular, but what you would expect from a back-end starting. He attacked the strike zone and soaked up some innings. The overall results were not great as he posted a 4.82 ERA, 4.74 FIP, 1.35 WHIP, 8.2 K/9, and a 3.25 SO/W ratio in five seasons with the Royals.
The righty pitcher did an excellent job of limiting walks, but allowed home runs as too high of a rate as demonstrated by his 1.6 HR/9 ratio. This was not what you would expect with a relatively large home ballpark like Kauffman Stadium.
Nevertheless, the Royals cut ties with him after 2021. The Giants added him on a one-year, $1.75 million deal for 2022 with one year of arbitration remaining after that season. There was not an obvious role for the veteran pitcher, but the Giants have had recent success with a handful of pitchers, so it felt like a good landing spot for Junis.
One of the quickest ways to improve a pitcher's performance is to adjust pitch mix. When Junis came to San Francisco, he generally relied on five pitches, including a slider, sinker, cutter, changeup, and four-seam fastball.
The slider had been his best pitcher with the remaining four offerings having sporadic success. In 2021, opposing hitters posted a .190 batting average against Junis' slider while throwing it 39.9 percent of the time. The hitter will always tell you how you are throwing.
That is a healthy dose of sliders, but without a plus secondary pitch, it left Junis exposed. With this in mind, the Giants adjusted his pitch mix to rely more on his slider. In each of the past two seasons, he used that pitch over 50 percent of the time.
While opposing hitters have a better chance at guessing what is coming, it did not affect the pitch's success. Opposing hitters posted a .229 and .216 batting average against Junis' slider in 2022 and 2023, respectively.
The results have followed. In his two seasons with the Giants, the 31-year-old recorded a 4.18 ERA, 3.69 FIP, 1.29 WHIP, 8.8 K/9, and a 4.22 SO/W ratio. This includes an improved 1.1 HR/9 ratio. The Giants paid Junis about $4.5 million across two seasons and received close to 200 quality innings as well as 2.0 fWAR.
That is nice value to get from the back end of the roster. Of course, one of the Giants' problems is that they have too many quality players at the back end of the roster, but not enough star talent. This is not to take away from Junis.
He filled a variety of roles, including starter, one-inning reliever, and a bulk innings pitcher. And, he did so with relative ease. That is not an easy task to do.
The veteran pitcher will enter free agency as another modest success story from the Giants' brain trust in developing pitching. My guess is that he signs with another team in free agency, especially one who offers him a chance to start.
The sub-4 FIP and solid SO/W ratio over the past two seasons will appeal to teams in free agency as they could see him as a pitcher whose run-prevention numbers underperformed his peripherals. Nonetheless, Junis' tenure with the Giants likely comes to an end after doing nicely in a typically thankless swingman role and possibly the best pitcher to fill that role since Yusmeiro Petit.