Today I want to continue my target breakdown series with a look at a pitcher who could be available via trade and has piqued the interest of many fans - Alek Manoah. I wanted to write about Manoah when the rumors about him first came out but I simply didn’t know enough about his struggles to feel confident about writing a breakdown piece on him.
With another week of research, I’m ready to do so now.
With that being said, this article will be a little different from the other ones in the series. That’s because we can break down the metrics and look at what changed for Manoah and how he might move forward but getting into the root cause of his struggles is a little harder because they aren’t entirely performance related.
Because of that, it’s hard to have a concrete opinion of Manoah. There are simply too many things that aren’t know. So then it comes down to a determination of risk, much like it does with other pitchers, free agent targets, and trade targets. Factoring in Manoah’s struggles, injury issues, and perhaps off the field issues, there is a certain level or risk associated with the pitcher that’s probably higher than that of the typical pitcher.
That brings his value down in trade talks.
And that’s what makes Manoah so fascinating to me. It’s not necessarily him that’s fascinating (though he certainly is); it’s more so how the Blue Jays want to handle him.
I mean, the guy was a Cy Young finalist just two seasons ago. When he’s at peak performance, he’s an incredibly valuable pitcher. That’s why I don’t think the Blue Jays will trade him because If they trade him now, they’re selling low on him.
But what if this isn’t the lowest Manoah’s value will be? What if he continues to struggle next season? If that happens, then his value decreases even further.
So I’m interested in seeing how the Blue Jays handle this situation. If they trade Manoah now, it signals a lack of confidence in him and, since there are so many behind the scenes things that I don’t understand about Manoah, that would be concerning to me.
We might actually be in a situation where I like Manoah less if he does get traded this offseason. Is that weird? It seems weird. But there are things the Blue Jays know that I don’t. Things that can’t just be explained by performance, or maybe even injury.
My point is, the Alek Manoah situation is different and harder to break down than the situation of someone like Tyler Glasnow.. Keep that in mind as we work through this piece. I can look at metrics but the situation is more complex than “Manaoh’s velocity dipped” or “Manoah needs to command his changeup better” though both of those things are true.
So, with that lengthy intro aside, let’s dive right into it.
The numbers are pretty clear. Manoah’s struggles are largely due to a spike in both his walk rate and his home run rate. That’s pretty simple.
What this little snapshot doesn’t show is that Manoah actually missed significantly fewer bats in 2023. That’s why K% is much better stat than K/9. Manoah’s K/9 was pretty similar to last year’s K/9, dropping by just 0.1. Yet when we look at his strike out rate in 2022 (22.9%) and compare it to his strike out rate in 2023 (19.0%), there’s a big difference (nearly 4%).
How does such a large discrepancy appear? Let’s use an example. Suppose Alek Manoah pitches a 1-2-3 innings and strikes out 2 batters. His K/9 for that inning is 18.0 while his K% is 66.6%. Now let’s say he goes out in the next inning and strikes out the side but faces 10 batters and gives up a bunch of runs. His K/9 for that inning in 27.0 (better) but his K% is only 30% (worse).
Which numbers tells a better story of his ability to get strikeouts? It’s K% because it adds the additional context of how many batters Manoah faced.
This is why I use K% almost exclusively in my articles and rarely bring up K/9 if I can avoid it. To put that aside aside (I’m sorry), my point is that not only did Manoah walk more hitters, but he also gave up more home runs and missed significantly fewer bats.
Basically, he forgot how to do everything that a good pitcher is supposed to do.
It’s hard to explain how it happened too. I’ll dive into some of the pitch metrics later but it’s hard to pin the issues entirely on injuries. In fact, there was just a whole lot of weirdness going on with the Blue Jays and Manoah in 2023. The only time Manoah missed specifically due to injury was at the end of the season when he received an injection for shoulder soreness.
Here’s what Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins had to say afterwards:
“It was his decision and we supported him,” Atkins said, per the Associated Press. “Our medical staff wasn’t suggesting that. He made the decision on his own to move in that direction. He thought it would be helpful. There was one doctor there in particular who thought it potentially could be helpful for him on symptoms he was feeling that were not structural.”
So that’s...uh...interesting. It seems like Atkins wasn’t fully on board with that decision, or at least with identifying Manoah’s shuoulder as a potential cause of his struggles.
Apparently Manoah also met with specialists at that same time to have his knee, back, and right quad checked out and nothing structural was found. So was he injured or was he not? He certainly seems to think that he wasn’t at full health but the team didn’t exactly say that outright which is something you would maybe expect from a team looking to support their struggling former top of the rotation starter.
Regardless, Manoah seems to have been concerned with the amount of wear and tear on his body and the Blue Jays simply weren’t having it. There also seems to have been a lot of emphasis on his conditioning, with Manoah’s first demotion even being called a “conditioning stint”.
