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.
Entering today, Dustin May is at 123 innings for the season. With 6 weeks left in the regular season and the playoffs they need to keep his innings down. He's still only 21 and has only max'd out at 134 innings in his career.
— Tim Rogers (SD Dodger) (@SDDodger) August 18, 2019
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
It might be OK to realize that May has only 5 relief appearances before today since becoming a professional. It's a different preparation and a different vibe. That's why they are doing this now instead of waiting until later. I think he will be fine.
— Tim Rogers (SD Dodger) (@SDDodger) August 18, 2019
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.
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.