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  • Trevor May and First Pitch Strikes

    Last season in New Britain, I watched 4 or 5 of Trevor May's starts. I'm still higher on him than most people are, because a few things became apparent to me after watching him -- all of which are fixable (to a degree, anyway):

    1) The defense behind him was sometimes lousy (I'm looking specifically at the left side of the infield -- Danny Santana and Miguel Sano), leading to extra pitches made and extra batters faced to get the job done;
    2) Control issues plagued May, despite the fact that his walks/9 decreased somewhat; and
    3) He didn't get ahead of batters often enough, thus forcing him to work from behind in the count too often. It's that last item that I want to focus on in this post.

    (This is the condensed version of this story, believe it or not. Supersized version -- more stats and explanation -- available at Twins Fan From Afar)



    Unfortunately, there's no data tracking first pitch strikes for minor league pitchers, like there is for major leaguers. But because this interested me, I decided to go through May's starts, game-by-game using Gameday so I could view what happened in each at-bat. This took a while, as you can imagine. Trevor May started 27 games for the Rock Cats in 2013, but no data was available for 2 starts. Accordingly, I compiled data the remaining 25 games. Here are my findings: Trevor May threw a first-pitch strike to 52.9% of batters he faced for New Britain in 2013. Yes, good that it's over 50%, but it is by no means an encouraging number.

    MLB DATA
    What's an average first pitch strike percentage in the majors? 59 or 60 percent. May, then, is well below. Does that matter?

    Over 15,000 MLB plate appearances in the 2013 season (same source as previous link), hitters that get ahead 1-0 have a .269/.383./.442 slash line, while hitters that fall behind 0-1 have a .221/.261/.341 slash line. That ends up being a pretty huge difference over the course of a single game, let alone an entire season. Now, I'm not suggesting that May (or any other pitcher) should just groove the first pitch of every at-bat, but it's also important to note that only 7.3 percent of those first pitch strikes turned into hits.

    Fangraphs also tracks the first pitch strikes in baseball. Here's the list for 2013's top first-pitch strike hurlers. The Top 30 are by no means full of all-stars, but is a list of generally solid pitchers. Read the list for yourself, but just for fun here are the Top 5: Patrick Corbin (70.2); Cliff Lee (68.5); David Price (67.7); Jordan Zimmerman (66.9); Ervin Santana (65.9). Other notables in the Top 30 include Bronson Arroyo, Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander, CC Sabathia, Adam Wainwright, Max Scherzer, Matt Harvey, John Lackey, Cole Hamels and Chris Sale. Those players are all over 62 percent.

    MAY IN DEPTH
    With that background, let's examine May. Here's a rough breakdown of his 2013 season with respect to first pitch strikes. There were 2 games with first pitch strike percentages in the 30s; 6 games with first pitch strike percentages in the 40s; 13 games with first pitch strike percentages in the 50s; and 4 games with first pitch strike percentages in the 60s. Additionally, May had 11 quality starts in 2013 (meaning at least 6 innings pitched and 3 or fewer earned runs). Of those 11 starts, May had 50% or higher first pitch strikes in 9 of those games.

    But there's not necessarily a magic correlation for May between first pitch strikes and dominant performances. May's most efficient performance -- in terms of first pitch strikes -- 67.8%, was in a 5 inning, 4 earned run performance in which he gave up 5 hits and walked 3 batters, proving that strike 1 isn't always effective when you are very hittable on the night and are still walking batters.

    Trevor May is an interesting case. Maybe he's at his best when he's throwing first pitch strikes somewhere in the 50s? Let's separate the high 50s from the low 50s, just for fun: When May throws first pitch strikes 55-59 percent of the time, he averages 6.57 innings pitched for those starts. That covered 46 innings and May had a 1.56 ERA. Now for the low 50s -- 50-54 percent first pitch strikes. In those starts, May averaged 5 and 1/3 innings pitched. That covered 42 innings and May had a 4.29 ERA. Incidentally, in those games where he was at or above 60 percent first pitch strikes, May's ERA was 7.25.

