The Criticisms of Alek Manoah and Why You Shouldn’t Care

Nick Pollack's Going Deep article pledge #7 featuring Alek Manoah.

Editor’s Note: With MLB owners forcing us to miss games in 2022, I have pledged to write a Going Deep article every day until the lockout is lifted. Please consider supporting Pitcher List with a PL+ subscription to help us survive through these difficult months.

The PL+ community gave me a gift as they voted for Alek Manoah today. As I’ve spent the off-season jamming my nose into book after book trying to decipher the SP landscape for the 2022 season, I quickly became infatuated with Manoah.

That adoration isn’t universal, however. There are concerns about his situation in Toronto, his near nine percent walk rate, a lack of repertoire depth, and a question of how much we should lean on a sample size below 120 major league frames.

We’re going to talk about it all as I speed through this Iron Chef-style Going Deep (I’m writing it in sixty minutes live via Twitch), but first, let’s set the table as to why I think Manoah is a genuine star.

 

Manoah Is Dope And Makes Us Feel Dope

 

Simply put, Manoah’s four-seamer and slider are elite, while his sinker is a fantastic weapon against right-handers. Here’s a quick table to get you acclimated with the elite pair:

Alek Manoah’s Four-Seamer & Slider

The first thing you should notice here is the fantastic SwStr rate for his primary heater. The pitch had a pair of games where it earned double-digit whiffs on its own and even married a 19% SwStr rate against right-handers. That’s wild. Here it is in action:

Then there’s that slider. The bender not only jumps off the spreadsheet but it passes the eye test with flying colors:

That slider makes me feel like the first time I bit into a Five Guys burger. You want to savor it, you know? If you’re looking at that thinking it has exceptional movement, you’re not wrong. Its horizontal bend ranks 13th among all SP sliders as it gets five inches more movement than the average sweeper. It also ranks 59th in vertical drop, making for a stupid good pitch.

The third pitch I listed there is his sinker, an offering that I think he throws a bit too often currently against left-handers but excels against right-handers:

Manoah’s Sinkers vs. Righties

I generally call a four-seamer/sinker/slider mix “2.5 pitches” as the pair of fastballs don’t differentiate themselves enough to justify its own plot of land in the town of Manoah-Toire, and this is no exception. It’s a welcome addition, though, and helps propel Manoah further as a dependable option.

With these phenomenal offerings, Manoah doesn’t need to develop more to succeed – after all, he just held a 3.22 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, and 28% strikeout rate and while some regression could come, it’s clear there isn’t a necessity to change his ability to reach the upper echelons of starters in the American League.

You have the basics and I even ignored points to save for later. That’s what a good debater does…right? Let’s get to the first critique:

 

Criticism #1: He Pitches For The Blue Jays

 

And not just the Blue Jays, but he pitches inside the AL East. The AL Beast is filled with home-run parks and lumber-shoving sluggers to upset any prospective pitcher trying to keep an ERA under 4.00.

But he survived last year and in even worse conditions than we’ll see this season as Dunedin + Buffalo were involved, a pair of parks that heavily favored hitters (and a popular argument against Vladimir Guerrero Jr. for 2022). Home games will be played in Toronto, a park that held a Park Factor of…100 in 2019 (the last full season in Toronto). It emphasizes the longball but heavily reduces singles. Considering Manoah held an 11.2% HR/FB rate last year with a 0.97 HR/9 (and that was pitching in these HR-friendly parks), I’m not concerned at all. It’s certainly possible those rates get worse over a larger sample, but this isn’t an HR-prone pitcher.

If the potential damage isn’t a major issue, we could even consider it as a positive since Manoah will be in line for more wins than usual with the powerful Jays offense behind him – Manoah went 9-2 last year across his 20 starts in 2021. Manoah averaged 92 pitches per game last year, just one pitch fewer than Lance Lynnand the Jays are in a position to let Manoah fly all year into the sixth constantly. This is a good thing.

