It’s time for Trevor May! He may no longer be a free agent, but he’s too good to leave out. I’ll justify myself fully below, but first, let me welcome you to my delightfully cumbersome “Twelve Days of Free Agent Relief Pitchers!” People of all or no religions are invited to sing along, as long as they worship a fastball with a 46.9% whiff rate.
- A brief review of some advanced metrics I cite
- First Day of RPs: Liam Hendriks
- Second Day of RPs: Brad Hand
- Third Day of RPs: Trevor Rosenthal
- Fourth Day of RPs: Kirby Yates
- Fifth Day of RPs:
Yes, yes, I know that Trevor May isn’t a free agent, having signed a two year, $15 million deal with the Mets earlier this month. But the Awful Truth is that I had done some preliminary digging into May’s stats for my preliminary rankings before that signing (which does indicate how intensely busy this December has been, despite rarely leaving my apartment). And I would like to be able to include May with the rest of his free agent relief pitcher class, and for two reasons.
Firstly, it will give all you Mets fans an indication of where I rank Trevor May in terms of the talent that was available. Go ahead, feel great about having an organization that will actually sign talent. Merry frickin’ Christmas. (I am married to a Mets fan; I say this drily, but with love.)
Secondly, I do not mind that May, naturally falling at number five in my rankings, will be slightly different than the other pitchers on this list, in the way that “five golden rings” is sung differently than the other gifts in the “Twelve Days of Christmas.” (Also, the five golden rings are clearly the one of these gifts that creates the fewest housekeeping headaches.) If you’re singing the rankings with their numbers, which I have no doubt that you are, we will all pause as we sing “Five, Tree-vor Maaaaaaaay! –Four, Kirby Yates; Three, Rosenthal; Two-oo, Bradley Hand, and a Liam Hendriks in a pear tree!”
Feel the magic of the season.
Okay now, for real
Also, keeping Trevor May in the list gives me an opportunity to plant my flag: yes, I am this high on May. Though for the past two years, the Twins have used a modified closer committee that might be more accurately described as “Taylor Rogers and Friends,” Trevor May has absolutely developed the arsenal to become a closer.
May added almost a mile an hour to his fastball this year, for an average of 96.7 MPH. His four-seamer also hopped nine percentage points in active spin, from 75.9% to 84.8%. This makes his elevated fastball appear to the batter to have more rising action, but his fastball also had, in actual fact, an inch less of vertical drop this year than last. (That’s a good thing, if your goal is to put the fastball up.) The pitch also developed an additional two inches of horizontal break. All of this adds up to a pitch with an astonishing 46.9% whiff rate in 2020, the second-best on a fastball in all of baseball.
Meanwhile, May began throwing his slider more—32.6% of the time, up from only 14.5% in 2019—partly because the pitch had undergone a makeover. In this excellent article on FanGraphs, May describes the process by which he began throwing a pitch like his curveball, but without spiking his finger, and it developed into the half-slider half-curveball that is classified as his slider today. The pitch works much more effectively for him, by Whiff%, wOBA and xwOBA-against, than either his slider or his curveball last year.
May’s Ks for Days
With this, however, Trevor May has seen a significant drop in his ground ball rate, to 25.5%. The new slurvy pitch has a lot of vertical break for a slider, but arrives higher in the zone than the previous slider, and certainly far higher than the Sir No-Longer-Appearing-in-this-Film curveball. (After really going all-in on Monty Python in yesterday’s Yates piece, this is today’s slight homage.) But this doesn’t concern me as much as does the decreased ground ball rate that I discussed with Brad Hand, because of the other gains with May’s revamped pitching mix.
Because most notably–and this is driving my ranking of May, here—he had a career-high strikeout rate of 39.6%. If you prefer K/9, that’s a 14.66 K/9. Strikeouts for everybody! Or, well, for the Mets.
By contrast, May’s 2020 ratio stats look good but not exceptional: 3.86 ERA with a 3.62 FIP. But this is impacted by May’s large 21.7% home run to fly ball rate, which should regress over a larger sample. (14.8% was the average in 2020). All in all, he has a 3.19 ERA with the Twins since coming back from Tommy John surgery in 2018.
It’s (not) Gonna Be May
However, it’s doubtful that he will be the closer with the Mets, unless Edwin Diaz continues his trend of being noticeably better in even-numbered years. But as Diaz is coming off of an excellent 2020 campaign, May looks to be the set-up man. And speaking of whiff rates on fastballs, Diaz is only slightly behind May, with 41.1% (sixth best last year).
And with the two years, $15 million, both the Mets and May got a good deal, better than the $10 million for two years than the FanGraphs hivemind projected. As the Mets are the one of the few teams not publicly pulling out their empty pockets, I don’t know that this augurs anything for the rest of our relief pitcher class. But at least May got paid! Because seriously, look at how cool this guy is:
At least there’s a Phillies logo on the wall behind him. Merry Kwanzahannukrismas, ya filthy Mets fans.
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