    I think there are 2 takeaways here. The first is that May needs to do a better job getting ahead of hitters. He's wasting pitches, is not maximizing his efficiency, and is allowing (approximately) 5-7 percent of batters to gain an unnecessary edge over him. The second is that perhaps, for May, having a first strike percentage of 65 or 70 percent of the time (like Corbin, Lee, or Price) isn't optimal. Every pitcher is different, and May has to find out what works for him. When he was grooving first pitch strikes last season, May was a little too hittable, too predictable perhaps.

    I don't expect Trevor May will be a #1 or #2 starter on the next Twins playoff team. I do, however, see him as a reliable starter who can strike out double digits in a game -- keep in mind he did lead the Eastern League in strikeouts last season. But in order to get to that level, I see reducing walks, putting hitters away and getting ahead in the count more consistently as the three major (and interrelated) things standing in his May's way.
    Comments 18 Comments
    1. claryad's Avatar
      claryad -
      Great info. Thanks for posting.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Great job. I too am high on him. You can't teach velocity, and he has a great change-up, which is a pitch that is tough to learn.
    1. jharaldson's Avatar
      jharaldson -
      I don't expect that Trevor May will be a 1 or 2 starter on the next Twins playoff team. I do, however, see him as a reliable starter that can strike out double digits in a game -- keep in mind he did lead the Eastern League in strikeouts last season.
      Some other stats to look at:

      Number of seasons at AA = 2
      ERA rank = 65th out of 82 qualified
      August ERA = 6.27

      He has some nice secondary stats (K%) and some crappy ones (BB%) but the end result is he repeated a grade, didn't dominate, and finished weak. He may turn out to be decent but my money is on him not even giving us 1 WAR in his career.
    1. Dantes929's Avatar
      Dantes929 -
      His K rate tells me he has some good stuff which makes me wonder why you already are putting a ceiling on him. Perhaps when he has 0-1 he gets too cautious and soon falls behind in the count. If he is aiming for corners on 1st pitch getting a high % might indicate a lack of control that day rather than otherwise. I would prefer he get 1st strike pitches but overall strike ratio is probably more relevant with him.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      He was in the deal because he lost his shine, and there were beginning to be doubts about him. Some look at last year and see progress, some look at last year and see confirmation of the doubts. I have no idea, other than my optimism was not increased last year.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      I am surprised that there aren't more comments on this. This is very helpful in understanding May's situation and what needs to happen. I think some of the above comments miss the point entirely.

      I have to wonder if the Twins, like, know the content of your article here.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Quote Originally Posted by jharaldson View Post

      August ERA = 6.27
      Not a fan of pulling out one bad month and using that against players or pitchers. Most players have a bad month per year. Dead arm. Injuries they play through. Stuff happens. Let's not cherry pick to prove a point. His overall numbers in his second AA year were better. Not as much progress as I would like to see, but better. His numbers from the AFL were encouraging. Let's see what he can do at AAA.
    1. Twins Fan From Afar's Avatar
      Twins Fan From Afar -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shane Wahl View Post
      I am surprised that there aren't more comments on this. This is very helpful in understanding May's situation and what needs to happen. I think some of the above comments miss the point entirely.

      I have to wonder if the Twins, like, know the content of your article here.
      Thanks, Shane. I have to admit, this is probably one of the least exciting articles on TwinsDaily now, but I think the point is really important. Especially when people talk about May eventually ending up in the bullpen. Frankly, he might not be very effective as a reliever if he's falling behind nearly half the batters.

      Someone want to email DSP this link? Lol. I'm sure the Twins are aware. Well, mostly sure.
    1. old nurse's Avatar
      old nurse -
      Yu Darvish did just fine last year with a low FS%. Phil Hughes did not do fine with a high FS%. It is like most statistics in baseball not necessarily the accurate statistic to define success of a pitcher. Statistics that weigh in many factors attempt to correct, but that is a different thread.
      It would be worth noting that a 52.9% FS will generally not get many people excited about you as a starting pitcher unless you are Tom Glavine or Sam Deduno.
      Control and command are areas that May needs to work on. Multiple statistics will point that out.
      In terms of the significance of FS% and slash lines. Eyeballing statistics from the leaderboard, the better the slash line the lower FS% thrown to them. It becomes a chicken or egg. Does having a FS cause poor hitting or does poor hitting lead to seeing a higher FS%
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      That chicken and egg question is a good one. The slash lines for first pitch strikes could be skewed by the willingness of the guys with elite arms to not nibble, for instance; that by itself does not prove a direct link saying a guy with a lesser arm will necessarily do better by throwing more strikes, beyond a certain bare threshold of course.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Isn't the problem with May "any pitch" strikes? As in, he can't throw strikes consistently at any point in the count?
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Quote Originally Posted by Twins Fan From Afar View Post
      Thanks, Shane. I have to admit, this is probably one of the least exciting articles on TwinsDaily now, but I think the point is really important. Especially when people talk about May eventually ending up in the bullpen. Frankly, he might not be very effective as a reliever if he's falling behind nearly half the batters.

