Trevor May Is Leading An Evolving Bullpen
Image courtesy of John Rieger. USA TodayLast 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.