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Article: NYY 5, MIN 2: Tough Night For Berrios, Twins

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Trevor May Is Leading An Evolving Bullpen

Prior to the season, I wrote that Trevor May's strikeout mentality was sorely needed in a bullpen that had fallen drastically behind the rest of the league in terms of missing bats.

Sure enough, the right-hander has been a revelation in that regard, helping to lead a stunning trend reversal that suggests this unit is moving in the right direction even if the results thus far have disappointed.
Image courtesy of John Rieger. USA Today
Last year, the Twins ranked dead last in the majors in strikeouts by relievers, with 392. In 2014 they ranked third to last. With bullpens across the league loading up on hard-throwers and strikeout pitchers, Minnesota was on the outside looking in, especially after an offseason that was devoid of aggressive action.

The hope was that this issue would be resolved on its own, with Kevin Jepsen around for a full year, Ryan Pressly emerging, and May making a full-time transition to relief. That is exactly what has happened.

Entering play on Tuesday, the Twins ranked second in all of baseball in bullpen strikeouts, trailing only the Boston Red Sox.

That's a little misleading since the Twins have also accrued a relatively high number of relief innings. Their 24.5 percent strikeout rate is 11th in the majors, which is a bit less astonishing but still a massive jump from the dismal 17.9 percent rate they finished at last season.

May has predictably been a K machine while throwing hard in short bursts. He has fanned 23 of the 65 batters he has faced thus far for a 35.4 percent K-rate that places him among the league's elite. One could certainly argue that he has been throwing a little too hard, since he also has eight walks and an MLB-leading five wild pitches, but he has reined things in after an erratic start.

May joins Pressly, Michael Tonkin, Fernando Abad and Glen Perkins (who has only made two appearances) as Twins relievers with a K-rate that falls above the league average for relievers. Kevin Jepsen and Casey Fien have both been disappointing in this regard (neither has even come close to a league-average rate) but both might be in their last years with the Twins. Young power arms coming up to replace them eventually, most notably J.T. Chargois and Nick Burdi.

Of course, it's not a simple matter of more strikeouts equalling more effectiveness. That's an oversimplification and no reasonable person is naive enough to believe it. But as I mentioned in my spring writeup on May, missing bats "effectively eliminates bad luck, bloopers and bleeders from the equation, which can be particularly critical in close late-game situations."

Jepsen is the case in point for this. His inability to put away hitters on his own (Jepsen's 14.4 percent K-rate is the lowest of all Twins relievers) has left him vulnerable to the negative outcomes that have struck him again and again at the most inopportune times.

Meanwhile, guys like May and Abad are plowing through the opposition and leaving them with few chances to make noise.

While the bullpen has certainly been an overall weakness up to this point, one that has been magnified by the close nature of almost every game and the rarity of instances in which starters have handed over leads leads, there are plenty of positives to be found, especially when you consider which guys are the ones trending up.

As for Jepsen, he's probably due for a demotion from the closer role unless his contact-heavy ways take a turn quickly. May, with his intimidating presence and imposing arsenal, looks much more suited for the job right now.

With Perkins being an enormous question mark, it may not be a temporary assignment.


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17 Comments

If they're not going to put May in the rotation, I'd definitely prefer him as a closer to Jepsen. He might be more crucial as the 'pen's firestopper, but he's the obvious choice to supplant Jepsen in the closer role right now.

    • mikelink45 and ShouldaCouldaWoulda like this

If they're not going to put May in the rotation, I'd definitely prefer him as a closer to Jepsen. He might be more crucial as the 'pen's firestopper, but he's the obvious choice to supplant Jepsen in the closer role right now.


According to gmLI stat on fangraphs, which measures how "intense" the situation is when a pitcher enters the game, May has been brought in to slightly above average intensity situations for the season while Jepsen has been well above average.

Long story short. Make the switch and don't look back.
    • Steve Lein and jokin like this

The biggest problem with having May be the closer is that will make it less likely that we give him the chance to start again.

There is a time in all franchises when every move has to have the future attached.  Even if Perkins comes back his weakness does not look good for the future and Jepsen had a career year for us (reminds me of Suzuki and Hughes) and we have banked on that while he instead has returned to what he has always been.  May has the arm for the pen (not my decision, but two years now makes him a reliever) and it would be good to groom a potential future closer.  If he is not fit for this role Burdi and others are right behind him, but this year has already become one for experiments and should not be wasted.   

    • beckmt likes this
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Tommygun921
May 04 2016 05:45 AM
I can't help but wonder if May didn't see the possibility of the closer position having an opening when he seemed to be more accepting of going to the pen. Or that maybe it was hinted to him at some point.
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diehardtwinsfan
May 04 2016 05:53 AM

I still want him starting, and I hold out hope for that at some point, but yeah, he's got an open path to closer right now with Perkins hurt and Jepsen sucking at it.I think a little RP experience is always good for a starter, but I really don't think we should take a guy who is likely one of our 5 best starters and stash him in the pen.

 

That said, does someone want to give Tonkin a hat tip?Maybe I'm jinxing him, but he's done pretty well in his albeit limited role. 

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Tommygun921
May 04 2016 05:55 AM
I also like May's attitude and bulldog mentality. Reminds me of when Nathan was on the mound. Can't remember the game or the batter but Nathan threw pitch inside in a big game and the batter backed out of the box and Nathan was yelling at him to get his butt back in the box!

