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Hopes And Plans For Trevor May

Yesterday, Nick wrote about a forgotten player who hopes to be a factor in the Twins pitching staff in 2018, Phil Hughes. Another pitcher finds himself in a similar boat. Trevor May had Tommy John surgery last March and spent the 2017 season rehabbing. That process continues. We can’t with any certainty know when he will return to the Twins. However, as with Hughes, we can certainly speculate what his role might be for the Twins in 2018 and beyond.
Image courtesy of Seth Stohs, Twins Daily
So when might Trevor May be back? Also, what is the best role for him? Of course, there’s no way to know either of those answers, but we can at least start thinking about them.

When might May return?

It’s obviously difficult to know the answer to that question. One tremendous source for fans regarding Tommy John surgery is Jon Roegele’sexcellent Tommy John surgery list. It provides a lot of information on those who have had the surgery, which organization they were with, when the surgery was, when they returned, and which doctor performed the surgery. It's a very valuable tool for fans.

The generic timeline for recovery of pitchers is 12-14 months, but the range really is more like 11-24 months. And even that is very dependent upon when the surgery happens. I mean, if a guy has the surgery in August, they’re going to miss the entire next season, but because there are two offseasons involved, it’s likely he won’t pitch in a game for 20-22 months.

Lewis Thorpe and Fernando Romero both needed two years to return, but both of them had a setback in their recovery. Romero needed knee surgery. Thorpe lost time due to mono. Brusdar Graterol missed nearly two years as well, but he had surgery in August 2015, missed all of 2016, and didn’t return until the GCL season started in June of 2017.

On the other side of things, Kyle Gibson returned to the mound just under 12 months from his surgery date. Joe Nathan returned just over a year after his 2010 Tommy John surgery. Alex Wimmers returned in 11 months.

May’s most recent Twitter update on his arm came about three weeks ago. On November 13, he tweeted, “75 throws at 105 today. That’s a lot. And I’m fired up.”



That doesn’t tell us when he’ll be back and able to pitch, but it tells us that things are progressing very nicely for the right-hander.

It’s also possible, depending upon where May is in his rehab during spring training, that he could spend a month or two in the minor leagues building up arm strength in a controlled environment before bringing him back to the big leagues. That would not be a terrible idea, and depending on the role he’s brought back for, it might make the most sense.

What Is The Best Role for May?

Here is another question that we just don’t have any great answer for. There are so many variables that go into that, including things that are completely out of his control, like the Twins front office acquiring starters or relievers this offseason.

A quick look back in time tells us that there are three (sort of) possibilities for guys returning from Tommy John.

1 - Starters Come Back As Starters
2 - Relievers Come Back As Relievers

The first two sound really simple, right. I mean, if a guy was a starter before he had Tommy John surgery, he tends most often to come back as a starting pitcher. There are several examples of starters who came back as strong as they were before the surgery, sometimes even better. Maybe the best example of that is Tommy John himself. He notched 164 wins in the big leagues after having the surgery that is named after him. Tim Hudson, Chris Carpenter, Jordan Zimmerman. The list goes on and on of starting pitchers who have come back to all-star caliber after surgery. Kerry Wood came back as a quality starter after his surgery following his Rookie of the Year season.

Likewise, relievers come back as relievers. Billy Wagner was back as the Astros closer in under a year and continued to dominate. Joe Nathan returned to dominance following his first Tommy John surgery. Pat Neshek took a little time to get back to his pre-surgery self, but he has come back to all-star levels and multi-year extensions.

3 - The John Smoltz Option (Starter Becomes Reliever)

The best example of a player shifting roles after Tommy John is Hall of Famer John Smoltz. He was a tremendous starting pitcher for many years before his surgery. When he came back from his surgery, he made a handful of starts before taking over the Atlanta closer role. He went on to save 154 games over the next three-plus seasons. He became the best closer in the game for a short period. But then he went back to starting, in his fifth season after surgery. He made 100 starts over the next three years and was twice an All-Star.

Kerry Wood had shoulder surgery later in his career, and at that point, he came back as a closer and was good for a couple of years.

Smoltz has talked in the past about the decision to move into that closer role. Essentially, he wasn’t able to eat as many inningsas before his return, and more important, the Braves were a contending team in need of a reliable closer. Smoltz was able to not only fill that role, but dominate in it.

