The Dodgers starting rotation is in an awkward position. It features past and present aces in Julio Urias, Clayton Kershaw, Noah Syndergaard and Tony Gonsolin, but there are a multitude of question marks surrounding the quartet.
Kershaw has only started 26 or more regular season games in three of the last six full seasons and Noah Syndergaard has been about a league-average pitcher since 2019 based on his ERA+, with nearly two years missed in between after Tommy Jon surgery. Additionally, Gonsolin, the breakout star of last season sprained his ankle on March 6, clouding his opening day availability.
As a result of the uncertainty, the Dodgers are going to have to get production outside of their top four starters if they want to win the National League West crown for the 10th time in 11 years. The starter on the team’s roster who is most likely to make that impact is Dustin May, due to both his quality of stuff and prior success. Down below we are going to break down the analytics of the fifth-year vet and whether or not they indicate he has ace potential this season.
Overall, May is a tough evaluation because of how little he is actually pitched at the big-league level. Only two of his four MLB seasons have resulted in 100 or more batted balls against, and he has just one season where he threw more than 600 pitches. As a result, you have to look past a lot of the quality of contact numbers because there simply is not enough data there to properly judge his performance. So, the majority of the evaluation of May will come from the quality of his overall pitches.
Amongst pitchers to throw 250 or more pitches last season, May’s four-seam spin rate of 2,356 RPM was tied for 129th, his sinkers spin rate of 2,328 RPM sat in 52nd, and his cutters spin of 2,462 RPM was 40th. However, his curveball had the second-best spin rate in the league at 3,267 RPM.
May did also introduce a changeup into his repertoire last year but he only threw the pitch 27 times so there is not enough of a long-term sample size there to judge the pitch. Spin rate aside, May’s movement on his pitches largely graded out from average to well above average. When evaluating a pitches movement, Baseball Savant only compares pitches that are within 2 MPH of the pitch either way and within half a foot of the pitcher’s average extension and release point. This is done to keep comparisons as even as possible because a slower pitch has a greater chance of moving more because it has more time before it reaches the plate.
May’s curveball’s vertical movement of 41.7 inches was 2.2 inches below average whilst its horizontal break of 17.2 inches was 7.5 inches above average. The 17.2 inches of horizontal movement is the 6th best total in the league, regardless of the release point or pitches MPH. His four seamer was 0.2 inches below average in terms of vertical movement but was 1.5 inches above average in horizontal movement. May’s sinker vertical movement was dead-on average, but its horizontal movement was 2.2 inches above average. His cutter was poor as its vertical movement was 3.6 inches below average and its horizontal movement was .6 inches worse than average.
When breaking down May’s arsenal as a whole, there is one key takeaway for me which is he needs to start throwing his curveball more frequently in order to become a dominant pitcher. It was only his fourth-most used pitch last season with its usage rate sitting at 21.1 percent which was behind his sinker, four seamer and cutter. I think May’s overall repertoire needs a bit of work as it is generally believed that a pitcher should not have more than two fastballs in their repertoire. Additionally, with May’s four seamer, cutter and sinker making up 73.2 percent of his pitches thrown last season, hitters were largely able to sit on one velocity range against him. The average MPH on his cutter was 92.7 whilst the average velocity on his four seamer, his fastest pitch, was 98.1.
In order to combat this May could do something like swapping out his slider for a cutter in order to keep hitters a bit more off balance. Another option for “Big Red” would be to bring his curveball usage up to 27 percent, a six-point jump from 2022 and increase his changeup usage up to 10 percent. That change alone would result in an additional 10.2 percent of May’s pitches being out of the 92.7-98.1 MPH range making him a more unpredictable pitcher.
May has the necessary stuff to be an ace for this Dodgers pitching staff in 2023 and even has the potential to be a dark horse CY Young candidate. However, in order to achieve his ceiling as a pitcher this season, I think he needs to make some type of adaptation to his pitch usage in order to make him a complete pitcher.