      Someone want to email DSP this link? Lol. I'm sure the Twins are aware. Well, mostly sure.

      I don't think it is anywhere near the least exciting and it certainly is near the top in most informative.
    1. Twins Fan From Afar's Avatar
      Twins Fan From Afar -
      Quote Originally Posted by old nurse View Post
      Yu Darvish did just fine last year with a low FS%. Phil Hughes did not do fine with a high FS%. It is like most statistics in baseball not necessarily the accurate statistic to define success of a pitcher. Statistics that weigh in many factors attempt to correct, but that is a different thread.
      It would be worth noting that a 52.9% FS will generally not get many people excited about you as a starting pitcher unless you are Tom Glavine or Sam Deduno.
      Control and command are areas that May needs to work on. Multiple statistics will point that out.
      In terms of the significance of FS% and slash lines. Eyeballing statistics from the leaderboard, the better the slash line the lower FS% thrown to them. It becomes a chicken or egg. Does having a FS cause poor hitting or does poor hitting lead to seeing a higher FS%
      Thanks for the comment. Darvish is interesting. Even though it's not that high compared to a lot of other "reliable" starters, his first pitch strike % was 5-6% higher than May's, and Darvish's stuff is a lot better. So even if Darvish is a little wild, he's got that strikeout ability, and also can throw 120 pitches in a start (like all the Texas guys apparently have to).
    1. oldguy10's Avatar
      oldguy10 -
      It appears that 120 pitches in a start is required in Texas, why is that not so in Minnesota? Isn't their standard about 100? No wonder the Twins need so many relief pitchers in any given season.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by jharaldson View Post
      Some other stats to look at:

      Number of seasons at AA = 2
      ERA rank = 65th out of 82 qualified
      August ERA = 6.27

      He has some nice secondary stats (K%) and some crappy ones (BB%) but the end result is he repeated a grade, didn't dominate, and finished weak. He may turn out to be decent but my money is on him not even giving us 1 WAR in his career.
      At this point, I think there is still room to be just a little more optimistic than a net 1 career WAR guy in May- but this year in AAA he has to step it up, no doubt.

      You mentioned his ERA ranking, but that stat is a little skewed by May being victimized by a big jump in BABIP to .330 and a huge spike in stolen bases given up by Rock Cats' catchers. And despite that 45th ranking in ERA, his FIP was actually a very good-to near-dominant 9th in the Eastern League and 3/4 of a run below his ERA at 3.79, confirmed by an also-excellent SIERA of 3.67, indicating that there might be an improved year coming up.

      Also of note, besides his upticks in improvement in K/9 and BB/9, May was a definitely dominant 3rd overall in the Eastern League in K% at 24.1%, which is excellent.

      Finally, year-over-year, with the above-noted improvements and no regressions of note, May also significantly cut his LD% from 21.4% in 2012 to 12.9%.

      I think there's back-end starter stuff somewhere inside of May, I think there's a case to made that it's all a matter of his mental approach, hopefully the Twins coaching staff can help bring it out to the point that he becomes a legitimate depth option by the end of 2014. In conclusion, I don't think it's unreasonable to say he's no more than 50-50 at ever being a major league starter.
    1. Hosken Bombo Disco's Avatar
      Hosken Bombo Disco -
      Quote Originally Posted by oldguy10 View Post
      It appears that 120 pitches in a start is required in Texas, why is that not so in Minnesota? Isn't their standard about 100? No wonder the Twins need so many relief pitchers in any given season.
      Do you suppose the Pohlads could lure Nolan Ryan up here to get our pitching straightened out!
    1. tobi0040's Avatar
      tobi0040 -
      Quote Originally Posted by jokin View Post
      At this point, I think there is still room to be just a little more optimistic than a net 1 career WAR guy in May- but this year in AAA he has to step it up, no doubt.

