The 2020 Seattle Mariners stable of arms were actually quite a bit better than we thought they would be. The starters ranked 15th in ERA. They ranked 8th in innings pitched. They ranked 9th in walks allowed and 9th in opponent batting average. By and large, the Mariners starting pitchers ranked among the top half in just about every meaningful category.
Where the team struggled
AND I MEAN STRUGGLED was in the bullpen. Mariners relievers ranked 28th in ERA, 27th in WHIP and 26th in opponent batting average. Were it not for the utterly historically bad Phillies and Red Sox bullpens, the Mariners bullpen would have likely been a bigger story.
For context, Seattle’s bullpen ERA of 5.92 is the second worst in team history behind the 1999 squad that posted a 5.94 ERA. Had it not been for the Red Sox and Phillies this year, the Mariners bullpen would have been the second worst bullpen in the last 20 years, trailing only the 2007 Rays.
It was by all means, a dreadful performance for the ages.
A few days after the season ended, Jerry Dipoto more or less committed to bringing in several veteran relievers this offseason to anchor the bullpen moving forward. The “3 or 4” relievers Dipoto is intent on bringing in would represent roughly half of the Mariners 2021 bullpen -- a heavy investment in new talent for the team.
That brings us to Trevor May.
For starters, May is a native of Longview, Washington. He attended Kelso High School where he was selected in the 4th round of the 2008 MLB Draft. May, 31, has long worn his Mariners fandom on his sleeve. After pitching in a game at T-Mobile Park in 2019, he met Ken Griffey Jr.
“I don’t think he realizes how crazy that is for me, but it was cool,” May said in a postgame interview.
May has a home in Seattle, a home he’s owned since he was 20-years-old. Relocating wouldn’t be as arduous the task it would be for most.
But less about his background and more about why he would make the actual bullpen at hand better. That, after all, is why we’re here and the obvious endgame.
Since 2018, May boasts a 3.19 ERA with 153 strikeouts in just 113 innings. His 3.56 FIP and 140 ERA+ support the notion he’s been very, very good. May averages 3.0 BB/9, and while that’s not sensational by any means, it would rank better than just about every Mariners reliever from 2020.
2020 was another strong campaign for May. He’d pitch to the tune of a 3.94 ERA over just 23.1 innings, punching out 38 hitters along the way. His K% of 39.6 percent was actually the best of his career, and good for the top 98th percentile in baseball. He was hurt by the long ball a bit more this year than he ordinarily has been, but across the board, May was rock solid.
May’s success, like most, starts with his fastball, and it’s a really good one. 2020 saw his average fastball velocity jump to 96.3 mph. That’s up from 95.5 in 2019. In fact, his fastball velocity has improved every single year since 2014. His spin rate was also at a new career-high of 2397 -- well, well above league average.
May deploys his heater at the top of the zone better than most. With his velo, spin rates and spin efficiency, it would make sense he try to throw heaters above hitters bats.
He got in some trouble leaving some fastballs over the heart of the plate this year, but I do think all the underlying data suggests it’s nothing to worry about should Dipoto look to bring on a guy who he has confidence will perform for the next 2-3 years in the organization.
While the fastball is every bit a plus offering, it’s his hammer slider that most would consider his true out-pitch. The breaking ball spins into the zone at over 2500 rpms and is thrown for strikes at a very high clip.
You’d be hard-pressed to find many slider charts that look better than that one.
May’s slider induced an opponent batting average of just .175 this season. Moreover, the xBA was just .197 -- slightly better than his fastball. Both pitches are safely 60-grade pitches and so long as he’s staying out of the middle of the zone, May is pretty lights out.
“...so long as he stays out of the middle of the zone....” hmm... sometimes it really is that easy, huh?
May also offers a firm changeup, but the pitch lacks command and the movement profile you’d like to see from a truly formidable offering. It’s more of a get-me-over pitch right now that’s used in on righties hands more than anything. He’s gotten some punch outs with it this season, but it lacks the consistency of the other two pitches.
The biggest question mark surrounding someone like May will be how much money he’ll command on the market. It’s a reasonably deep market for relievers this winter. Dipoto has said he doesn’t expect any splashy relievers, but I don’t think May necessarily fits in that bucket.
We’ll profile a number of relievers as the winter draws near, but from this chair, May is the guy that makes the most sense and shouldn’t break the bank. A two- or three-year deal with an annual AAV of $4-$5.5 million would be a good price target to begin conversations.