The Toronto Blue Jays made a tough, but necessary decision on Wednesday in demoting ace Alek Manoah all the way down to the Florida Complex League.
Things unraveled quickly for the right-hander after his third-place finish in last year’s AL Cy Young vote. On Tuesday, he conceded six earned runs while only recording a single out against the Houston Astros, and that was the last straw – at least for now.
After the disastrous outing this week, his ERA for the season stands at 6.36 in 58 innings. He has conceded 68 hits and has a ghastly 1.90 WHIP, but the ugliest stat in his profile is definitely his 42/48 BB/K ratio after finishing 2022 at 51/180.
Only Jordan Lyles, Graham Ashcraft and Lance Lynn have a worse ERA among qualified pitchers than Manoah. His poor performance is among the most shocking developments of the 2023 MLB season to this point.
He’s in need of a full reset, and judging by the team’s decision to send him down, he will get one. This is more about giving Manoah access to the Jays’ complex, pitching lab and other resources than anything else, but you can be sure that he will spend at least a few weeks there.
Getting Manoah right could potentially be one of Toronto’s biggest pre-deadline acquisitions. Yes, it might sound cliché, but there is a reason he posted a 3.22 ERA as a rookie in 2021 and a 2.24 mark last year. At his best, he is legitimately great.
This year, however, everything that could have gone wrong, went wrong. For starters, he is not missing bats. His whiff+ is well below the league average (100) at 80 – far from the solid 107 he posted last season. The sweeper is his main swing-and-miss offering, and it doesn’t have the same bite as it used to have. It’s breaking earlier so hitters can easily spot it.
Additionally, he is having severe command issues. Command+, a stat that analyzes different facts and situations in the game to grade a hurler’s ability to achieve what he wants with his pitches, also has him as a below-average performer in 2023.
Just like whiff+, 100 is considered average for command+ and higher is better. He was at 97 last year, slightly below-average, but he is at an even worse 91 in the current campaign.
Manoah’s ability to get strikes, whether they are called or swinging, is also significantly down in comparison to 2022. It has dropped from 100 to 85, and that’s too much to overcome.
His stuff is just not fooling anybody. Discipline+ measures a hitter’s ability to make good plate decisions. Opposing batters have a 111 mark this year against Manoah, up from 89 last season.
Another useful stat in this context is BIP+, which evaluates how much damage a hitter inflicts after making contact. Anything higher than 100 means above-average performance for batters. Well, they have a 139 mark (!) in 2023 compared to the 75 he showed in 2022.
All these stats can be summed up by raw value. It’s an all-inclusive metric that evaluates everything that happens in an at-bat: plate discipline, swing-and-miss ability, command, control, quality of contact, and more. It’s better than most stats because it analyzes every pitch as opposed as just the outcome of the plate appearance.
There is total raw value and RV-, a rate stat for pitchers in which lower is better and 100 means average performance. On the way to finishing among the AL Cy Young finalists last year, Manoah ranked fifth in the AL among qualified starters with a 77 RV-. This year? He is among the league’s worst at 157.
We could go on and on with numbers, metrics, and stats to show how bad Manoah has been, but you probably get the point by now.
There is no report of injury, so the Jays had no choice but to hit the reset button. Some suggest, however, there are mechanical flaws that he needs to correct.
Blue Jays commentator Buck Martinez, for example, spotted one. He suggested that Manoah has been “backing off” his delivery/release. The idea, to achieve better velocity and pitch movement, is to reach the point of highest acceleration at the exact moment of throwing the ball.
In this video, the Jays starter appears to reach that point a bit sooner:
As a result, his velocity is slightly down. He averaged 93.9 mph with his four-seamer last year and is at 92.8 mph in the current campaign.
Everything else in his repertoire is also down.
This mechanical flaw can help explain his diminished velocity, lack of command, and all his pitches losing movement and effectiveness. Hopefully for the Blue Jays, it is as simple as that. It’s not really easy to fix, but it can be done with enough reps and by examining video.
Dominick Ricotta of Sports Info Solutions (SIS) spotted three differences from 2022 Manoah to this year’s version from a mechanical standpoint: his hand placement at the leg lift apex, his hand placement and timing when the leg starts to come down, and finally his shoulder tilt when his heel touches down.
Again, there are no reports of an injury, so the issue should be mechanical. If that’s the case, expect Manoah to bounce back and return to the majors as soon as he gets his delivery in complete sync.
Toronto has a 35-28 record with Manoah on the roster until Wednesday. Imagine what the Blue Jays could achieve if they get their ace back in top form.
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