I think May is best suited for the pen as he seemed to often struggle pitching deep into games as a starter.
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HitInAPinch
May 04 2016 06:17 AM

The die is cast, the ship has sailed, etc, etc.....

 

May is not a starter.He's no a permanent fixture in the bullpen, hopefully as the closer.Soon.

 

I'd like to see more of the Tonkin from earlier this year.The one that exploded off the mound, not the one that kinda saunters of the mound like a whipped puppy.

 

Abad has been successful, but with the slop he throws, I think more than a little bit of luck is at play.I like O'Rourke far better for the future and Pressly over Jepsen any day of the week.

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Taildragger8791
May 04 2016 08:29 AM

I'm a little disappointed that we're giving up on May as a starter so easily, just because Ryan & Co mismanaged things to where we had sunk costs clogging up the starting staff and the bullpen was desperately in need of arms. Shoving a guy to RP before he's proven he can't be effective as a SP seems like an underutilization of talent to me. Hopefully there's more to it than that.

    • Steve Lein, scottz, frightwig and 2 others like this

I have a couple things.  

 

Giving up on May as a starter: we can assume this season is shot but how hard is it to "stretch out" into a starter over the winter?  

 

Burdi, Melotakis, Chargois, etc: it would depend on a few things but has there ever been a hint from the FO or mgmt that they would release bullpen folks and promote younger guys?  Fien is one year and 3 million and I think Jepsen is one year at about 5 million.  The price of cutting those guys is money the Twins could easily spend in their sleep.  

 

Fast forward to just after the all-star break.  If the kids are ready and the playoffs look like it is not going to be possible then why not do this?  

I disagree on the ship has sailed blah blah blah.May is in the bullpen because there are too many starters right now and not enough proven bullpen arms.I don't think the decision long term has been made yet.May has 4+ pitches yet.

I disagree on the ship has sailed blah blah blah. May is in the bullpen because there are too many starters right now and not enough proven bullpen arms. I don't think the decision long term has been made yet. May has 4+ pitches yet.


And when is that backlog of starters going to go away?
It's not.
Hughes, Santana and Nolasco have multiple years.
Gibson is under control for years to come.
Berrios and Duffey appear to be ahead of him on the depth chart.
That is 6 ahead of him, not counting Milone, who still can be team controlled if they wish, or Meyer, who is technically ahead of May on the SP depth chart at the moment, but unlikely to be a long term fixture.
By the time a couple of those guys leave, you'll have guys like Gonsalves, Stewart, Thorpe, etc. ready.
There are always going to be "too many" starting pitchers.
    • Oxtung likes this

 

I disagree on the ship has sailed blah blah blah.May is in the bullpen because there are too many starters right now and not enough proven bullpen arms.I don't think the decision long term has been made yet.May has 4+ pitches yet.

Yeah, I couldn't disagree more.  He's a reliever now for as long as he's a Twin and probably for his career (since he'll be pigeonholed by the time he reaches FA).  He got put in the bullpen last season in favor of lesser pitchers staying in the bullpen (including a guy with no future with us) and the same thing happened this year. Ryan barely did anything to address the bullpen because he plans on May being a bullpen guy regardless of the rhetoric the team spoke about him getting a chance to be a starter.

    • Oxtung likes this

 

And when is that backlog of starters going to go away?
It's not.
Hughes, Santana and Nolasco have multiple years.
Gibson is under control for years to come.
Berrios and Duffey appear to be ahead of him on the depth chart.
That is 6 ahead of him, not counting Milone, who still can be team controlled if they wish, or Meyer, who is technically ahead of May on the SP depth chart at the moment, but unlikely to be a long term fixture.
By the time a couple of those guys leave, you'll have guys like Gonsalves, Stewart, Thorpe, etc. ready.
There are always going to be "too many" starting pitchers.

I'm waiting for when there will be too many true quality pitchers.  Going to be a long time.

I haven't seen a bullpen with so little mojo in a long time. With half these guys, you're waiting for the next hitter to bust one over the fence, after the pitcher walks somebody. 

 

Fien and Jepsen look like they're battling dead arm syndrome. Tonkin is a guy with just enough velocity to dominate AAA, but not quite enough to just blow it by people in the majors. If he can't hit spots, he will not survive. O'Rourke is simply erratic with his control. Milone doesn't look anything like a relief pitcher, and I don't think he can turn it on quick enough to pitch out of situations when he comes in. Graham looked as bad as the rest of them, but it's his first appearance, so he slides this time. 

 

Thank goodness for Abad, May and Pressley. Three guys that can miss bats.

And then we had the evening of May 4th!

Looking past my disappointment, bordering on disgust at this point that we didn't either acquire another strong arm for the pen last year, or this off season, whereby May could stick in the rotation, at this point he should get a shot to close.

He has the best stuff and potential in the pen at this point. Maybe he isn't built for it and won't embrace it, but at this point, really, what do you have to lose?

Let's either admit the mistake of removing a potentially solid SP arm from the rotation and send him down to stretch out as we remove Milone, and potentially/eventually Nolasco and...fingers crossed somebody else named Hughes or Santana, (unless Hughes goes to the pen )...or let him audition for the closer job.

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