This winter, the Mets made it a priority to upgrade their bullpen. Although the production of the bullpen was adequate last season, the need for another impact backend arm was evident, even moreso when the team recently announced that Seth Lugo would miss the start of the campaign recovering from right elbow surgery.
Key to their strategy involved venturing into the free-agent market and inking right-handed reliever Trevor May to a two-year deal worth 15.5 million dollars.
Their stout belief in him lays in his analytically-friendly arsenal. His career hasn’t been as easy as getting a dub in Battle Royale, but in recent years, he’s become a fixture in Minnesota’s relief corps.
The Mets, with their revamped analytics department, must surely be happy with the team’s decision to acquire him.
His 2020 campaign was outstanding, to say the least. May quickly emerged as one of Rocco Baldelli’s most trusted arms. Casual baseball fans might be turned off by his 3.86 ERA, but the underlying numbers (3.62 FIP, 2.74 xFIP, .290 wOBA, and .301 xwOBA) painted him in a much better light. Add in the fact that his BABIP and HR/FB were above his career norms and there’s no doubt May’s due for better times on the mound.
What really stood out about May’s profile was the amount of whiffs he generated in 2020. David Adler of MLB.com previously wrote a piece on this topic, noting that his advanced repertoire played a massive role in generating strikeouts.
In the shortened 2020 campaign, May made some drastic changes to his pitch mix, doubling his slider usage at the expense of his fastball. These changes prompted May’s career year, designating him one of the more intriguing free-agent relievers on the market
By using BallR, BaseballCloud’s flagship product, we can visualize why batters continue to be befuddled by his offerings.
As we can see from BallR, his fastball and slider form virtually mirror images of each other. His fastball has a spin axis of 205 degrees while his slider is thrown at 56 degrees. Pairing these pitches together give the illusion that they are moving the same direction, although one has backspin and the other, topspin.
His fastball and changeup are also thrown with similar axes, which help in preventing batters from distinguishing the two offerings until it’s too late.
Furthermore, with our brand-new fingerprint tool, we’re able to show how much force is imparted on each pitch from his prints.
May’s fastball, in particular, is a pitch that’s seen a dramatic change. He’s been slowly increasing the velo on the pitch, with the offering finishing 2020 in the 90th percentile in fastball velocity. Since returning to the Majors in 2018, he’s also added almost 100 RPMs of spin to it.
Due to its impressive spin rate, spin axis, and spin efficiency, May’s pitch is optimized for increased usage in the upper half of the strike zone. May’s fastball has both a high spin efficiency and a spin axis around 12:46; both traits are optimal for high velo, high spin rate fastballs. His mostly vertical arm slot also helps in this regard, preventing cut on the fastball.
As Adler noted his article, May’s been throwing higher and higher each season. As average fastball height has increased, his vertical release point has followed the same trend.
By working with Codify Baseball‘s heatmaps during latter half of the 2020 season, May’s gained an understanding of where to best throw his pitches. Fastballs with more backspin imparted on them (and thus a higher spin efficiency) work better in the upper half of the zone. And lo and behold, that’s where the majority of his fastballs winded up in 2020.
Thanks to the increased optimization of his fastball, May’s induced whiffs on 46.9 percent of his fastballs in 2020. When the pitch is located in the upper half of the plate in 2020 (Gameday Zones 1, 2, 3, 12, and 13), it fares even better.
His fastball has emerged as one of the more underrated weapons in the Majors. In 2019, Fangraphs’ Run Value rate metric rated his fastball as the best in the Majors, a testament to the hard work May’s put in to develop the pitch.
May’s also worked hard in recent seasons to overhaul his slider. Once thought of an afterthought in his repertoire, his slider has emerged to be his primary “out” pitch in recent seasons.
Fangraphs‘ David Laurila chronicled May’s journey in remaking the pitch. Instead of characterizing it as a regular slider, May took the idea for the pitch from his now-junked curveball, “It’s not 12-6 like the other one was, but it’s not a true slider, either. True sliders have a little more two-plane movement, while mine has more depth than horizontal.” While the pitch is a mix between a traditional slider and a normal curveball, the ambiguity in the classification gives more north-south action.
As alluded to by May in Fangraphs’ interview, his slider has a lot of gyro spin, which allows for the above-average vertical drop.
By releasing his pitches at a consistent release point, May’s pair of pitches tunnel extremely well. By throwing his fastball up in the zone and his slider as a weapon in the lower half of the zone, it’s the impressive tunneling that’s set May apart from his peers.
His fastball plays off his slider in a similar way to Liam Hendriks, Chicago’s 54-million-dollar man. Hendriks is another late-blooming reliever, one that’s paired his upper-90’s, high-spin fastball with a devastating slider that he buries.
Rounding out his arsenal is his upper-80’s changeup. This offering gives hitters a nice change of pace from his fastball and slider.
It’s utilized in a backdooring variety, mostly against lefties. The impressive glove-side movement of the pitch gives it the opportunity to generate whiffs at around the same rate as his slider.
All together, May’s a strikeout machine. When researching predicting pitcher’s future production, Glenn DuPaul of Fangraphs, concluded that a pitcher’s future performance is correlated to the amount of strikeouts and walks they permitted in the season beforehand. Granted, 2020 has the Small Sample Size disclaimer, but May’s K-BB% ranked 7th in the Majors among all qualified relievers.
May’s hard work in developing his arsenal during the last few years should help him thrive in Queens. Luis Rojas seems open to using his best relievers in the spot with the most leverage; a role that I believe May should do well in.
Trevor May be the key to the Mets’ playoff hopes this season. Bah Dum Tss.
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