6 ways the Paul Skenes-Jared Jones duo stands out

June 9th, 2024

It might be too early to say the Pirates have MLB’s top starting pitcher duo. But with the way rookie phenoms and are pitching so far, each turn through Pittsburgh’s rotation brings us closer to that reality.

The latest act from Pittsburgh’s electric tandem? Shutting down one of MLB’s highest-scoring offenses in back-to-back games this past week.

Facing the Dodgers on Tuesday, Jones fired six scoreless innings with six strikeouts and only three hits allowed in a 1-0 Pirates win. Skenes wasn’t quite as sharp against Los Angeles one day later, but he struck out eight batters and held the Dodgers to three runs over five innings in another Pittsburgh victory.

On the season, Jones has recorded a 3.25 ERA with a 1.01 WHIP and 76 strikeouts over 69 1/3 innings. Skenes, meanwhile, has posted a 3.00 ERA with a 1.00 WHIP and 38 K's in 27 innings since his debut last month.

With the two pitchers scheduled to take the mound again in the coming days -- Jones is lined up to start Sunday at home against the Twins, with Skenes set to go Tuesday on the road against the Cardinals -- let’s take a look at six ways the duo stands out, not only in 2024 but also historically. (All stats below are through Friday.)

1. They know how to make an entrance

Skenes’ arrival in the big leagues was eagerly anticipated from the moment he was selected first overall in the 2023 MLB Draft. Jones didn't have as much hype surrounding him after being taken in the second round of the 2020 MLB Draft, but he worked his way up the prospect ranks and made his MLB debut on March 30, 2024, turning heads with a 10-strikeout performance against the Marlins.

The right-hander had 22 whiffs against Miami, setting a record for the most by a pitcher in his MLB debut in the pitch-tracking era (since 2008). He also became the first Pirates pitcher to rack up double-digit K’s in his debut since in 1992.

Skenes joined Jones in the Pirates’ rotation on May 11. After striking out seven of the 20 batters he faced in his debut against the Cubs, Skenes was even more impressive in his second outing, also against Chicago.

Skenes struck out the first seven batters he faced and held the Cubs hitless over six innings, fanning 11 altogether and walking just one batter.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Skenes’ streak of seven straight strikeouts to open the game was the longest in Pirates franchise history, as well as the third-longest streak to open a game by a rookie in the Live Ball Era (since 1920), trailing only (Sept. 15, 2014) and (Sept. 23, 1986), who share the record of eight.

2. They’re really young and really good

It’s incredibly rare to see one team with two pitchers this young and this good in its rotation at the same time.

Both Skenes (138 ERA+) and Jones (126 ERA+) are in their age-22 seasons and have a chance to make history if they can keep this up and make at least 20 starts apiece in 2024.

Dating back to 1913, when earned runs became an official stat in both leagues, there have been only three duos to post an ERA+ of 120 or better over 20-plus starts at age 22 or younger: and for the 2003 Cubs, and for the 1985 Mets and and Wayne Simpson for the 1970 Reds.

Just four teams in the Wild Card Era (since 1995) have even had multiple pitchers record a 100 ERA+, which is league average, over 20-plus starts in their age-22 seasons or younger: the 2017 Rockies ( and ), the 2013 Marlins ( and ), the 2006 Marlins ( and ) and the 2003 Cubs (Prior and Zambrano).

3. They’re both flamethrowers

As Dodgers superstar saw first hand this past week, Skenes and Jones both can light up the radar gun like few other starters in baseball.

In the first inning on Tuesday, Jones struck out Ohtani swinging with a 101 mph four-seam fastball. One day later, Skenes pumped three straight 100-plus mph four-seamers past Ohtani for another first-inning K.

Skenes now has five of the seven fastest strikeouts by a starting pitcher this season, including the top two, with Jones’ strikeout of Ohtani taking the No. 3 spot.

The two hurlers each rank among the top five in average fastball velocity among starting pitchers (minimum 50 fastballs thrown).

