Can We Trust Alek Manoah: Ryan’s Reflections

by Ryan Kirksey
Alec Burleson Takes Over St. Louis

On Sunday afternoon, Alek Manoah had his second straight amazing start for the Toronto Blue Jays. He completely shut down the Tampa Bay Rays over seven innings. He allowed just one hit and one walk with seven strikeouts. That makes back-to-back seven-inning, seven-strikeout games for Manoah. While he allowed three runs in his previous start, none were earned. These performances force us to ask the question: Can we trust Alek Manoah again? After the disastrous 2023 season, is he worthy of sticking in our fantasy lineups again?

Manoah's 2022 season and 2023 season could not have been more different. In his first full season as a starter, Manoah had a 2.24 ERA and 16 wins over 196 innings in 2022. In 2023, he imploded. His ERA ballooned to 5.87, he walked more than six batters per nine innings, and he spent a long time in the minor leagues trying to fix what was wrong with his delivery. It was a completely lost season and many thought it would continue when he gave up six earned runs and four walks in his first start of 2024 (on May 5th).

However, something has clicked in the two starts since then, and the question that's left for fantasy managers to answer is, can we be comfortable with Manoah in our lineups long-term? Will the real Alek Manoah please stand up?

Can We Trust Alek Manoah?

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As might be expected anytime a pitcher struggles as much as Manoah did in 2023, it wasn't just one thing that doomed his season. But if there was a proverbial "biggest piece of the pie," it was his velocity. His four-seam fastball, sinker, and slider were all down at least one mile per hour from 2022. That may not sound like a lot, but when your fast ball lives in the 94-mph range, that one tick can make a big difference.

This season, Manoah's three primary pitches are all right back where they were in 2022. The sinker and changeup have actually gained some velocity from his 2022 season. As this chart from Fangraphs displays, all of his primary pitches are trending up in velocity from last season.

But, it's not just how fast his pitches are this year. It's also which pitches Manoah is throwing. After throwing his four-seam fastball (a mediocre pitch) well over 30% of the time in 2021-2022, he is now at just 27% for 2024. He has ramped up usage of the slider and sinker as a result. Baseball Savant shows just how he has mixed up his pitch usage over the years.

The sinker and slider are especially devastating when they are on for Manoah. They essentially look the same and are located the same when leaving Manoah's hand (see two pitch location charts below). But there is a 12-mph difference between the two pitches. A batter guessing wrong on which pitch he is getting can look foolish with that kind of velocity difference.

Manoah mixing up his off-speed stuff and relying less on the fastball has produced tremendous results. It's keep hitters off balance, and bumped up his strikeouts to more than one per inning. His walks have been cut by more than 50%. His hard-hit rate this year (36%) is down more than eight percentage points from 2023 (44.4%). Add all of those parts of the recipe together and Manoah has been able to cook up something very special so far in 2024.

What to Expect From Alex Manoah the Rest of 2024?

With the haunting memories of 2023 lingering in the back of our minds, it's hard to definitively know what to think about Manoah. However, there has been a real change in his velocity and his pitch mix. Will that lead to more outings like his last two? Time will tell, but he seems to finally be putting it back together. The 2023 season was a lost one for Manoah, and he was basically undrafted in standard leagues.

Manoah was drafted 403rd overall in NFBC leagues this past offseason. That means even if Manoah gives us average starting pitcher performances the rest of the way, he pays off that draft position with ease. I'm cautiously buying in after seeing an improved pitch mix and increased velocity. But the things I'm watching more carefully are 1) his velocity, 2) his walk rate, and 3) his hard contact rate allowed.

Is it possible Manoah's extended time away from the Blue Jays fixed his woes? Certainly. If it doesn't cost too much of my free agent budget, I'm willing to find out if this is for real.

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