Expectations could not have been higher for Alek Manoah entering the 2023 season. The right-hander spent all of the year prior dominating the opposition, even finishing third in the AL Cy Young Award voting. Everything went right for him the year before, so the hurler was to be the Blue Jays' staff ace this season.
Instead, things could not possibly have gone worse for him. Manoah showed up to camp seemingly heavier than he was at the conclusion of the season prior, which brought on consistent questions surrounding his work ethic and drive to be successful in the big leagues. Sure enough, he got the Opening Day start for the Blue Jays and immediately began what would be a season-long meltdown.
Kicking things off in the season opener in St. Louis, Manoah made it just one out into the 4th inning. He allowed 5 earned runs on 9 hits with 2 walks and 3 strikeouts. The Manoah of 2022 was nowhere to be found. He followed that outing with a 7 inning performance against the Royals in which he did not allow a single run but still walked four batters.
Two starts in and we were already treated to two very different versions of Manoah. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the year was filled with significantly more ups than downs. As time marched on, every pitch in his repertoire was getting lit up like a Christmas tree. Here's a breakdown on his four pitches and how batters fared between 2022 and 2023.
Batting Average (2022)
Batting Average (2023)
The xBA (expected batting average) on his pitches last year wound up being higher than the actual batting averages, meaning he outperformed the expectations in a big way. This year, it was the opposite. The xBA on his slider, the pitch he used more than any others, was .190, so hitters recording a .239 average on it is not ideal.
As the poor starts began to rack up, it became painfully obvious that a stint in the minor leagues was going to be necessary. After a meltdown against the Astros that resulted in the shortest start of his career (recorded just one out, allowed 6 earned runs on 7 hits), he was sent all the way down to the Florida Complex League, the lowest level of the minors. This demotion to the FCL was not because he belonged in the bottom of the organization, but because that's where the Blue Jays' development labs are located and above all, Manoah was being given the opportunity to hit the reset button away from the spotlight of the media.
In his lone outing in the FCL, Manoah gave up 11 earned runs (yes, you read that right) in just 1.2 innings of work. It's worth noting that this result likely did not do enough to worry the organization much, as he was all but guaranteed to be putting some mechanical adjustments to work in in-game action. Clearly, the Jays felt that something had gone right in this terrible start, because shortly after he was demoted to Double-A New Hampshire for a stint with the Fisher Cats.
Turning back the clock a bit, it's also worth mentioning that Manoah skipped Double-A entirely when he was ascending through the Blue Jays' system the first time around. He made it up to A-ball in 2019 before making just three starts in Triple-A in 2021 that earned him a promotion to the big leagues. This could certainly be playing a part in his sudden loss of the "it factor" on the mound, but nobody could've seen his numbers begin to slide so rapidly after such a strong season in 2022.
Manoah made just one start for the Fisher Cats and he was dominant. The right-hander went 5 innings, giving up a run on 3 hits. He also struck out 10 batters. In a move that would eventually become the final nail in the coffin for Manoah this year, the Blue Jays called him back up to the big leagues after this lone outing.
While his outing against the Tigers went well (6 innings, 8 strikeouts, one run on 5 hits), Manoah instantly reverted back to his old ways in the next six starts he made before his season came to a premature end. In his very first start after that promising one against the Tigers, he went just 3 innings with 5 walks and zero strikeouts. Things weren't going according to plan and the Blue Jays suddenly looked mighty foolish for calling him back up to the bigs way before he was truly ready.
The rest, as they say, is history. Manoah was once again demoted, this time to Triple-A Buffalo. However, weeks went by and he still had not made a single start for the Bisons. News came out that he stayed in Toronto with the Blue Jays in order to get some medical testing done on his arm to see if there's an underlying issue for his struggles this year. Complicating matters even more, this story was then found to be completely fabricated by higher-ups in the organization. Manoah did not in fact stay with the Jays and there was no medical testing.
Instead, he left the team. According to a source close to the situation, he "dropped off the face of the Earth" and left his teammates in Buffalo hanging without a word. At the time, the Bisons were already tight on pitching and very much needed his assistance for their own playoff run. He didn't show. It all comes down to ego, and Manoah felt as if he was "too good" to report to Triple-A.
Multiple stories have been floating around over the past month or two surrounding Manoah and most of them are still sticking to the "medical testing" spiel from the first go-round. Manoah and his representatives have been noticeably quiet since the rumors began to swirl, which does not bode well for him and his side of the story.
Recently, Manoah has been posting videos of himself on Instagram in the gym training (thanks to our friends at the Gate 14 Podcast for the screen recording). This is a welcome sign, as he has a lot to prove heading into next season. As of right now, he's still under contract and very much still employed by the Toronto Blue Jays. It remains to be seen how this saga will affect the relationship between club and player moving forward, but a return of 2022 Manoah would be ideal in 2024.
It's hard to give Manoah's full season an "F" grade, as there were some ever-so-slight glimpses of hope along the way. It wasn't a complete failure, but it was dang close.
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