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For Alek Manoah, the plan for moving forward is contingent on understanding the past

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Photo credit:Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
Nick Prasad
1 month ago
Spring Training for the 2024 Toronto Blue Jays is well underway as the team prepares for another crack at a contending season. Toronto’s roster is still built for success if the performance of the team lives up to standard. The pitching rotation, which is a key component of the roster, is still intact and competitive. 
The Blue Jays employ a starting rotation that ranks highly on paper and is expected to again be one of the strongest staffs in baseball this season. Led by Kevin Gausman and followed by Jose Berrios, Chris Bassitt, and Yusei Kikuchi, Toronto boasts a strong group of veteran arms with different styles. The fifth starter question lingers around the name Alek Manoah.
Last year’s Opening Day starter faded throughout a rough season last year and was missing in action trying to pull it together. Manoah showed up to camp this year with the visuals that led to strong promise for a U-turn season. The right-hander reported to Florida trimmed up with a more athletic appearance with regards to body-type. Did his performance show? 
Unfortunately, Manoah struggled in his first outing. Although it’s only 1 1/2 innings to draw from, the kick-off wasn’t very attractive. He gave up three hits, four earned runs, one walk, and three hit batters. Manoah displayed a serious lack of command, somewhat of a lack of confidence to execute his pitch arsenal, and did not work with intent. The positive was that his velocity was up to 95mph, though he’s also dealing with some shoulder soreness following the outing. 
This spring will be a focal point for Blue Jays management and very well an assessment for Manoah, as his performance can dictate whether he cracks the team’s 26-man roster or starts off the year in Triple-A Buffalo. 
Manoah’s 2022 performance solidified his invitation to MLB’s All-Star weekend. He finished with a 16-7 win-loss record over 196 2/3 innings in his first full season in the bigs and a 2.24 ERA. The righty fanned 180 hitters only giving up 51 free bases on balls. The 2023 season was a whole different story. A 5.87 ERA with a depressing 3-9 record over 87 1/3 innings was enough to show management that something was wrong. He wound up being sent down to the Florida Complex League to figure things out and wasn’t with the team down the stretch as they battled for a playoff spot. 
So, what happened? There were a few recognitions from the analytical eye. The month of May in 2023 revealed a handful of flaws after six Manoah losses. Let’s start with mechanics. Manoah’s delivery was fairly slower to the plate, tempo-wise. His separation and load on the lower half showed linear differences, where his hips were not fully engaged and torque was decreased. His front hip did not hinge, therefore his drive was weaker and the slope off the mound was not utilized. The differences were corrected by looking at bullpen videos from spring training this year. 
Manoah’s command was off and this prompted him to begin an aiming approach which initially threw off his mechanics and reduced his average fastball velocity. In 19 games started, Manoah only struck out 20 more batters than he walked, with a 79-59 strikeout to walk ratio with 415 batters faced. He hit nine batters in 87 1/3 innings compared to the 15 hit batters over the 196 2/3 innings in 2023. 
Manoah did not trust his fastball which decreased an average of 1.1 mph from 2022 to 2023. In 2023 he relied on his slider for 30 percent of his pitch usage. His off-speed and breaking pitchers were predictable and stayed in the wheelhouse of most hitters. Tt this point, hitters were expecting not to see a heater in their count, or at least something in the zone. 
Overall, his put-away percentages for his out-pitches had decreased significantly from 2022 to 2023. His fastball was down 6.9 percent and his slider was down 6.3 percent. The hard-hit percentages were also up drastically for all pitch options in 2023 compared to the previous year. 
Manoah’s count approach was questionable. He found himself in a hole early in counts, forcing him to be in the zone. He has a -2.3 percent first-pitch strike percentage decrease from 2022 to 2023. His off-speed rarely fell for strikes, same with his breaking pitches. Both of these options were poorly executed and or overused to the point of expectancy. Hitters took full advantage of these pitches in the zone. 
What needs to happen is fairly simple — Manoah needs to command his fastball and throw it with intent. It is up in velocity and can be fairly effective when located well. His fastball has bite with 15.7 inches of vertical movement and 6.1 inches of horizontal movement. He needs to establish his counts early and diversify his pitch sequence to keep hitters on their toes. His repertoire and approach will need to mimic 2022 where confidence in all options were relevant. 

ARTICLE PRESENTED BY BETANO

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