So, perhaps Manoah felt like he was injured or simply worn down and the Blue Jays felt like he wasn’t well conditioned. That’s about all I can glean from the reporting I’ve found.
I do think it’s interesting to consider the effects of the pitch clock here. Manoah was one of the slowest works in the majors in 2022, taking an average of 20.7 seconds between pitches with the bases empty and 24.8 seconds between pitches with runners on base. Those figures ranked 375th and 362nd, respectively, among all pitchers to throw at least 250 pitches in 2022.
With the pitch clock being set to 15 seconds with nobody on base and 20 seconds with runners on base, Manoah had to speed himself up significantly during the 2023 season.
His tempo increased to 17.8 seconds between pitches with the bases empty and 21.2 seconds with runners on base. Now, it might look like Manoah averaged a violation with every pitch but that’s not true. There’s about a 6 second gap between the actual time between pitches and the time that actually comes off the pitch clock in between pitches.
So that means Manoah regularly used 11.8 seconds of the timer with nobody on base and 15.2 seconds with runners on base. For clarity, I wanted to add that little nugget before I go back to using the other pair of numbers.
So Manoah sped himself up by roughly 3 seconds per pitch (2.9 seconds with the bases empty and 3.6 seconds with runners on) this season. That likely had an effect on him and could help explain a little bit about why he felt worn down and why the Blue Jays felt he had poor conditioning.
To put Manoah’s tempo into perspective, of the 450 pitchers who threw at least 250 pitches this past season, Manoah ranked 437th in tempo with the bases empty and 428th in tempo with runners on base,
He’s one of the slowest workers in the majors and that’s after he made a big change to quicken his tempo. This likely doesn’t explain even a majority of his struggles but I would be willing to bet that the pitch clock was indeed a factor.
So there already seems to have been some disconnect between Manoah and the Blue Jays about conditioning vs. injuries but there’s also this detail from a Yardbarker piece that I found while looking into Manoah:
SportsNet’s Jeff Blair reported on his “Blair & Barker” show on Monday that Manoah refused his assignment to Triple-A Buffalo after being demoted.
According to Blair, Manoah did not report to Buffalo for two weeks even though he was taking up a roster spot and the team needed pitching help at the time. Blair also says that Manoah has run out of time to ramp back up to potentially work his way back to help the Jays.
“It’s my understanding that Alek Manoah hasn’t even pitched in a side session or a bullpen since he’s been optioned back,” Blair reported.
That is why Blair says Manoah’s season is likely over despite doctors not finding any medical issues with the pitcher.
Note that this is referring to the second time Manoah was sent down in 2023.
I don’t want to really get too far into the drama of this as there are things behind the scenes that we just don’t know. Manoah certainly had a reason to be upset and, honestly, we should expect an elite athlete to be upset when his team tells him that he isn’t good enough and sends him back to the minors. Especially after how good Manaoh had been in prior seasons. That’s just the mentality of elite athletes.
Did he handle it well? Probably not.
This was also the second time Manoah got sent down to the minors. The first time came in June when the righty was sitting on a 6.36 ERA. After returning to the majors, though, Manoah posted a 4.91 ERA in his next 6 starts.
So, that’s better I guess. It’s not really great but perhaps Manoah felt like he was starting to regain his form. It’s hard to say.
Regardless, this whole season was weird and the public reporting seems to show general disconnect and frustration from both sides.
With all the off the field drama out of the way, we can now turn to Manoah’s arsenal and see what went wrong for him in the 2023.
And, boy, it was a lot.
For starers, his velocity dipped. Manoah’s four-seam fastball velocity was 92.8 mph, down 1.1 mph from 2022, while both his slider and his sinker lost 0.7 mph.
His slider also lost movement, which is especially bad for a pitch that also lost velocity. The pitch got 12.5 inches of sweep this past season, which is still a high number, but was down a full 2 inches from 2022.
So, basically his stuff was worse overall.
That problem compounded with Manoah’s command also getting worse. We saw the bloated walk rate above but some other things that stick out are the drop in zone rate (down 3.6%), first pitch strike rate (down 2.3%) and chase rate (down 4.9%).
It’s that last one that’s particularly alarming.
Manoah’s chase rate (26.0%) finished well below the league average (28.5%) and that makes sense considering the dip in pure stuff and the fact that he wasn’t around the zone as much. Hitters tend to be more willing to lay off pitches when that occurs.
What’s particularly interesting, though, is that it was Manoah’s slider and his four-seamer, his two most used pitches, that saw the biggest decline in zone rate.