Highest average fastball velocity, SP, 2024

  1. Paul Skenes: 99.4 mph
  2. Bobby Miller: 98.2 mph
  3. José Soriano: 98.0 mph
  4. Hunter Greene: 97.6 mph
  5. Jared Jones: 97.3 mph

Skenes has only made five starts, but he has touched 100 mph more than any other starting pitcher (53 times). Jones has hit triple-digits 22 times himself, which ranks fourth among starters. Together, the duo has thrown 75 pitches at 100 mph or faster, more than all other starting pitchers combined (72).

4. They both have a wipeout secondary pitch

Elite heat is only part of the equation for Skenes and Jones. Each pitcher also possesses an outstanding secondary offering -- a slider for Jones and a splitter/sinker hybrid (which he calls a “splinker”) for Skenes -- that is absolutely befuddling hitters.

Opponents have hit .160 with 37 strikeouts in 112 plate appearances against Jones’ slider this season, and .061 with 11 K’s in 35 PAs against Skenes’ splinker.

They are two of the most valuable non-fastballs in the game, as evidenced by MLB’s run-value leaderboard, which takes the result of every pitch thrown and measures its impact on run scoring.

Highest run value on individual breaking or offspeed pitch, 2024

  • 15: Tanner Houck’s slider
  • 13: Cal Quantrill’s splitter
  • 9: Fernando Cruz’s splitter
  • 9: Tyler Anderson’s changeup
  • 8: Jared Jones’ slider
  • 8: Paul Skenes’ splinker
  • 8: Chris Sale’s slider
  • 8: Zack Littell’s slider
  • 8: Jon Gray’s slider
  • 8: Hunter Strickland's slider

5. They both miss bats, rack up K’s … and throw strikes

With their electric stuff, it’s no surprise that Jones and Skenes both excel at missing bats. The average starting pitcher this season has a whiff rate of 24.5%, but Jones and Skenes are both north of 32%, ranking fourth and fifth, respectively, among starters (minimum 200 swings).

Highest whiff rate, SP, 2024

  1. Jack Flaherty: 34.9%
  2. Freddy Peralta: 33.6%
  3. Dylan Cease: 33.2%
  4. Jared Jones: 32.7%
  5. Paul Skenes: 32.5%

Both pitchers have a similar approach on the mound, coming right after hitters and challenging them in the strike zone. Out of the 166 starters who have thrown at least 400 pitches this season, Skenes has the 10th-highest in-zone rate (55.6%), while Jones is 37th (52.7%). Both are well north of the MLB average (49.8%) in that regard.

As a result, each hurler is limiting walks in addition to racking up strikeouts. Both currently have a K/BB ratio over 5.0 -- Jones at 5.07 and Skenes at 6.33 -- putting them in rarefied air.

In the Modern Era (since 1900), just seven pitchers in their age-22 season or younger have recorded a 4.0 K/BB ratio or higher while making at least 20 starts: in 2015, in 2011, Prior in 2003, in 1985, in 1984, in 1966 and in 1910. Syndergaard is the only one of those pitchers to post a K/BB ratio over 5.0.

6. They could be rare ROY finishers

Skenes and Jones are two of the leading contenders for the National League Rookie of the Year Award. Even if neither wins it, both could garner votes, something that hasn’t happened all that often.

Since the Rookie of the Year Award was established in 1947, only 10 teams have had multiple starting pitchers earn votes the same year. Only three of those teams -- the 2020 Dodgers (, fourth; , fifth), the 1984 Mets (Gooden, first; , fifth) and the 1950 Phillies (, second; Bubba Church, fourth) -- had two starting pitchers finish among the top five.

More importantly for the Pirates, Skenes and Jones could keep them in contention in a wide-open NL Wild Card race. With and also pitching well, the Pirates rank ninth overall in rotation ERA at 3.62, a substantial improvement over last year's figure (4.88, tied for 23rd overall).

Pittsburgh hasn't reached the postseason since 2015, but the club was only a half-game out in the NL Wild Card standings entering Saturday.