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Dodgers: Should Dustin May Stay In The Bullpen?

Things could change later

Dustin May had a pretty bad first relief outing for the Dodgers. He came in with a two run lead, and exited being down by two runs. In between he game up a grand slam to Rafael Ortega after walking a batter, giving up a single and hitting a batter. Many of these events happened after he had two strikes on the batters. After the grand slam he did retire five of the next six bitters. Of course, after the grand slam the Dodger fan base erupted with “why is May in the bullpen, he’s a starter” type responses.

This article will take a look at whether Dustin May should be a starter or a reliever in the immediate future.

Innings Limits

Nobody knows for sure if there is an innings limit on Dustin May or what that limit might be. Since Andrew Friedman took over the Dodgers’ front office they have been very conservative with their young pitchers. The only exception was out of necessity with Walker Buehler in 2018. They weren’t planning on him being such an important part of the rotation but he forced his way into more innings.

Innings Breakdown

  • 2016 – 86.1 innings pitched in his first professional season and his senior season of high school
  • 2017 – 138 innings pitched across two single A teams and the post-season
  • 2018 – 142.2 innings pitched across single A and AA. The total also includes 10 post-season innings
  • 2019 – 125.2 innings pitched across three levels, including the Major Leagues

Determining An Innings Maximum

I’m going to be very liberal in determining the maximum innings for Dustin May. Based on last year’s 142.2 innings (which included the post-season) let’s add another 30% which would be another 42.2 innings which gives May a possible 185.1 innings for the season. If they were to add just 20% more (which I suspect) it gives him 171. Given these lows and highs I predict that the Dodgers will allow May to throw between 45 and 59 innings the rest of the season, including the post-season.

Starter Innings

There are 36 games left in the regular season and if May were a starter the rest of the season he’d get 5-6 starts. That would be 25-45 innings in the regular season and if he is a starter in the playoffs that would be another 12-18 innings. For the year he’d be throwing another 37-63 innings if he stays as a starter, which is bumping up near the 45-59 inning maximum from above.

One other big factor in throwing too many innings is that he has not thrown professional innings passed mid-September. The last half of September and all of October (hopefully) would be an even different experience while also going over his previous high in innings pitched.

PHOENIX, ARIZONA – JUNE 26: Tony Gonsolin #46 of the Los Angeles Dodgers delivers a first inning pitch against of the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on June 26, 2019 in Phoenix, Arizona. It is Gonsolin’s MLB debut. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

The Relief Alternative

Personally, I prefer Dustin May as a starter. I view pitching in relief as a way to spend the next four weeks limiting the innings while also seeing what he can do in relief.

The fourth starting pitcher for the playoffs is clearly not resolved at this point. Rich Hill is the most important factor in that conversation and both Kenta Maeda and Julio Urías are also candidates. I’ve stated several times that I like Tony Gonsolin in the bullpen and I think the Dodgers do also. He has thrown only 59.1 innings this season so there is no harm in him starting the next month to build up his innings. If Rich Hill is not able to be that fourth starter then I want Dustin May in that spot.

If Rich Hill is ready to be the fourth playoff starter I still see Dustin May as an excellent bullpen option. It does not seem very smart to just pigeon-hole May into the starting rotation and not have the bullpen option available.

Bullpen Role For Four Weeks

By spending the next month testing out a bullpen role, the Dodgers can find out if they can have an excellent bullpen option if the fourth starter spot is filled by Rich Hill. In the next four weeks they should also have a good idea if Hill will be ready to be a starter again. If Hill isn’t ready then May would be able to get 2-3 starts in the last two weeks or so of the season.

Pitching in relief does require a completely different way of warming up. Many starters go through a 30-40 minute routine before the beginning of the game. With a reliever, they might get 10-20 pitches before they go in. For someone like May, that doesn’t give them a large amount of pitches to get all his arsenal (fastball, slider, curve, change) ready. If May cannot adapt then he is either a starter or an alternate in the post-season.

Final Thoughts

Dustin May is the top Dodgers’ pitching prospect who has elite “stuff”. It would be very disappointing if there wasn’t a way to have him on the post-season roster. Even if he’s the eighth pitcher in the bullpen that would be an improvement over so many others. The key is to make sure he doesn’t throw too many innings as a starter in the regular season. If he does throw too many innings then he would most likely not be able to be a starter and maybe not a reliever in the post-season.

Written by Tim Rogers

A fan of the Dodgers since 1973 since I got my first baseball cards while living in Long Beach. I came to San Diego for college and never left nor did I ever switch my Dodgers' allegiance. Some know me as the "sweater guy". #ProspectHugger

9 Comments

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  1. May does a great up side, with that he has to be very careful with his location at this level ! Sometimes he can over power but in the bigs even a .220 hitter will jump on that stuff.
    Dodger future is bright ! Go Blue !

  2. Relying on guys that were just called up recently for our bullpen problems is going to do this team in perhaps before we can even get to the World Series and I must admit if it has to happen I’d prefer it in the first or second round instead of a third straight World Series loss that would be a humiliation that this team would never live down

  3. How do you think Dodgers got as first place team? Pull Pin has got them where they are today. That’s why they lost 2018 world Series. Brought new guys in, should stay with team that has been winning all year

  4. May was doing fine until yesterday. IMHO, had we let Gonsolin complete the fifth, and then gave it to Baez and other relievers rather than May, we might have won. May sees himself as a starter, and so do most Dodger fans. The switch from starter to reliever is major. I believe in the old adage, “if it works, don’t fix it”. Let the young man continue as our #4 starter. Go Blue!!

      • As always, Azul, well-stated and right on point. PD Jr. is proud of you!!! I enjoyed reading about your newest addition to your record collection. Keep up the good work!!!! Happy hunting!!!! Go Blue!!!!

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