Alek Manoah YoY Zone Rate by Pitch
|Pitch||2022 Zone Rate (%)||2023 Zone Rate (%)||YoY Change|
|Pitch||2022 Zone Rate (%)||2023 Zone Rate (%)||YoY Change|
So we’ve established that Manoah’s stuff was worse and that his command was worse but there’s another interesting little tidbit to talk about here that may connect those two pieces.
Manoah’s arm slot was inconsistent and lower overall. From the data it doesn’t seem like there was much of a difference in release height month over month. There were some fluctuations but they were mostly small.
The only major issue I notice from release height is that Manoah’s release point was consistently about 2.5 inches lower on his slider when compared to his four-seamer but that was also the case in 2022 Is that ideal? Maybe not but it worked last year so it’s hard to complain about it now.
The big difference actually comes in horizontal release point.
Alek Manoah MoM Horizontal Release Point
|Month||Horizontal Release Point (ft)|
|Month||Horizontal Release Point (ft)|
That’s the difference of almost an entire foot from the start of the year to the end of it and there was a constant pull in one direction which makes me think that it was intentional.
So it was inconsistent but in a consistent way.
I don’t know what that tells us, honestly, except that Manoah was looking for something all season and working his way towards it, but, based on the numbers, never seemed to find it.
Now I want to turn to location, specifically with Manoah’s sinker.
This is the pitch’s heat map from 2022:
And here’s the 2023 heat map:
That went from a clear arm side pitch to a middle-middle pitch, which is not a positive change. As a result, the wOBA against the pitch rose from .265 in 2022 to .350 in 2023 while the rise in xwOBA was even more extreme (.268 to .394). He simply didn’t command the pitch as well.
With that said, he also threw a lot of 2-0 and 3-0 sinkers so it may simply have been a matter of putting that pitch over the plate since we already established that he threw his four-seamer and his slider out of the zone more often in 2023.
So, really, he threw his fastballs slower and put one out of the zone too much (his four-seamer) and put the other one in the middle of the zone too much (his sinker). That’s not a great combination and it’s why his fastballs were not effective at all (sinker - .350 wOBA, four-seamer - .433 wOBA).
To round things out, I’ll briefly mention Manoah’s changeup, which also got worse results likely due to him leaving the pitch up in the zone too much. He was able to keep a tight arm side concentration with it but was unable to get it down at the knees consistently.
Lets summarize each pitch individually now. Manoah’s slider had less movement (sweep in particular) while being thrown slower and out of the zone more. His four-seamer was thrown slower and out of the zone more. His sinker was thrown slower and over the heart of the plate more, and his changeup was left up.
None of those things are good. Literally every singe pitch got worse and this is why.
Now it makes sense why Manoah got fewer chases and whiffs. Then add the lack of chases to the lack of in zone pitches and there’s all the walks.
So, again, everything really fell apart for him this year and he needs to find a lot of things, namely velocity, command, and a consistent arm slot, to get back on track.
On the latest VEB podcast, before I did all my research into Manoah, I said I would take a Carlson for Manoah trade straight up. Now, I think I would probably do it but I’m not as sure. My premise then was that the St. Louis Cardinals see Carlson as a 4th outfielder (meaning they will use him as such) and Manoah has legitimate top of the rotation upside.
Manoah still has that upside but between the conditioning/overall health concerns, the tempo issue, the arm slot issue, the velocity issue, etc (many of these things may be connected), there’s simply a lot of work that Manoah has to do to get back to his prior form and I’m not sure if he can get there.
The good news for any team trading for Manoah is that he has 4 years of control and that’s plenty of time for him to get right but I’m not sure I would want the Cardinals committing a rotation spot to Manoah right now.
In fact, Manoah’s upside may even be a touch overstated because in his Cy Young finalist season of 2022, Manoah ran a .244 BABIP and a 7.1% HR/FB rate. Those both seem unsustainable. His xFIP that year was a solid but much less impressive 3.97 and even if he does prove to be an xFIP beater and a fly ball pitcher that doesn’t give up home runs, I still am not buying into it until I see more of it.
This is only a minor point but it matters. Manoah still has ceiling but I do think it’s a touch lower than it’s made out to be. Add that to the other concerns and then the fact that the Blue Jays likely don’t want to sell low on him (unless they truly don’t believe in him, which would also be concerning) and it’s unlikely that a trade for Manoah is going to happen. And, if it does, the cost is likely to be higher than I would be willing to pay.
He’s a fascinating target and I’m curious to see how this offseason and his next season play out for him. Without having a better idea of why he had the issues he had, it’s hard to recommend trading for him, but I would expect any team trading for him to do their due diligence on him. So if the Cardinals think he can be fixed and end up trading for him, then I’m open to the possibility of him bouncing back.
Thanks for sticking with me on a long article. Have a great Sunday.
I’m keeping a list of all my offseason breakdowns below. If you want to read any of them, just click on the name you’re interested in.