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Article: Improved Secondary Offerings Key to Trevor May’s Bullpen Breakout

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#1 Jamie Cameron

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Posted 12 November 2018 - 10:00 PM

I distinctly remember watching Trevor May pitch in the spring of 2017 for the Twins vs. Team USA, tuning up for the WBC. May was looking smooth early against a loaded Team USA lineup before being removed with arm discomfort. A torn UCL and 16 months of recovery and rehab later, and May made his return to the Twins major league club in July, after a rehab stint primarily at AAA Rochester. Fast forward a few short months and May has established himself as a high leverage reliever in a Twins bullpen surrounded by uncertainty headed into the offseason.History
May is a relative late bloomer and has been around for a long time. The 29-year-old was drafted in the fourth round of the 2008 June amateur draft. May found himself with the Twins after being traded for light-hitting center fielder Ben Revere. May made his big-league debut in 2014, showing solid stuff, but struggling consistently with command and control.

Since his debut, there has been a constant question around whether he would feature as a starter or relief pitcher in a franchise particularly starved for the former. Prior to his 2017 injury, May logged around 200 innings for the Twins, typically showing signs of promise with peripheral numbers out-performing more mainstream stats. There were a number of indicators that show that 2018 was the year May made a significant leap forwards.

2018 numbers
Here are some numbers which frame May’s 2018 excellence:
Download attachment: Screenshot 2018-11-11 at 8.07.51 PM.png
Pitch mix and values
May offers a four-pitch mix which includes a four-seam fastball (94mph), curve (78mph), slider (87mph), and changeup (86mph). May’s fastball is relatively flat, with slightly above average velocity. He has good downward movement on his curveball and a changeup which generates a large number of ground balls. All this is fairly typical and would not lead one to the conclusion that May would produce the kind of results he did in 2018 (albeit with a limited sample size). This begs the question - how is May getting such outstanding results without truly mind-blowing reliever stuff?

May’s July return did not herald any great difference in his pitch mix, save for throwing fewer sliders than previously. May threw his fastball around 60% of the time, his changeup around 10% of the time, and his breaking pitches the remaining 30%, with two thirds of those being his curveball.

May’s greatest challenge (there weren’t many) was combatting the longball. In 2018, he had a HR/FB of 18.2% and a HR/9 of 1.42. Neither of these figures are disastrous, but he gave up four homeruns in limited work. In a season in which he had pitched 60 innings, we would have been on pace to give up 12 HR, good for a bottom 15 ranking among qualified relievers. The Twins already have a reliever for whom home runs are an Achilles heel (Trevor Hildenberger), so limiting the long ball will have to be a focus for May in 2019.

Looking at May’s heat map of SLG% against his fastball highlights the challenge. He leaves a number of fastballs up and in to LHH and down and in to RHH. May had excellent control in 2018 (1.78 BB/9) but needs to establish better fastball command, as a lack of movement makes it a hittable pitch.
Download attachment: Screenshot 2018-11-11 at 8.09.31 PM.png
By contrast, a similar heat map of opposing SLG% against May’s curveball shows his ability to cluster location more tightly and the impact resulting from impressive command of a pitch.
Download attachment: Screenshot 2018-11-11 at 8.09.43 PM.png
Digging into opposing hitters’ outcomes against May’s pitch arsenal help to highlight the leap he took from 2016 to his MLB return in 2018.
Download attachment: Screenshot 2018-11-11 at 8.09.52 PM.png
May has shown impressive improvement throughout his pitch arsenal, including his fastball, but the primary reason for his breakout in 2018 was developing a high quality breaking and off-speed pitch, both of which have been outrageously effective, albeit in a limited sample. May is an unusual MLB success story, starting to put his considerable talent together in his age 29 season. Examining the tweaks that led to his improved secondary arsenal is key in determining what the Twins might expect from May in 2019.
Download attachment: Screenshot 2018-11-11 at 8.10.06 PM.png
The chart above shows May’s vertical release points for his primary pitches between 2016 and 2018. There is a noticeable drop in his release point on all three of his primary pitches. May’s release point drop has had a fascinating impact on all three of his primary pitches in 2018.

Let’s consider his fastball and changeup first:
Download attachment: Screenshot 2018-11-11 at 8.10.21 PM.png
May has seen an increase in his GB% on his fastball, leading to less contact and a higher swinging strike percentage. The impact on his changeup was dramatic, with an increase in GB% of almost 45%. May’s changeup is not a newly dominant strikeout pitch, it just consistently generates weak groundball contact.

