Language is a beautiful yet complicated thing. It allows us to convey thoughts and emotions to one another. Some for the better, I love you. Some for the worse, You’re a stupid m—-rf—-r, dumb wannabe fantasy baseball hack! Things get tricky when intonation is changed or context is altered. For example, the expression “take off” could mean that an airplane is going up, an article of clothing is removed, a leave of absence, to stop working or studying, or an increase in success or popularity. So when you read the title of this piece, May Day, what came to mind? Since y’all are savvy fantasy degenerates, you knew it had something to do with Dustin May but was it an emergency call for help or a reason for celebration? Let’s dig in and find out.
May is 23 years old, 6′ 6″, and 180 pounds. He was selected by the Dodgers in the third round of the 2016 MLB Draft straight out of high school. After spending the first three seasons in rookie ball, Single-A, and Double-A, he advanced rapidly in 2019, pitching 79.1 innings in Double-A, 27.1 innings in Triple-A, and 34.2 innings in The Show.
May’s arsenal consists of a two-seamer/sinker, cutter, curveball, and four-seam fastball. He averages 98.1 mph on his fastball and can get it up over 100 mph. There is a 7 mph difference on his changeup, 4.5 mph on the cutter, and 11.3 mph spread on the curveball from the fastball. The two-seam/sinker has a ridiculous 18.8 inches of horizontal movement, good for third in all of MLB last season. And that’s where we shall begin.
May threw the two-seam/sinker 51.4% of the time last season.
Opposing hitters were banging mayday on trash cans in the dugout while fans of Dustin were singing, “Just another May Day.”
As nasty as that pitch is, though, it only had a whiff percentage of 11.4% while batters had a .327 xBA and .515 xSLG against it last season. Mayday, mayday! Maybe those bangs on the trash can weren’t mayday signals. Things that make you go hmmmm. I kid. He gave up five homers and allowed an exit velocity of 90.6 mph with the pitch.
Since the two-seamer/sinker is the dominant pitch in May’s arsenal, his overall swinging strike rate since entering the bigs has been 8.5%. For perspective, Gerritt Cole had a 16.8% swinging-strike rate and the 8.5% mark placed May around Tanner Roark and Ivan Nova. Yuck.
Not surprisingly, May has posted a 7.07 and 8.31 K/9 over the past two seasons in the majors. Looking back at his minor league history, he had a 7.9 K/9 in Triple-A and a 9.76 K/9 in Double-A back in 2019. He’s a ground-ball pitcher whose objective is to limit hard contact, and he’s been one of the best: 6th-best GB% and 20th-best in Hard% in 2020.
This is great for real-life baseball but sucks for fantasy. THE BAT and ATC have May projected for a 7.39 and 7.87 K/9 respectively, while Depth Charts, Steamer, and ZiPS have him in the mid-8s, better but still not great.
But look what Framber Valdez did last season. Could May follow a similar trajectory? Both utilize the sinker heavily but the main differences are that Valdez had shown K/9 rates above 10 in the minors (14.01 K/9 in 44.1 Triple-A innings during 2019) and Valdez’s curveball is a true legit weapon, with 56.2 inches of vertical movement and whiff rate of 41.9%.
Another player I thought of was Jesus Luzardo, primarily because both are in the top five of horizontal movement for their two-seamers/sinkers. Luzardo has posted swinging strike rates of 12.6% and 14.6% over the past two seasons with a K/9 over 9 and 12 respectively. The difference between Luzardo and May, though, is that Luzardo is more balanced with his arsenal (30.5% fastball, 24.8% changeup, 23.5% curveball, and 21.2% sinker) and utilizes the fastball to set up the other pitches.
Which brings me back to May. His fastball is a nasty pitch, generating a 26.7% whiff rate and 77.6 average exit velocity, but he rarely throws it against righties and only utilizes it at a 5% clip. The curveball also produces a 38.8% whiff rate but he only throws it 13.4% of the time.
In addition, how many innings is he going to pitch? He threw 56 last season and 140.4 combined in 2019. ZiPS has the highest projection at 151.3 innings while all the other projection systems have him in the mid-130s. Rudy has him for 139.9 on the 2021 Razzball Steamer Projections.
There’s potential for a lot more from May, but it would require a philosophical shift to his approach. I don’t dismiss it from happening, but I have my doubts and would need to see it implemented first.
May is currently being drafted as the 56th pitcher in NFBC drafts from the start of 2021. Rudy has him as the 96th projected pitcher. TRASH