But he did want to get back into a starting role. He talked about how he was able to develop a consistent routine, know his schedule for running, throwing, side sessions, etc. He didn’t have to worry about throwing every day. He was able to adequately rest.


What About May?

Which category does May fit into? That’s the tough part that we just don’t know. Starters come back as starters. Relievers come back as relievers. Well, is May a starter or a reliever? I mean, he came up as a starter, but he became a threat in the bullpen for a couple of years. He missed time in 2016 with a back injury that cost him a lot of time in the season's second half. There was thought that he could help mitigate that stress by starting. That’s the role he went into spring training 2017 fighting for. He was being given every opportunity to be a starter.

Until that fateful start against Team USA in a WBC exhibition game in Ft. Myers. That night, he felt discomfort in his elbow. A month later, he had the surgery.

For me, I would probably bring him back as a starter. At least that’s how I would handle his return. To me, that would be much easier on his arm and body, and it might be helpful mentally as he works through the ups and downs of a return. Then again, spring training itself is a very regimented program, especially for pitchers. They know when they’ll pitch (starters and relievers). They plan several days ahead for who will pitch and how many pitches.

In other words, like all injuries or player development or anything, it has to be individualized.

It’s likely that Trevor May, Paul Molitor, Thad Levine and Derek Falvey will have several conversations before spring training, and then throughout spring training.

So there are two questions for the Twins Daily readers to consider:
  • What do you think the Twins and May should decide?
  • What do you think that the Twins and May will decide?

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33 Comments

(emphasis added). YES YOU ABSOLUTELY CAN.

May Career as starter: 3.85 FIP 4.09 xFIP, .354 BABIP
May 2015 as starter: 3.35 FIP, 3.96 xFIP, .344 BABIP

Yes, his numbers as a reliever are significantly better, but that is true of almost any pitcher, and he pitched as a reliever after another year of development, when he may have been improving somewhat as a starter as well had he stayed in that role.

Compare:

SP A starter year X: 7.88 K/9, 20.3 K%, 1.94 BB/9, 5.0 BB%, .86 HR/9
SP B starter year Y: 8.59 K/9, 22.6 K%, 2.97 BB/9, 7.8 BB%, .93 HR/9

Which would you rather have? It is pretty close, but I'd go with starting pitcher A, because of the significantly lower BB% and very slightly lower HR/9 rate, even despite the lower K rate. But I'll grant that it is debatable.
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SP A is Trevor May as a starter in 2015. SP B is Jose Berrios in 2017.

as a starter, k rate aggregates to more Ks over a season. He’s absolutely more valuable as a starter if he can get healthy and stay healthy.

 

Boy, that doesn't sound like a contending rotation to me. If the Twins don't go after a top of the rotation SP, they better have a boat load of depth. If Mejia and/or Gonsalves fails, they're back to the Adam Wilk's and Tim Melville's of the world. 

No doubt. I can see where the last half dozen years have jaded fans but I am not expecting Gonsalves or Mejia to fail. I am expecting Berrios to get better and May to be good.Doesn't mean I wouldn't like to see Darvish. I would also feel pretty good about Cobb. All seasons depend on guys developing and progressing or just playing well. We saw in 2016 what happens when no one plays well. We saw in 2017 what happens when many of the players do have good seasons.Most rotations have 3 good performers.I don't know which ones they will be but I expect that out of 7 decent options 3 of them will step up and 2 more will be adequate. I can see where the list doesn't comfort people though.I would like them to add one guy. It can make a huge difference.

 

I think we pick up two pitchers this offsesaon. One in free agency for sure and maybe another in FA or through trade. So opening day it's something like - 

Darvish (sure)

Santana

Berrios

Cole (yep, that'll happen)

Gibson

 

Realistically, it's probably something like Cobb/Lynn and Odrozzi. 

I've said this before but there are just too many teams that want pitching and too few top pitchers for me to think the Twins will land two of them. There is no history of them even landing one. New management gives me some hope that we will add one of the 5 guys you have listed.If you gave me one as a sure thing against the possibility of getting one or more I would bank the sure thing in a heart beat.

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IndianaTwin
Dec 05 2017 11:44 AM

I'm not going to get too worked up about who will be in the opening rotation until we have a chance to see how the dust settles with trades and free agents. But long-term, I'd like to see them give May a chance to start. 

 

However, we have to be realistic about his workload for the year. From 2011-13, he threw 149.2+ innings each year. Then he threw 144 innings in 2014, 114.2 in 2015, 46.1 in 2016, and 0 in 2017.