      You mentioned his ERA ranking, but that stat is a little skewed by May being victimized by a big jump in BABIP to .330 and a huge spike in stolen bases given up by Rock Cats' catchers. And despite that 45th ranking in ERA, his FIP was actually a very good-to near-dominant 9th in the Eastern League and 3/4 of a run below his ERA at 3.79, confirmed by an also-excellent SIERA of 3.67, indicating that there might be an improved year coming up.

      Also of note, besides his upticks in improvement in K/9 and BB/9, May was a definitely dominant 3rd overall in the Eastern League in K% at 24.1%, which is excellent.

      Finally, year-over-year, with the above-noted improvements and no regressions of note, May also significantly cut his LD% from 21.4% in 2012 to 12.9%.

      I think there's back-end starter stuff somewhere inside of May, I think there's a case to made that it's all a matter of his mental approach, hopefully the Twins coaching staff can help bring it out to the point that he becomes a legitimate depth option by the end of 2014. In conclusion, I don't think it's unreasonable to say he's no more than 50-50 at ever being a major league starter.
      I find myself higher on May than most as well. No doubt that he would benefit more than anyone else in the organization by improving his control.

      But looking into his numbers in more detail, he was really hurt by two very bad starts last year (8 ER each). Here are his numbers if you take those two starts out, in the other 26 starts:

      144 IP, 3.75 ERA, 155 K These are very good numbers.

      Here is his distribution of ER by start. He is keeping his team in games and pitching very well in half his starts (0-2 ER):

      0 ER - 5 starts
      1 ER - 2 starts
      2 ER - 7 starts
      3 ER - 4 starts
      4 ER - 6 starts
      5 ER - 2 starts
      8 ER - 2 starts

      In those two bad starts, he totally lost his control (8 BB in 6.2 IP). His BB/9 goes from 3.96 to 3.68 if you remove those two starts.

      In 2012, a similar theme. He had a start with 7 ER and two with 6 ER. In the 7 ER start he had 8 BB over 5 IP.

      His 2012 numbers for a comp, throwing out his worst two starts were:

      143 IP, 4.28 ERA, 144K.

      So he did have a significant improvement in my opinion from 2012 to 2013 (4.28 ERA to 3.75 ERA in 90%+ of his starts)


      http://www.fangraphs.com/statsd.aspx...=2013&sort=3,d
    1. Twins Fan From Afar's Avatar
      Twins Fan From Afar -
      Quote Originally Posted by tobi0040 View Post
      I find myself higher on May than most as well. No doubt that he would benefit more than anyone else in the organization by improving his control.

      But looking into his numbers in more detail, he was really hurt by two very bad starts last year (8 ER each). Here are his numbers if you take those two starts out, in the other 26 starts:

      144 IP, 3.75 ERA, 155 K These are very good numbers.

      Here is his distribution of ER by start. He is keeping his team in games and pitching very well in half his starts (0-2 ER):

      0 ER - 5 starts
      1 ER - 2 starts
      2 ER - 7 starts
      3 ER - 4 starts
      4 ER - 6 starts
      5 ER - 2 starts
      8 ER - 2 starts

      In those two bad starts, he totally lost his control (8 BB in 6.2 IP). His BB/9 goes from 3.96 to 3.68 if you remove those two starts.

      In 2012, a similar theme. He had a start with 7 ER and two with 6 ER. In the 7 ER start he had 8 BB over 5 IP.

      His 2012 numbers for a comp, throwing out his worst two starts were:

      143 IP, 4.28 ERA, 144K.

      So he did have a significant improvement in my opinion from 2012 to 2013 (4.28 ERA to 3.75 ERA in 90%+ of his starts)


      http://www.fangraphs.com/statsd.aspx...=2013&sort=3,d
      Good stuff. Yea, those 2 starts were really awful. Of course, they have to be considered along with the good starts, but it is useful, I think, to at least point out how much even a couple lousy starts over the course of a long season can affect stats.
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