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Blue Jays: Keeping expectations in check for Alek Manoah in 2022

Sep 26, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Alek Manoah (6) pitches against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Blewett-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 26, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Alek Manoah (6) pitches against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Blewett-USA TODAY Sports /
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While there are plenty of reasons for Blue Jays fans to be excited about Alek Manoah’s future, let’s keep the expectations in check for the 2022 season.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m extremely excited about Florida native after watching his elite performance as a rookie last season, and I’m very much a believer in the big right-hander. I think he’s capable of a being a top of the rotation arm, and he very much showcased that type of ability in 2021.

That said, I really do think we need to keep our expectations in check for the 2022 campaign, at least according to what I’ve been seeing on social media throughout the offseason. Yes, it’s been a quiet winter with the lockout going on, but that hasn’t stopped baseball fans from discussing the season ahead.

One of the common ideas that I see about Manoah’s immediate future is that he’s already surpassed Hyun Jin Ryu, making him at least the #3 starter in the rotation. If you ask me, debating about who is better is an argument that only matters ahead of the playoffs, but I am surprised at how quick so many folks are to dismiss Ryu’s resume. A year ago he was pretty much universally regarded as the ace of the staff, and while I understand the dip in perception based on Ryu’s performance, it’s also a testament to just how much Manoah impressed last year.

Like I said, that whole debate really doesn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things, but that’s not the only thing I’ve noticed on social media around the way Manoah is viewed these days. What caught my eye this week was the fact that our friends over at Wynn Bet have Manoah listed as one the pitcher’s tied for the fourth most likely to win the 2022 AL Cy Young award, giving him 15-1 odds. The starters above him are Gerrit Cole at 4-1, and both Shane Bieber and Chris Sale at 8-1 odds. Manoah’s 15-1 odds are the same as a group of pitchers that includes former Blue Jay Cy Young winner Robbie Ray, who is now with the Mariners, Lance McCullers of the Astros, and Lance Lynn and Lucas Giolito of the White Sox.

As I already said, I’m a massive fan of Manoah, and I think his potential is huge. However, I think it’s bonkers to have him listed this high among his AL peers, at least at this stage of his career. I mean, the list of names I just mentioned doesn’t even include Jose Berrios or Kevin Gausman, who should slot in as the top two pitchers in the Blue Jays’ rotation next season and are both the prime of their careers.

Instead of putting those kind of expectations on the 24 year old who only has 20 MLB starts under his belt, I’m confident the Blue Jays will be sending a different message to Manoah. The 2022 season should be about continued development, both in building off of what he was able to accomplish last year, what he learned and identified as needed areas of improvement, and preparing for what’s to come in the next phase.

While the concept of a “sophomore slump” doesn’t apply to everyone, there are some truths to the idea. Manoah’s MLB competition has now seen what he has to offer live and in person, and the scouting footage on him is a lot more developed. As the league adjusts to him, he’s going to have to do the same back in order to take the next step into the elite tier of big league starters. That’s all part of the learning phase for a young player in the big leagues, and I’d argue it’s even more of a factor for a young pitcher.

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In 2021, Manoah finished 9-2 with a 3.22 ERA and a 1.048 WHIP across 20 starts that covered 111.2 innings. He also struck out 127 batters against just 40 walks, good for 2.8 bWAR. If he can replicate that kind of production then maybe we are talking about a legitimate Cy Young candidate, but let’s also try to be realistic as well. Manoah has an incredibly special rookie season, and meeting or exceeding the bar that he’s set for himself is going to be tough. After charging on to the scene and breaking some rookie records along the way, his future is extremely bright either way. Let’s just maybe dial it back a tad from expecting a top 5 finish in Cy Young award voting.

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