 

So I think you have to approach 2018 with an assumed innings limit. With that decreased workload and coming back from surgery, I don't think there's any way he can be a full-time starter for the entire year. It's hard for me to see him pitching more than perhaps 140 innings. And if he's not going the entire season, it makes more sense to be conservative and back-load the season.

 

What does that look like? Maybe something like about 10 starts of 5 innings and another 15 starts of 6 innings, give or take. So about 25 starts. 

 

Look at the Twins schedule. If they keep four starters on regular rotation, they need a No. 5 on April 11, then not again until April 24, 29, and May 4. Then not again until May 22, just over a quarter of the way through the season.

 

From there, they have a number of off days in June, but not enough to skip starts. But effectively, most starts in June will come on 5 days rest, which could be helpful for a guy coming back from injury. 

 

So my response to May is to say,

  • "You will not make a start until May 22. On the four times we need a No. 5 guy before that, we will make do, perhaps giving Gonsalves, Romero, or Hughes a spot start if need be. Heck, even Duffey could be lengthened for one of those." (That assumes no pickups via trade/free agent. If so, perhaps it's Mejia or Gibson getting those No. 5-guy starts.)
  • "If your rehab goes well, you will start a game on May 22. If our ML rotation has thrived and remains healthy, you will pitch in Rochester. If the more likely scenario of an injury or two has happened, you will start against the Tigers, which is essentially a AAA game anyway."
  • "Assuming you are effective enough to stay in the rotation, your first 10 games or so will be limited to 70-85 pitches, which will take us essentially to the All-Star Break."
  • "Following the break, if you are still healthy enough and effective enough to stay in the rotation, we will up your pitch count to 80-100 pitches for the rest of the year, maxing out when you get to 140 innings. That will get us through the rest of the year. We may need to move you back to the bullpen for the playoffs, which we plan to take part in." 

That's looking at May in a vacuum, but in reality, I think that's what you have to do -- figure out the optimal usage for each individual pitcher and then start at the top, working them into the team context. For example...

  • Santana and Berrios (and Darvish, etc.) pitch every fifth day for the entire season, adjusting as needed.
  • Workload-wise Gibson is in the same boat, though effectiveness is the question.
  • Mejia is not yet ready for 180 innings, but if a top 4 starter is picked up, Mejia might be able to take the early season No. 5-starts and then slide into the full rotation, etc. If you haven't picked up a top-4 starter, the team context probably says that you have to start Mejia in the rotation and start thinking about Plan B for if/when he starts to break done.
  • And you've done the same thing with the minor league guys, starting them in Rochester and starting to move them up as openings occur and as they earn it.
  • And then keep Bartolo's number on speed dial, just in case. :-) Just kidding!!!
    • Sconnie, KGB, RaymondLuxuryYacht and 2 others like this
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SF Twins Fan
Dec 05 2017 12:23 PM

May shouldn't even be in the equation for the start of the season rotation. If I were the Twins I'd let him know that he's going into the season as a starting option so that he prepared to be a starter but I would also let him know that he's probably going to start the season on the DL or in AAA so he can build up his arm strength. The Twins can't afford to waste games at the start of the season with his "try outs".

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HitInAPinch
Dec 05 2017 12:28 PM

Hi ya'll.Back from a self-imposed sabbatical.  

 

If memory serves, May has a lower back issue.As a RP, he had time to heal.As a SP, the lower back issue was exacerbated, i.e.longer stints throwing.

 

I'm not sure there is a way to fix lower back issues.Especially, if your profession is MLB pitcher.

    • Vanimal46 likes this

He had other health issues as a reliever. Hell, relieving might have caused this problem anyway. He should be starting by mid season or so.

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BuxtonBandwagon
Dec 05 2017 02:57 PM

 

 

I'm not going to get too worked up about who will be in the opening rotation until we have a chance to see how the dust settles with trades and free agents. But long-term, I'd like to see them give May a chance to start. 

 

Great in-depth post here. I love the plan drawn out. As I was reading this I was thinking about how I am expecting the twins will add one pitcher but I am really hoping they're able to add two. One signing and one via trade w/o giving up pitching prospects. Then heading into the year if they have Santana, Berrios, Mejia, Gibson, Romero, Gonsalves, Jorge and two outsider players. Obviously I don't plan on the last three getting a lot of starts, but I feel confident if they need to make a few cuz someone is on the DL.


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