Dave Roberts has been officially naming opening day roster spots, except for the last starting spot. We’re 5 days away but Roberts isn’t sure who to choose between Dustin May, David Price, and Tony Gonsolin. And none of them are making the choice any easier for Doc.
So let’s take a look at each pitcher this Spring and call our shot for the last rotation spot.
May is easily the most electric of the 3. But just because he can throw 100+ MPH, doesn’t mean he’ll have success or the starting rotation spot.
The proof of this was shown in May’s inability to strike out batters last year. His K/9 was an ok 7.07. A sharp decrease from his 2019 rate of 8.31. Even worse, his walk per 9 IP went in the wrong direction as well. His elite 2019 of 1.30 BB/9 almost doubled in 2020 to 2.57. All this with May throwing strikes 66% of the time. His average pitch count per inning went down which means batters are jumping all over May’s fastball or he wasn’t fooling batters much. Because of that, his home run rate almost tripled.
Still May somehow lowered his ERA to a fantastic 2.57 with a WHIP of 1.09. We think it is largely thanks to his increase in ground balls. It lowered his BABIP from .316 in 2019 to .235 in 2020. He’s getting double plays roughly 20% of the time erasing 1 in 5 batters who reach 1st. It made it so the majority of his earned runs came via the long ball. A good sign ahead of the 2021 deaden ball season.
However, his Spring performance may be an even better sign as he begins to mix in a curveball to his pitch mix.
May’s Spring Case
So far may has pitched 13.2 innings. So far he’s 2-0 with a 2.63 ERA and 1.24 WHIP. The biggest downside so far is the 11 hits and 6 walks he’s given up. However, May is showing improvements in every area of concern from past seasons.
He has 17 strikeouts and improved his groundball rate even further. He’s started his last 3 outings and is on the typical 5 day rest period of a starter which is a good sign. His last outing came against the Cubs on March 25th.
He threw 5 innings of 1 (what should’ve been unearned) run ball. He gave up 2 hits, a walk, and hit a batter for a 0.80 WHIP on the outing. He managed 7 groundouts and 6 strikeouts versus 0 fly-outs even though the win was blowing out. It was his best outing of the Spring and is officially stretched out if he lands the last spot.
Gonsolin has excelled in any role Roberts throws at him. Statcast rates Gonsolin well too with Max Scherzer being the most similar comparison.
He’s pitched about the same amount of innings as May while starting 14 of his 20 career appearances* (*regular season). In 2019 he went 4-2 with a 2.93 ERA and 1.03 WHIP. In 2020 he improved to a 2.31 ERA and 0.84 WHIP while going 2-2.
The 26 year old doesn’t blow past batters with heat, but instead commands his arsenal at will almost all of the time. He ranked in the 95th percentile in walk percentage in 2020. He strikes out just under a batter per inning versus 1.35 walks per 9 innings. He had a fantastic K/BB ratio of 6.57 in 2020. He also kept batters to a .518 OPS in 2020 despite his BABIP rising from .208 to .252. All this lead to a WOBA rate of .226.
The biggest difference between how he and May get results is that Gonsolin is not a groundball pitcher. He’s only managed to get one double play in his 34 opportunities so far. Instead Gonsolin goes for weak contact or whiffing bats entirely. Mostly thanks to his incredible split-finger changeup that keeps batters honest with his other offerings.
Gonsolin’s Spring Case
Gonsolin has had the best spring by the numbers of the trio so far. In 10.1 innings he’s pitched to a 2.61 ERA and ridiculous 0.39 WHIP. His strikeout rate has slightly gone up with 12 so far against (surprise surprise) 0 walks. He’s only allowed 4 hits.
He’s gone longer in every outing so far, but has only started his most recent game. His best outing came on March 11th against the Mariners. He went 3 perfect innings out of the pen while striking out 5. He even got 3 groundouts to 1 flyout for the other 4 batters.
Versus his last outing on March 21st, which was his worst. He pitched 4.1 innings against the division rival Giants and gave up his only runs of the spring. He only gave up 3 hits but unfortunately for him, 2 of them went for homers.
He whiffed plenty of guys and finished with another 5 strikeouts, but his ratio of groundouts to flyouts went down from his last outing. This time, he gave up 4 of each, which still sadly raised his ratio on the spring.
If Gonsolin can get more groundouts, there’s an ace in that arm. If not, homers are forever going to be the righty’s Achilles heel. Still, his stats are the best of the 3 and he’s stretched out if they so choose.
David Price’s Spring Case
Price didn’t pitch last year so we’re going straight to his spring case which has actually been mostly solid. The biggest issue is he’s only pitched 6.2 inning so far so it’s hard to compare his stats to the younger guns.
He has a 2.70 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP. He’s given up only 2 runs on 8 hits and 2 walks against only 4 strikeouts. He’s in the middle of May and Gonsolin because he’s neither a groundball or air out leaning pitcher.
His best outing came in his second appearance against Cleveland on March 12th. He pitched a Spring Training high 3 scoreless innings out of the pen and won his only game so far. He gave up a hit and a walk against 2 strikeouts.
However he didn’t fair as well in his last outing against Arizona of the 15th. He got pulled after 2.2 innings because of 7 hits, a walk, and 2 earned runs. He only struck out one in his first game started and ballooned what had been an exceptional start to spring.
He seems to even know that he’s the least likely to make the starting rotation.
If we had our way Price would open for May and Gonsolin would add on to make it a 6 man rotation. But with how unlikely that is we are going to say the Price and Gonsolin find themselves in the pen as long relievers. Leaving May to claim the final rotation spot to start the year. He’s the most stretched out, looks like he’s ready to take that step forward, and benefits the most from a regular schedule.
Or in other words…