Digging into Alek Manoah’s struggles with command and the pitch clock
Photo credit:Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
4 months ago
Things have not gone well for Alek Manoah this season.
In 19.1 innings (four starts) he has pitched to a 6.98 ERA, with 15 walks against 16 strikeouts, he’s hit two batters and allowed four home runs. Not the start anyone was expecting for the 2022 Cy Young finalist. His underlying stats, a 7.99 xERA, 6.99 FIP and 6.48 xFIP indicate this hasn’t just been bad luck.
So, what’s going on with Manoah? For starters, those walks are an issue. Manoah has had a single-digit walk rate in each of his two previous MLB seasons, while this year it’s up to 15.5%. His control, particularly on his off-speed pitches has been an issue. Take a look at where his sliders and change-ups have been this season.
As Thomas Hall said in this great post on Manoah’s slider, there are far too many non-competitive pitches here. The change-up is nowhere near the zone and it’s way too far in on righties and away from lefties to even warrant a swing. Looking at that it should come as no surprise that Manoah’s outside zone swing percentage (or chase rate) is down 4-6% depending on what site you look at. This has forced Manoah to come into the zone with his four-seamer and sinker.
Manoah’s velocity was down in Spring and through four starts it’s yet to come back. His four-seamer is down 0.9 mph, and his sinker is down 0.6 mph. This might not seem like much, but it’s part of a larger issue with Manoah. Manoah averages just under 94 mph with his fastball, and when he needs that little extra to get a big strikeout or get out of a jam, he has been able to run it up to 97 mph. This season he’s topped out at 95.6. Again, expectedly when you throw fastballs in the strike zone at a reduced velocity, they are going to get hit and hit hard, and that’s exactly what’s happened.
|Hard Hit %||Exit Velocity||Barrel %||HR/FB%||BABIP|
Manoah throughout his first two seasons was someone who was able to induce a lot of weak contact by keeping the ball away from the barrel of the bat. This season that hasn’t happened. His BABIP has skyrocketed meaning when the ball is put in play more hits are dropping, and with more hitters barreling up his pitches it means more balls are leaving the yard.
Looking at Manoah’s pitches nothing major seems to be off as far as pitch shape or movement profile. Everything is within a few inches of where it was last season. To me this seems like something is off mechanically. Looking through the video from last season and this season, it looks like his arm slot is lowered.
It’s tough to tell from the stills, but here is his vertical and horizontal release points from Baseball Savant.
His release point is a good half-foot lower than where it was last season. The good news though, this is something that should be easily corrected. The Blue Jays staff is no doubt aware of this and is surely working with Manoah to get his arm angle right.
The other thing to consider is pitchers are having to deal with two major rule changes, the pitch clock and the shift ban. The Blue Jays were one of the teams that shifted the most, employing a defensive shift 50.3% of the time last season, the third highest in the majors.
With Manoah on the mound, the Blue Jays shifted in 51.7% of plate appearances, shifting 65% of the time against lefties and 34.7% of the time against righties. Manoah benefited from these shifts, righties had a .211 wOBA when facing a shift against him and lefties a .304 wOBA.
I went through all of the hits allowed this season and found these six that may have been outs last season. Click the link to view the videos in MLB Film Room.
If all six of those hits were outs Manoah’s BABIP drops to .217, and we’re likely not having any discussions about his struggles this season. With these new rules, this type of thing is going to happen to Manoah from time to time. As mentioned, Manoah induces a lot of weak contact and there will be stretches where those hits fall in. Granted a few of those hits in that clip were smoked, and he needs to get his control in order first. This also shows that we are still dealing with small samples, all it takes is a couple of good starts in a row and Manoah’s numbers will look a whole lot better.
Finally, the pitch clock. Last season Manoah was one of the slower workers in the Majors. Baseball Savant has a tempo metric, clocking the time between when a pitcher releases a pitch to when they release the next pitch, they then gave a pitch timer equivalent. Here is how Manoah has fared over his three seasons.
With the bases empty last season Manoah was slow 8.2% of the time with an average tempo of 20.7 seconds, equivalent to 14.7 seconds with the clock. That ranked 29th slowest in the league.
With runners on base last year, he was slow 20.5% of the time, a tempo of 24.8 seconds, equal to 18.8 seconds with the pitch timer. That ranked as the 45th slowest worker. In both situations, Manoah is right up against the new pitch clock rules. This season we see he’s cut off three seconds between pitches with both the bases empty and runners on. He’s still one of the slower workers in the league but significantly faster than before.
Manoah is someone we have seen in the past, he can make a bad pitch, then walk around the mound and take some extra time to compose himself. With the clock, he can’t take those extra seconds and it’s very possible he’s simply rushing and that’s causing him to miss his spots and mis-execute his pitches.
In the end, it’s a combination of all these things that contributed to Manoah’s slow start. The release point issue should be resolved rather quickly and hopefully correcting that helps his command and control improve. As it gets warmer outside his velocity should start to creep back up and ideally, that extra tick is enough to keep the ball off the barrel and have hitters stop squaring him up. The shift ban isn’t exclusive to Manoah every pitcher has to deal with that and the ebbs and flows that come with it. Same deal with the pitch clock everyone is dealing with it, and as the season goes on hopefully Manoah can get more comfortable working at a quicker pace. If the Blue Jays are to contend this season they need Alek Manoah to be pitching like the ace we all know he can be.
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