May’s Mentality Much Needed In Pen
Image courtesy of Denny Medley, USA TodayIn 2015, the Twins bullpen ranked last in the major leagues in strikeouts, right behind Detroit’s abysmal unit. Missing bats isn’t everything, but doing so effectively eliminates bad luck, bloopers and bleeders from the equation, which can be particularly critical in close late-game situations.
General manager Terry Ryan is quick to point out that his team's last-place ranking is “a little deceiving” since they received only partial seasons from May and Kevin Jepsen, and Glen Perkins was not himself after the All-Star break.
It’s a fair point. Even with little in the way of outside additions during the offseason, you’d expect more strikeouts – and better results – from the relief corps even if the Twins simply roll with the same group that finished last year, as it appears they basically will.
But there’s no guarantee that Perkins will fully rebound from his dismal second half, nor that Jepsen will replicate his uncharacteristically excellent performance after being acquired.
It is in this regard that May’s presence is vital. His stuff was good enough to yield quality strikeout numbers as a starter and plays up in relief, which consequentially led to an uptick in K-rate after he made the switch last summer.
That was when he was learning on the fly. Now, the right-hander heads into the 2016 season priming himself as a reliever. That entails a lot of different things compared to starting.
“You train a little bit differently,” May said of the alteration in approach. “You do a little bit less every day because you’ve got to be ready to go on a day-to-day basis instead of just looking forward to that one day.”
In some ways, less is more. If he sticks in a relief role, May will pitch way fewer innings, but he’ll affect way more games, and he’ll be deployed in more high-leverage situations.
He relishes the idea of being a designated go-to guy in those spots.
"I see it as an opportunity to step into a role that wasn’t filled in the offseason,” he said. "I’m excited about it. I think I proved last year that I could do it. I’m looking to build on that success this year."
Fans should be excited too. Because for all the hand-wringing about the lack of bullpen moves over the winter, May possesses a superior arsenal to many of the high-priced arms that were available on the market. He might be the most potent right-handed reliever to wear a Twins uniform since Joe Nathan.
As you can see from his 2015 velocity chart (via Brooks Baseball), May’s pitches revved up across the board after he moved to the bullpen in July. His K/9 rate increased from 8.0 before July 1st to 10.0 afterward.
Flashes of his dominance have been on display this spring. His fastball has lit up the radar gun, clocking within a few ticks of triple digits, and his offspeeds have garnered plenty of awkward swings. In 8 2/3 innings of work, May has fanned 11 hitters, including three in his single frame on Wednesday.
He has the makings of a bullpen ace, and one could argue that is an even more important asset than a reliable closer due to strategic usage.
The Minnesota bullpen is invariably going to be a question mark going into the regular season, but without May it would be far more concerning. Only by blindly ignoring all of this team’s circumstances can one really question the decision.
Another thing to keep in mind is that it’s not necessarily a permanent switch. Ryan has stated that he still views May as a future starter, and that’s definitely where the 26-year-old righty wants to end up.
"Until that day they say you’re absolutely not a starter ever again, I’ll think that way,” May says, "because I still believe that I can do it.”
There’s little reason to think he can’t. But for now, he’s dutifully embracing this current challenge. Now there's a breath of fresh air.
Just as his swing-and-miss pitches will be in the late innings.