 

Criticism #2: He Walks Too Many Batters

 

Hey, I’m with you here. I wish Manoah didn’t boast an 8.7% walk rate last year. But here’s the thing, he still held a 1.05 WHIP. That’s a product of his 18.7% HC% that ranked fifth among all starting pitchers last year. In short, Manoah does an excellent job of limiting hard contact, which brought his hit-per-nine all the way down to 6.21 and BABIP to .246. I wouldn’t expect those marks to stick that low again, but a pendulum shift in the other direction shouldn’t be expected.

As far as those walks go, I believe it’s a product of his slider holding just a 63% strike rate last year. As a two-pitch pitcher, Manoah does a decent job of returning a 40% zone rate on his slider, but its 35% O-Swing seems a bit low. Given its movement, I can imagine a world where Manoah improves its location out of the zone to return fewer waste pitches, avoiding deeper counts.

 

Criticism #3: His Third Pitch Isn’t Great

 

That third pitch is a changeup that got me amped during his MLB debut against the Yankees – he not only was able to throw it for strikes, but even challenged right-handers with the offering:

However, I was disappointed to watch its usage dwindle in future starts and for good reason:

Alek Manoah’s Changeup

Yikes. Sub 60% strike rate, high batting average, low CSW…this ain’t it. But does Manoah really need it?

The main reason for a third pitch (and typically that pitch is a changeup) is to do one of two things: A) earn called strikes when the other secondary can’t or B) have a pitch to nullify the batters on one side of the plate. In this case, sliders generally do better against right-handers, so Manoah would throw a changeup to attack left-handers.

Those two points just don’t apply for Manoah. While we want a higher strike rate for Manoah’s slider, he has no issue throwing it over the plate for called strikes. And as for his left-handed splits, Manoah does just fine with his four-seamer and slider:

Manoah’s Four-Seamer and Slider vs. Lefties

This is an area where Manoah can absolutely improve. His four-seamer and slider each limit hard contact plenty, but they need to earn more strikes, especially with his heater that does so well against right-handers. Meanwhile, his sinker doesn’t do much against left-handers and should be reserved more to jam right-handed batters. I’ll definitely be monitoring this through the year.

The third point that people make for a third pitch is “the third time through” and that may be a touch of concern – it’s not a bad idea to have other options for pitchers to surprise batters with deeper into the game. I think Manoah’s 2.5 pitches do enough to still succeed late in the game, though, and hey, it’s not the worst changeup we’ve ever seen.

 

Criticism #4: It’s Too Small Of A Sample Size

 

I completely get this one. It’s hard to buy into a pitcher after just over 110 frames in the majors and truly believe he is who he is. I wish I had stabilization rates in front of me to quote, but I’ll tell you now that Manoah’s four-seamer and slider dominance isn’t going away. They could come down slightly, absolutely, but they are two dominant pitches and we’ve seen enough for them to stick for the year.

While we shouldn’t question the ability, the smaller sample does make us question the HOTEL.246 BABIP, 10.7% HR/FB, 76.6% LOB rate – and if luck falling in the other direction will shift Manoah’s rates dramatically.

I imagine some regression via BABIP there, but not a whole lot as we talked about before with his ability to repress hard contact. Manoah’s skills are legit and they’re here to stay.

 

Conclusion

 

These are legitimate concerns about Manoah. Pitching in the AL East is indeed a grind, we saw a small sample in 2021 and it’s difficult to project with confidence into 2022, Manoah’s changeup is a possible liability, and I’d love him to walk fewer batters. Even still, Manoah’s four-seamer and slider are flat-out brilliant and those concerns ignore the possibility of a young arm coming into his own with more time on the hill.

Manoah is a pitcher to get excited about. A pitcher you mark on your calendar when it’s his turn in the rotation to watch a potential game of double-digit strikeouts and electric stuff that makes you throw your fist in the air. Don’t let these criticisms prevent your heart from swelling. Embrace Alek.

Photos by Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Shawn Palmer (@PalmerDesigns_ on Twitter)

Nick Pollack

Founder of Pitcher List. Creator of CSW, The List, and SP Roundup. Worked with MSG, FanGraphs, CBS Sports, and Washington Post. Former college pitcher, travel coach, pitching coach, and Brandeis alum. Wants every pitcher to be dope.

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