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An appreciation of St. Louis Cardinals reliever Seth Maness

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At times, Seth Maness has a thankless job, but he has definitely made the most of it over the last two seasons.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Drafted in the eleventh round of the 2011 MLB Draft, Seth Maness pitched in only 46 minor league games (38 starts) before making his major league debut with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2013. Since making his debut, he has yet to relinquish his spot on the 25-man roster. Despite spending such a surprisingly short time in the minors, Maness still managed to make a stop at each full-season level above rookie league—from the Low-A Batavia Muckdogs to the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds. In two seasons as a big leaguer, Maness has filled the long-man role nicely and has done just about everything the Cardinals have asked of him.

Year G IP K% BB% LOB% GB% ERA FIP xFIP fWAR
2013 66 62.0 14.1% 5.2% 84.5% 68.4% 2.32 3.43 3.13 0.2
2014 73 80.1 17.4% 3.5% 76.1% 56.0% 2.91 3.38 3.19 0.3
Total 139 142.1 15.9% 4.2% 80.1% 61.5% 2.66 3.40 3.16 0.5

His 142.1 innings pitched are the tenth most among MLB relievers over the last two seasons and the second most on the Cardinals behind Trevor Rosenthal (145.2 IP). His ground ball rate of 61.5% is the third highest in baseball behind only Brad Ziegler (67.3%) and Brandon League (63.6%). His walk rate of 4.2% is tied for sixth lowest, his 2.66 ERA ranks 30th, and his 80.1 LOB% is tied for 31st. Of his 139 career games, he did not allow an earned run in 112 of them—equating to 80.6% of his appearances. As a frame of reference, Rosenthal went without allowing an earned run in 75% (54 of 72) of his appearances last season. The only thing that "flashes" about these numbers is consistency, and consistency is something that each big league bullpen needs, especially from their long-reliever.

Pitch Frequency Velocity (MPH) Dragless vert. movement + gravity (2014; in.) GB/BIP AVG ISO
Fourseamer 10.75% 91.23 -19.07 43.75% .211 .158
Sinker 61.49% 90.62 -26.15 66.01% .299 .109
Change 18.13% 84.50 -34.57 63.53% .239 .162
Slider 7.18% 83.76 -35.13 54.84% .265 .000
Curve 2.44% 79.74 -45.22 35.71% .294 .177

Maness and his 90.62 MPH sinker will not overpower many hitters, but he really doesn't need to because that job belongs to Rosenthal, Jordan Walden, and hopefully-healthy Kevin Siegrist. So, considering he throws his sinker ~62% of the time, just how good is it? Factoring in gravity, it has seven more inches of vertical drop than his fourseamer while maintaining roughly the same velocity—the perfect recipe for a successful sinker. A quick look at horizontal movements (not included in the table) shows that his sinker predictably tails to his arm side, following a horizontal flight similar to that of his changeup. Combine these aspects and Maness gives up ground balls on two out of every three balls put in play (66.01%) against his sinker. For a pitcher that makes a living on ground ball outs, this is a very good percentage to have.

Of course, everyone loves talking about the double plays as he has already induced 28 of them in two seasons (top five of MLB relievers), but one of the most underappreciated components of Maness' game has to be his defense. The following plays are great representations of athleticism, fearlessness, and split-second decision-making:

Not often can a player totaling 0.5 fWAR over two seasons be considered "underappreciated," but this definitely feels like the case with Seth Maness. He does not light up the scoreboard with strike outs (15.9 K%) or rack up saves (4), but he throws strikes (4.2 BB%), gets ground balls (61.5%), and his role with the team is crucial for the overall health of the pitching staff, particularly the bullpen. Now, if there is one concrete area for him to improve on going forward, it's the long ball (12.9% HR/FB), and this can be remedied by an increased focus on downward location—particularly with his fourseamer and sinker.

Oh, and one more thing, Maness has the following on his career resume as well:

Credit to FangraphsBrooksBaseball, and ESPN.com for the data used in this post.