Jared Jones and Paul Skenes Are the Best Rookie Duo Since When?

Pittsburgh Pirates rookies Jared Jones and Paul Skenes are making history with their electric starts to their big league careers.

Paul Skenes of the Pittsburgh Pirates delivers a pitch in the third inning of his major league debut during the game against the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park.
PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA - MAY 11: Paul Skenes #30 of the Pittsburgh Pirates delivers a pitch in the third inning of his major league debut during the game against the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park on May 11, 2024 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)

The Pittsburgh Pirates have something special brewing in their starting rotation. Hurlers Paul Skenes and Jared Jones have emerged as two of the game’s brightest young arms, and their ascension has completely changed the future outlook of the Pirates’ starting rotation.

Skenes and Jones have taken the league by storm, flashing some of the game’s most overpowering stuff on the mound to open their big league careers. Given their early season success, both Skenes and Jones are expected to be Rookie of the Year candidates comes season’s end.

As it currently stands, Skenes has the second-shortest odds to win the award at +300, and Jones has the fifth-shortest odds at +1600, according to BetMGM.

It’s not particularly uncommon for teams to have a pitcher and a positional player both finish near the top of the Rookie of the Year voting. For example, back in 2022, Atlanta Braves outfielder Michael Harris II took home the award in the National League with teammate and emerging ace Spencer Strider finishing in second.

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However, not often does a club have two starters make their debut and display this level of dominance in their first season. It’s only happened a couple of times this century, and it’s been even longer since it’s happened with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Let’s take a look at where the duo of Skenes and Jones stacks up among other rookie pitching duos in recent memory.

Historical Context

What Jones and Skenes are doing this season is historical, especially in terms of Pittsburgh Pirates history.

The last time the Pirates had two players of any kind finish in the top 10 in Rookie of the Year voting was 2010, when second baseman Neil Walker finished fifth in voting and outfielder José Tábata finished eighth in voting.

However, it’s a much different story when it comes to Pirates pitchers.

Pittsburgh hasn’t had a single starting pitcher finish in the top 10 in Rookie of the Year voting since 2005, when Zach Duke finished fifth in voting.

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Even further, it has been 40 years since the Pirates had two pitchers finish in the top 10 in Rookie of the Year voting. Right-handers José DeLeón and Lee Tunnell finished seventh and ninth in voting, respectively, back in 1983, and no Pirates pitching duo has done it since.

Not only are Skenes and Jones making Pirates history, but their performance has significance in terms of MLB history as well.

The last time Major League Baseball saw two pitchers finish in the top 10 in Rookie of the Year voting was in the shortened 2020 season, when Los Angeles Dodgers righties Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May finished fourth and fifth in voting, respectively.

Beyond that Dodgers duo, many pairings have come in the form of a starting pitcher and a relief pitcher. For example, back in 2014, New York Mets starter Jacob deGrom took home the award while reliever Jeuyrs Familia finished seventh in voting as his teammate.

Point being, what Skenes and Jones are doing is special, and it deserves some historical context to truly appreciate what they are accomplishing. Below is a table highlighting every pitching duo that has finished in the top 10 in Rookie of the Year voting since 1980:

