The Dodgers were the first team in 2019 to 40, 50, 60, 70 and most recently 80 (same time as the Yankees) wins and every part of the roster outside the bullpen has been impeccable. Quite frankly, the team never really needed help.
If you compartmentalize the roster, the areas of need are and have been, thin. The pitching staff as a whole rank in the top five in almost every stat that matters: ERA, WHIP, strikeouts, batting average against and, hell, even wins. Now, is the bullpen impeccable? No, not even close. Do they rank highly in a lot of big-time categories? Yes, quietly they do.
The Dodgers pitching staff does, however, have an incredible starting rotation. One that leads baseball by a nautical mile in ERA and they, truth be told, needed no help at all. The rotations overwhelming amount of strengths made every small weakness that much more obvious and one of them, although not one they Dodgers could have prevented, was an injury to Rich Hill.
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Hill, in his contract season with the Dodgers, ran into another ailment and the 39-year-old southpaw wound up on the injured list, making it the sixth straight year the seasoned veteran has found himself inactive due to injury. The last time Hill played a fully healthy campaign was in 2013 when he played in 63 games as a Cleveland Indians relief pitcher.
Hill’s injury was a slight blemish in the Dodgers’ diamond of a season. Hyun-Jin Ryu is on pace to be the second starting pitcher since 1920 to have an ERA below 1.50 in a season, Clayton Kershaw has looked fantastic, Walker Buehler has proven what almost everyone has already known and the combo of Hill, Kenta Maeda and Ross Stripling have done a really nice job of rounding things out.
But, with Hill out the Dodgers were able to reach into their machine of a development system and pull out Dustin May, the red-headed rocket-armed starting pitcher that quickly made a name for himself in the minors with ridiculous numbers and even better pitches. May was the Dodgers best pitching option and the big leagues created a spot for him. Now, he has a shot at being a huge part of the Dodgers October plans.
Let’s start in the spring. Dustin May made a few appearances with the big league club and emphatically impressed Dodger staffers, writers and fans alike. In doing so he didn’t so much put his name on the radar as it was already there. He, like Buehler, just solidified the belief in how good he was.
But, until the multi-nicknamed pitcher resurfaced in a big-league uniform, the metrics on just how good May is got lost in the minors where the pitch tracking is not as advanced. However, in front of the big boys and Statcast, we have a clear picture of how May is spinning his way off the prospect list and onto the postseason roster. But first, let’s go back to May’s basics.
The 21-year-old was the Dodgers’ third-round pick in the 2016 draft out of Northwest High School in Justin, Texas. The third-round selection was a steal for the Dodgers as it was really a pick at May’s floor after his velocity took a hit halfway through his senior year of high school. May’s projection before the velo debacle was in the late first to mid-second rounds of the draft and the call never came that early.
But, May’s raw talent, if you looked past the already electric speeds the 6’6 high schooler was throwing, and the raw talent and ability to spin a baseball made him a premier pitching prospect in the draft taken a few rounds later than he should have been.
At the World Wood Bat Association World Championship in October, May owned the two spinniest pitches at the showcase with a fastball in the upper 2,600’s and a curveball that reached a top RPM of 3,105.
He spun his way into the Dodgers’ hearts and three years later, he’s doing it again.
May has only made three big league appearances thus far in 2019 and it appears he’s set to make a lot more although some of them might come from the bullpen with the Dodgers looking to preserve his arm and innings a little bit towards the end of the regular season.
But, regardless of where the spin rate phenom is throwing from, he’s already climbed into some elite company. Let’s start with his cutter.
May throws a cutter from hell if you’re a batter. The pitch breaks off at the last second from right to left and has a nice little drop at the end of its journey for good measure. Just a tiny way into what should be a lengthy career, May already ranks fourth in baseball in cutter spin at 2,754 RPM and that monster is mixed in with four more pitches that spin faster than your car tires do on the freeway.
May’s curveball ranks sixth in the majors at 3,080 RPM. That’s sixth out of 355 candidates and May has been doing that since high school.
The spin rate on May’s pitches work nicely to compliment his height and delivery. The ball comes out of the sky when he throws it and with elite spin, the movement on every pitch May throws lends itself to the nice strikeout numbers the righty had in the minor leagues.
But, May’s moneymaker is in his sinker, a pitch he’s thrown 50.7 percent of the time since his debut and one so good, an MLB scout recently said it “is the best sinker the Dodgers might ever see. He gets contact into the infield like it’s nothing.”
May’s pitches also vault him into some pretty serious company. His curveball rates better in spin rate than Rich Hill and Justin Verlander and puts him just five spots below the king of spin rate, Ryan Pressley in curveball spin.
For some perspective, Pressley was the quiet pride and joy of the Twins bullpen last season. His numbers were off the charts both at the field level and in the metrics department and the Astros pulled the trigger on a trade that sent the 31-year-old to Houston. Pressley then went on a rampage of 22 punchouts, no walks and a 1.15 ERA in his first 16 appearances in Texas.
Now take that information and remember that Pressley is a relief pitcher. His incredible spin comes in spurts of one inning appearances whereas May features stuff in the same conversation across the first five to seven innings of a ballgame. Aside from Tyler Chatwood, May is the only starting pitcher in the top ten of curve spin.
Now, as has been written across many platforms and preached relentlessly, spin is not the whole picture and doesn’t mean everything. It’s merely a piece of the puzzle and Dustin May seems to have that particular piece down.
May spins the ball like no other. With a curveball and cutter in the 99th percentile of the majors and three other pitchers that are equally as incredible, the 21-year-old should make a serious mark on a Dodger season has looked incredibly promising so far. With spin, youth, red hair and a great arm, Dustin May hopes to be the answer to the Dodgers prayers they never really had to make.