Back in 2019, the Toronto Blue Jays held the 11th overall pick in the MLB Draft, the product of a 73-89 record that was one year removed from the emergence of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, and Cavan Biggio with the big league squad. While the trio were getting their feet wet on the active roster that season, the Blue Jays decided to use their first selection that year on Alek Manoah, a 6’6″ right-hander out of West Virginia University.
Manoah was the second pitcher selected that draft year, behind LHP Nick Lodolo who went to the Cincinnati Reds at seventh overall. While Andrew Vaughn with the Chicago White Sox was the first player to crack the MLB from the 2019 draft class, Manoah was not far behind, making his MLB debut on May 27th at Yankee Stadium, holding the Bronx Bombers to just two hits while striking out seven and allowing zero earned runs through seven innings of work.
That season, Manoah made his name known across the league, finishing with a 3.22 ERA through 20 starts while accumulating a 10.9 K/9 and a 139 ERA+ through 111.2 innings of work. Had he been called up sooner, not only could he have garnered more votes for the Rookie of the Year Award, but he may have been the last push needed to put the Jays into the playoffs, finishing one game shy of meaningful October baseball.
This year was going to be a new test for the right-hander. He entered the campaign no longer a rookie and in an AL East division that appears to be more contested than ever, facing teams that had more information on his pitches and his gameplan this time around. As we enter the middle of June, it is apparent that whatever opposing teams thought they had planned for this year when Manoah was on the mound, it is clearly not working.
The Florida product pitched a fantastic game against the Baltimore Orioles last night, allowing just one hit and one walk through 6.0 innings of work compared to seven strikeouts. This was the fourth outing of this campaign where Manoah had kept opponents out of the earned run column and the fifth appearance where he struck out seven or more batters. This improved his record to 8-1 on the season.
Blue Jays starter Alek Manoah has been phenomenal this season and finds himself close to the top of a few different leaderboards this season.
Comparing Manoah to the rest of the American League starting pitchers, he owns the top spot when it comes to his 1.67 ERA, with Rays pitcher Shane McClanahan and Astros veteran Justin Verlander just behind him at 1.87 and 1.94 respectively. His eight wins on the season has him tied for the AL and MLB lead with Verlander as well.
Three pitchers currently stand in front of him when it comes to innings pitched in the AL: Verlander (78.2), Robbie Ray (77.2), and Frankie Montas (76.2), but it should be noted that both Ray and Montas have one additional appearance compared to Manoah, who has 75.2 innings on the year through just 12 starts (the same as Verlander).
Amongst qualified starters in the AL, here is how he ranks in comparison:
Hits: T9 (55)
Walks: T9 (14)
WHIP: 4th (0.91)
Opponents AVG: 5th (.201)
Strikeouts: T14 (68)
Looking at his statcast metrics via Baseball Savant, the numbers only get better, as the Blue Jays starter continues to find ways to keep batters off base and missing his pitches:
xSLG: 86th percentile
BB%: 87th percentile
xERA: 88th percentile
xwOBA: 88th percentile
Barrel %: 92nd percentile
To summarize: Manoah is absolutely dominating this season, and this is evident by how he leads numerous categories in the American League but also how he continues to find ways to pitch well and keep runs off the board, giving the club every chance to win games when he is on the mound.
He has not allowed more than three runs in an outing this season and while he is still a bit wild, tied for first with five hit batters on the year, he always seems to find a way to pitch out of any jam he encounters and has dramatically improved the walks this year, sitting at a 1.7 BB/9 as we inch closer towards the halfway mark of the year.
With the All-Star game fast approaching, if Manoah can continue to pitch well, he is 100% going to be travelling to Los Angeles later this summer, no question about it.