In this current state of the game with bullpens taking a strong priority, and stud relievers coming out of nowhere (my last piece was about a 34th rounder who touches 101 MPH), quality performance from some relievers can go under-the-radar. One player that fits this bill is Twins righty Trevor May.
A former Phillies farmhand and top 100 prospect who was dealt to the Twins in 2012 in a deal for Ben Revere, May made his big league debut in 2014, struggling to the tune of a 7.88 ERA in 45.2 innings. He spent the duration of the following season jumping between the Twins bullpen and rotation, perhaps turning in one of the more unheralded performances of the 2015 season (3.25 FIP ranked 25th out of 141 pitchers with 100 innings). The 2016 season saw him take on a closer role to that of a middle reliever, but while seeing a surge in strikeouts (12.7 K/9), problems with home runs and walks brought his overall production down (5.27 ERA).
Looking for improvement in 2017, his season would be cutoff quickly by a torn UCL, opting for Tommy John Surgery in Spring Training. Sidelined from the big leagues for more than 16 months, May made his return to the Twins bullpen in late July. He’s thrown 20 2⁄3 innings across 19 appearances since then, and we’re seeing what looks like one of the more improved pitchers in all of baseball— one that could present an intriguing option beyond this year.
Any struggles that May had prior to this year could usually be drawn back to his control issues. A 4.5 walk per nine guy in the minors with a 3.6 per nine figure in 2016, the walks were going to need to come down if he ever wanted to find a career as a successful middle reliever.
And... he’s done just that. This is easily the main contributor to his newfound success, leading him to be one of the more productive relievers in 2018 (small sample size).
Top 10 pitchers by SIERA in 2018
Not much has changed in usage with May, working in his usual four-seamer, changeup, slider, and curveball. The fastball is nothing impressive, generating average results while sitting around 94 MPH. But the curveball has taken a noticeable step forward.
As with the changeup...
Dropping the release point, especially on the offspeeds, has been key. The changeup has added more vertical movement, contributing to his increase in ground balls (31.5 percent in 2016, 43.1 percent in 2018). The curveball has a touch more horizontal movement, helping out with the increase in swinging strikes (13.2 percent in 2016, 16.2 percent in 2018).
May seems to be going under-the-radar a bit in his small string of his success, but a changed release point has his peripherals looking as good as almost anyone’s. He’ll get more attention if he sustains this over a full season next year, adding in the chance of an enticing trade piece for the Twins (controlled through 2021). All it took was a small adjustment to improve the command and control, which looked to fix most of the issues. This very well could just be a small sample size fluke, but with changes made to his mechanics, any improvement is worthy of notice.