YearPitcherTeamRoY Voting RankWorkloadERAERA+FIPWHIPBB/9K/9bWAR
2023Paul SkenesPITTBD5GS; 27 IP3.001363.031.0002.012.70.9
2023Jared JonesPITTBD13GS; 74.1 IP3.271263.761.0632.29.61.7
*2020Tony GonsolinLAD4th9G; 8GS; 46.2 IP2.311892.290.8361.48.91.5
*2020Dustin MayLAD5th12G; 10GS; 56.0 IP2.571704.621.0892.67.11.5
2014Jacob deGromNYM1st22GS; 140.1 IP2.691282.671.1402.89.23.5
2014Jeuyrs FamiliaNYMT-7th76G; 77.1 IP2.211573.071.1773.78.51.1
2014Dellin BetancesNYY3rd70G; 90 IP1.402741.640.7782.413.53.7
2014Masahiro TanakaNYY6th20GS; 136.1 IP2.771383.041.0561.49.33.1
2009Andrew BaileyOAK1st68G; 83.1 IP1.842392.560.8762.69.83.7
2009Brett AndersonOAK6th30GS; 175.1 IP4.061083.691.2832.37.72.2
2007Brian BannisterKCR3rd27GS; 165 IP3.871184.401.2122.44.22.9
2007Joakim SoriaKCRT-7th62G; 69 IP2.481852.500.9422.59.82.4
*2006Josh JohnsonFLA4th31G; 24GS; 157 IP3.101403.991.2993.97.63.6
*2006Scott OlsenFLAT-9th31GS; 180.2 IP4.041074.331.3013.78.32.5
2005Huston StreetOAK1st67G; 78.1 IP1.722542.751.0093.08.32.9
2005Joe BlantonOAKT-6th33GS; 201.1 IP3.531244.431.2173.05.23.8
2003Brad LidgeHOUT-5th78G; 85 IP3.601223.331.2004.410.30.9
2003Jeriome RobertsonHOU7th32GS; 160.2 IP5.10864.971.5193.65.5-0.5
*2002Jason JenningsCOL1st32GS; 185.1 IP4.521064.681.4623.46.22.7
*2002Denny StarkCOLT-9th32G; 20GS; 128.1 IP4.001206.111.3404.54.51.7
2002Rodrigo LopezBAL2nd33G; 28GS; 196.2 IP3.571204.121.1902.86.23,7
2002Jorge JulioBAL3rd67G; 68 IP1.992173.581.2063.67.31.8
*1995Hideo NomoLAD1st28GS; 191.1 IP2.541492.891.0563.711.14.1
*1995Ismael ValdezLADT-7th33G; 27GS; 197.2 IP3.051243.491.1082.36.83.4
1992Donovan OsborneSTL5th34G; 29GS; 179 IP3.77903.311.2911.95.2-0.3
1992Mike PerezSTL6th77G; 93 IP1.841863.421.0973.14.52.1
1991Juan GuzmanTOR2nd23GS; 138.2 IP2.991423.161.1834.38.03.2
1991Mike TimlinTORT-6th63G; 3GS; 108.1 IP3.161343.421.3294.27.11.8
1989Andy BenesSDPT-5th10GS; 66.2 IP3.511003.591.2304.28.91.2
1989Greg HarrisSDP7th56G; 8GS; 135 IP2.601353.161.1703.57.13.8
*1987Joe MagraneSTL3rd27G; 26GS; 170.1 IP3.541183.601.2743.25.32.9
*1987Greg MathewsSTLT-6th32GS; 197.2 IP3.721123.971.2903.24.93.5
1986Charlie KerfeldHOU4th61G; 93.2 IP2.591383.231.2064.07.41.4
1986Jim DeshaiesHOUT-7th26GS; 144 IP3.251103.711.2713.78.01.5
*1984Roger ClemensBOS6th21G; 20GS; 133.1 IP4.32972.841.3132.08.51.8
*1984Al NipperBOST-7th29G; 24GS; 182.2 IP3.891074.101.2862.64.12.8
*1984Dwight GoodenNYM1st31GS; 218 IP2.601371.691.0733.011.45.7
*1984Ron DarlingNYM5th33GS; 205.2 IP3.81944.111.3764.66.01.6
*1983Jose DeLeonPITT-7th15GS; 108 IP2.831312.511.1303.99.82.9
*1983Lee TunnellPITT-9th35G; 25GS; 177.2 IP3.651023.801.2662.94.82.0
1982Luis DeLeonSDP5th61G; 102 IP2.031713.320.9121.45.32.6
1982Eric ShowSDPT-8th47G; 14GS; 150 IP2.641323.471.1002.95.32.1
*1980Britt BurnsCHW5th34G; 32GS; 238 IP2.841433.411.1602.45.07.0
*1980Richard DotsonCHW7th33G; 32GS; 198 IP4.27954.371.3744.05.01.7
*Denotes year in which two starting pitchers finished in the top 10 in voting; All statistics and rankings are courtesy of Baseball Reference

It’s one thing for a rookie to post strong results in his first season at the major league level, but it’s another to do so while displaying dominance on the mound over baseball’s best hitters. For the Pirates, they have two pitchers who are doing exactly that.

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The ability of Skenes and Jones to overpower batters with such elite strikeout material so early in their careers has been mightily impressive, and it’s made them one of the more noteworthy rookie pitching duos in recent memory.

Dominant Starts

When looking at what makes both Skenes and Jones so overwhelming on the rubber, it all starts with their elite fastballs. Being able to consistently touch triple digits sure does help, but more importantly it’s their ability to locate their arsenal and feed off the fastball’s success that has made them so effective.