May’s curveball actually resulted in a significant increase in fly balls in 2018. The biggest difference was May’s ability to command it down in the zone, resulting in a huge hike in strikeout percentage from 31% in 2016, to 47.1% in 2018. In short, the curveball became May’s go to strikeout pitch.

Whether May can take another step forward in 2019 remains to be seen. It will depend on his ability to maintain incredibly strong 2018 numbers and build on a vastly improved arsenal of secondary pitches, in addition to keeping his fastball inside the yard. What seems to be clear however, is in a bullpen full of question marks, the Twins have found themselves a high leverage reliever to plug in alongside Taylor Rogers.

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#2 Aerodeliria

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Posted 13 November 2018 - 03:04 AM

Very nicely done.

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#3 Thrylos

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Posted 13 November 2018 - 08:10 AM

Pitchf/x will agree (here is the fangraphs link to pitch values) with the difference that his fastball improved to league average now and the slider (he still throws about 10%) of the time stayed a pretty awful pitch, unlike the improved curve and change.  

 

I think that getting rid of the slider will help him even further, but it is a confidence thing to throw a curve or a change when he used to throw one...

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#4 Doomtints

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Posted 13 November 2018 - 11:52 AM

May's 2018 sample size is too small to draw any conclusions. I see a few things to consider:

 

- His inherited runners scored % sat at 44%. Not good. This an important stat for relievers, in my opinion. It's one of the primary reasons relievers exist.

 

- I would like to know his first batter efficiency rate, also key to any reliever. Anyone got it?

 

- His swinging strike % is 15%. He throws strikes 65% of the time. Most hits off of him go to the outfield. He needs a good outfield defense, which the Twins should still have next year. But what if hitters adjust and start hitting grounders off of him and the Twins pick up offense instead of defense in the infield this winter?

 

- His lone appearance as an opener was a disaster. If the Twins are going to keep playing with openers, he's not an option. This diminishes his value IF the team continues to use openers. Using an opener in theory means using fewer relievers in later innings.

 

- His command was much better last year, but he has a long track record of wild pitches that he has to account for. Will his command issues recur during high leverage situations?

 

As I said, last year was a small sample size, but in spite of the nice ERA and the Ks, there are things he has to work on to be a good reliever and we still don't know how the Twins will look next year.

Edited by Doomtints, 13 November 2018 - 12:01 PM.

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#5 Jamie Cameron

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Posted 13 November 2018 - 01:15 PM

This sounds like a great counter argument you should put in a blog post @TwinsDaily

 

May's 2018 sample size is too small to draw any conclusions. I see a few things to consider:

 

- His inherited runners scored % sat at 44%. Not good. This an important stat for relievers, in my opinion. It's one of the primary reasons relievers exist.

 

- I would like to know his first batter efficiency rate, also key to any reliever. Anyone got it?

 

- His swinging strike % is 15%. He throws strikes 65% of the time. Most hits off of him go to the outfield. He needs a good outfield defense, which the Twins should still have next year. But what if hitters adjust and start hitting grounders off of him and the Twins pick up offense instead of defense in the infield this winter?

 

- His lone appearance as an opener was a disaster. If the Twins are going to keep playing with openers, he's not an option. This diminishes his value IF the team continues to use openers. Using an opener in theory means using fewer relievers in later innings.

 

- His command was much better last year, but he has a long track record of wild pitches that he has to account for. Will his command issues recur during high leverage situations?

 

As I said, last year was a small sample size, but in spite of the nice ERA and the Ks, there are things he has to work on to be a good reliever and we still don't know how the Twins will look next year.

 


#6 Thrylos

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Posted 13 November 2018 - 02:22 PM

 

May's 2018 sample size is too small to draw any conclusions. I see a few things to consider:

 

- His inherited runners scored % sat at 44%. Not good. This an important stat for relievers, in my opinion. It's one of the primary reasons relievers exist.

 

 

Inherited runs scored is the poster boy of making something out of small sample size.Would probably need an n of 1-200 to make it meaningful. Check these guys out:

 

Arodys Vizcaíno100% IRS%, 2.11 ERA
Steven Wright 100% IRS%, 2.68 ERA
Brandon Woodruff 100% IRS%, 3.61 ERA

 

For May IR n = 16...

 

 

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