Through 17.1 innings thus far in 2016, Seth Maness has provided negative value (-0.1 fWAR) out of the bullpen for the St. Louis Cardinals. While Maness proved to be an important bullpen contributor in 2013 and 2014, it appeared that MLB hitters had begun to catch up to him last season. Now, with a less-than-100% throwing elbow, opposing hitters have seemingly surpassed Maness, and frankly, it is time for the Cardinals to move on, sooner rather than later.
Maness' 2016 Statistics
Before we begin to discuss what should be the next step involving Maness, let’s first revisit a pointed Jenifer Langosch article from May 17th:
"[The Cardinals] knew nothing about it," Maness acknowledged. "They thought I was healthy. I was keeping it, not hidden, but I was trying to go. That's always how my mentality has been. I don't like being hurt. I like being on the field. I want to contribute. But I wasn't getting the job done, and it was hurting the team. I thought I could work through it, but it just wasn't happening."
Maness pitched through spring training and up to the middle of May before informing the Cardinals that his throwing arm did not feel right (and I thought Jaime Garcia pitching through a stomach bug in the playoffs was bad). After finally being officially informed of his status (a glance at the radar gun readings already indicated something was awry), the club issued an MRI which ultimately found a "slight tear" in Maness' ulnar collateral ligament of his throwing elbow. According to Mozeliak, Tommy John surgery was not required, given the "slight" extent of the tear, and that it should heal with rest and rehabilitation.
Maness subsequently spent time on the disabled list and then made five minor league appearances (three with Springfield, two with Memphis) before returning to the 25-man roster on June 19th (replacing left-handed reliever Dean Kiekhefer). This means that Maness, and remember that he is dealing with a slight tear of his UCL, spent just over one month resting and rehabilitating the ailing elbow. Seems to be a considerably short recovery period given the extent of the injury at end. Regarding Maness' minor league stint, one which lasted only five innings, he failed to strike out even a single hitter during this time -- which is worrisome even if he was simply trying to get his feel back on the mound given the lesser quality of hitters he faced.
Given that the y-axis starts at 87 (MPH), admittedly, this graph can be a bit deceiving. Regardless, when you look at the values corresponding to each data point, it is clear that Maness' velocity is way down in 2016. Maness' fourseamer and sinker have each averaged a tick over 88 MPH in 2016 -- both being over two MPH down from 2015 and over three MPH down from 2013. Velocity has never been all that important for Maness -- movement and location are his two primary focuses -- but at the same time, it cannot simply erode away if he wants to remain successful at the big league level.
Pitch Location: 2013 Versus 2016
Heatmaps via baseballsavant.mlb.com
As I stated above, velocity has never been all that important to Maness, as he was never able to blow any hitters away with his 91-92 MPH fastball. That being said, the heatmaps embedded above show how important velocity can be. 2013 is on the left, and 2016 is on the right. Despite better location this season as compared to 2013 (down and to the corners), Maness has struggled. Plus, even with both core locations being down in the zone, Maness' ground ball rate has fallen to a career low at 52.3%. I understand that the sample size is still very small, but the margin of error is even smaller for a team looking to get back into the Wild Card race (let's take this step first before discussing the division).
Maness is injured. His velocity is down. He is not missing bats. He is walking more hitters than ever. He is no longer inducing ground balls at an above-average rate. While Mozeliak should absolutely be scanning the trade market for a reliever, a viable replacement for Maness is already present down in Memphis. It is time to move on from Maness and recall Socolovich -- an underrated contributor to the MLB bullpen last season:
Miguel Socolovich 2016 Statistics with Triple-A Memphis