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The forgotten man in Twins’ pitching conversation

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Don’t sleep on Trevor May.

Minnesota Twins v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

In all the conversation around improving the Twins’ pitching, there is a name that doesn’t come up much, but perhaps should: Trevor May. Before his season-ending ligament tear, May was looking good in the spring training battle for a spot in the 2017 starting rotation. Before then, of course, May had served as a bright spot in the otherwise gloomy bullpen. Why shouldn’t May be considered a candidate to improve the team’s pitching in either role in 2018?

As a rookie in 2014, May made nine starts in ten appearances. While the traditional numbers weren’t terribly favorable to him, the advanced statistics look a bit better. Obviously his 7.88 ERA is the most glaring number, but both FIP (4.77) and xFIP (4.38) suggest that he was let down by an outfield that featured none of the today’s regulars. A .377 BABIP also suggests that he was somewhat unlucky. During his rookie campaign, he struck out approximately twenty percent of batters, and featured a 2.00 K/BB ratio.

In 2015, May made 16 starts and 32 relief appearances. He improved on all of his numbers during these opportunities, but especially shined as a reliever. While the ERA came down to an even 4.00, it still lead the FIP (3.25) and xFIP (3.76.). His strikeout rate went up a couple points, and he was able to induce a relatively greater percentage of groundballs than in 2014. He also cut the number of walks drastically, leading to a 4.23 K/BB ratio. May was worth 2.3 fWAR and 1.5 bWAR that season.

May’s move to the bullpen became a full-time thing in 2016, and he made 44 appearances. He actually had another very good season, despite what his 5.27 ERA might say at first glance. Remember, 2016 was the year of such highlights as the “Miguel Sano, rightfielder” experiment. Once again, FIP (3.80) and xFIP (3.47) suggest the creative outfield defense was a bad fit for the traditionally flyball-heavy pitcher. The relief version of May also put up improved strikeout numbers, sending about a third of opposing batters back to the bench disappointed, and while the K/BB% regressed a bit, it was still respectable at 3.53. He also earned a whopping 12.66 K/9. May relied more heavily on his fastball as a reliever than as a starter, and saw the expected uptick in velocity.

Before losing his 2017 season to injury, it seemed the Twins were going to make good on a promised opportunity for May to move back to a starting role. Although it’s still a big procedure, Tommy John surgery has become more routine, and recoveries have gotten shorter. Mike Pelfrey, for all his warts as a pitcher, was able to come back in less than a year. If May can follow a similar time-line, he could be back for Spring Training. A slightly longer timeline would put him back with the Twins during the first couple months of the season.

Obviously, May’s effectiveness when he returns is questionable, as most pitchers do take another year to get back to their best performance. Steamer projects May to put up a 4.01 ERA, a 25% strikeout rate, and a 3.22 K/BB% in 25 innings of relief. If he can do that, they estimate he will be worth 0.2 fWAR to the Twins. These numbers look pretty reasonable to me. More importantly, he could potentially pitch a lot more innings depending on the timing of his return. I don’t think 40 innings in relief or 100 as a starter are anywhere near out of the question.

If Trevor May comes back as a starter and can put up close to 100 innings, look at Blake Snell of the Rays or Kendall Graveman of the Athletics as examples of the performance I think he could give the Twins. This might be the sunshine and rainbows scenario, but would also be a very positive step for the Twins rotation.

With his health the most important question here, May himself offers us some good news:

Lets hope that this is a sign of good things to come. While the Twins need some help, maybe this is one place they can get it without spending a fortune in dollars or prospects.

Did I mention that part? Because that is the best part. May is a first-year arbitration eligible player, and likely won’t make much more than league minimum. Whatever he will be paid is already a sunk cost for the Twins anyway.