What Role Will Jake Irvin Play for the Nationals in 2024?

Jake Irvin made his MLB debut last year and produced mixed results over his 121 IP. Will Irvin make the jump as a starter or is he more likely to transition to a relief role?
Los Angeles Dodgers v Washington Nationals
Los Angeles Dodgers v Washington Nationals / Mitchell Layton/GettyImages

Jake Irvin had a rough season on paper in 2023. Called up on May 3, the 26-year-old Irvin started in his MLB debut against the Chicago Cubs and looked solid for his first appearance in the majors. He pitched 4.1 innings, allowing two hits, one run, and striking out three batters. His stuff looked good and played fairly well. He also walked four hitters. This pointed out his main weakness that continued to plague him later: his control.  

Fast forward to the end of his first MLB season and his stats left much to be desired, but this is mostly due to a few rough starts later in the year, which was enough to conceal several areas of promise. Over 121 IP, Irvin posted a 4.61 ERA, 5.30 FIP and a 1.421 WHIP. He walked 54 batters but struck out 99. Irvin also had heavily varied per-9 numbers, with a 1.5 HR/9 and a 7.4 K/9. He also posted an incredibly low 17 K% and 22 BB%, demonstrating his inability to put his opponents away despite oftentimes getting them to a favorable spot. 

Jake Irvin has the stuff to be a good pitcher

Irvin’s 2023 numbers were not ones that pop off the page. He clearly struggled, but there were still some standout pieces in the puzzle of his rookie year. Most of them were found within his pitch mix. 

Irvin’s four-seam, curveball, and sinker all had good horizontal movement, his fastball being the standout with 10.5 inches of horizontal break. His fastball also had a great 2,333 RPM spin rate and sat consistently at 94-95 MPH. Couple these with his above average extension and you get an effective fastball that produced a run value of 5 and held hitters to a .295 wOBA. 

His curveball is also a crucial piece of his repertoire. While it definitely lacks in vertical break and spin rate, it has 12.5 inches of horizontal break to somewhat balance it out. This proved to be enough to make the pitch mostly reliable, shown in its 25.2 K% and 25.7 Whiff%, as well as a 33.7 HardHit %. 

These numbers show that some of his stuff has potential and can definitely play in the big leagues if Irvin continues to hone it and work on placing it where he wants it and actually sealing the deal against the batters he faces.

What is Irvin’s Role In 2024? 

Jake Irvin’s stats from 2023 were simply not those of a reliable starter that could handle pitching through the season. However, this was his rookie season and he was only two years removed from missing the 2021 season due to Tommy John surgery. Irvin’s 2024 potential as a starter could really go either way. He clearly has stuff that could play with some more fine-tuning and more experience against MLB hitting. Conversely, if he has already reached the ceiling of his arsenal’s effectiveness, he likely will not see much time as a starter, especially with the likely return of Cade Cavalli

If this is the case, Irvin could serve as a dependable pitcher to slot into a long relief role. This is only possible if he works on consistently locating his pitches, but less innings and a smaller workload could prove to be what he needs. With a solid pitch mix and underlying factors like great extension, solid spin rates, and decent horizontal break, Irvin could make for a pitcher the Nats could turn to in order to keep more games within reach. 

With some question marks surrounding the shape of the Nationals’ pitching staff heading into Spring Training, they’ll need all hands on deck this year. No matter what his job is, hopefully Jake Irvin will iron out the issues with his 2023 season and prove to be a reliable arm for the Nats in 2024.