Paul Skenes

Just five starts into his major league career, Skenes is already making a case for being one of the top arms in baseball. The 2023 No. 1 overall pick is must-watch material every time he toes the rubber, as he has simply overpowered hitters through his first five big league starts.

In his five turns through the rotation, Skenes is rocking a 3.00 ERA and a 3.03 FIP to go with a WHIP of 1.00. While the results are encouraging, it’s even more more noteworthy that he is doing all the right things on the mound. Specifically, he’s throwing strikes at a high rate, he’s posting gaudy strikeout numbers, and he’s keeping the ball on the ground if hitters make contact with his pitches.

Skenes’ ability to locate his devastating pitch mix is second to none. Rocking a well-above average zone rate of 55.6%, Skenes is walking fewer than six percent of batters, while sporting a strikeout rate of 35.5%. In turn, he’s posting an outstanding strikeout-minus-walk rate of 29.9%.

Skenes is challenging opposing hitters with his arsenal, but they aren’t making contact very often. In fact, his whiff rate of 32.2% is in the 91st percentile, and his zone contact rate of just 73.1% is the seventh-lowest in all of baseball (minimum 100 batters faced).

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Skenes’ fastball catches the headlines, and for good reason. The pitch is sitting 99.4 mph while generating a whiff rate of 33.9%. However, it’s his splitter-sinker hybrid of a pitch that has been dominating opposing hitters.

Commonly referred to as a “splinker”, batters are hitting just .061 against it. Opposing hitters are slugging just .091 against the pitch, and it’s generating a wOBA of merely .102 as well. What’s more, the pitch has an average launch angle of just one degree, meaning if a hitter gets the bat on the pitch, there’s a good chance it’s being hit on the ground.

Skenes is far from a polished product, and he still has some of the most annihilating stuff in the game right now. A flamethrower with true ace upside, Skenes is already living up to the hype in his young big league career.

Jared Jones

Through the first 74.1 innings of his big league career, Jones has flashed a dominating arsenal of his own. Jones is pitching to the tune of a 3.27 ERA while rocking a WHIP of 1.06. And similar to Skenes, Jones has done an excellent job at limiting traffic on the base paths by challenging hitters.

Jones is in the top 20% of baseball in strikeout rate (26.3%) as well as walk rate (6.0%). Among all rookie starting pitchers with a minimum of 20 innings pitched, Jones’ strikeout-minus-walk rate of 20.3% is third only behind Skenes and Yoshinobu Yamamoto of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

He features a fastball-slider combination that has been extremely effective thus far. While his four-seam fastball has some tremendous life, it’s Jones’ slider that has emerged as his most efficient weapon in the majors. The slider, which he throws 36.8% of the time, is yielding a batting average of .175, a .wOBA of just .225, and a whiff rate of nearly 40%.

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More importantly, the pitch has been the third-most valuable slider in baseball to this point in terms of Run Value (7), according to Baseball Savant.

Jones put together a fantastic month of April (2.86 ERA, 0.92 WHIP), but he took a step back in the month of May and saw his fastball velocity take a slight dip. However, he bounced back in a strong way in his outing against the Dodgers, last week, in which he went six shutout innings while fanning six batters and allowing just three hits. Moreover, his fastball averaged a whopping 98.4 mph in that outing, which was the highest average velocity on his fastball in an outing this season.

He might not have the ace-level outlook that Skenes possesses, but he’s flashing the potential of becoming a possible frontline starter in Pittsburgh, especially if he can develop an effective third pitch.

The Importance for Pittsburgh

Since winning 98 games and losing in the National League Wild Card game back in 2015, the Pirates have surpassed 80 wins in a season just once. They’ve been bottom dwellers in the National League, finishing fourth or worse in the NL Central division standings for the past seven years, and their bleak starting rotation has played a big part in that.

However, things are finally starting to look up in Pittsburgh. Paul Skenes and Jared Jones have quickly emerged as potential frontline starters of the future, and the duo’s early season dominance is sending waves of excitement through Pittsburgh’s fanbase.

The Pirates weren’t expected to compete heading into the 2024 season. Instead, the club needed to establish who will be a part of the starting rotation for when their window may open, and they’re doing just that.

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The tandem of Skenes and Jones has been appointment television not just for Pirates fans, but for all fans of the game, and their emergence at the top of Pittsburgh’s rotation is a jolt in the right direction for the future of the organization.