What's wrong with Alek Manoah and what should the Blue Jays do with him?
Alek Manoah's season is not off to the start that Manoah, the Toronto Blue Jays or their fans were expecting. As is expected, there has been much early season hand-wringing over the, at times, atrocious performance of the 2022 Cy Young finalist.
Let's take a collective deep breath. It's not time to push the panic button (yet).
Through four starts, Manoah is 1-1 with an ugly 6.98 ERA and 1.97 WHIP. Shockingly, he has also given up 15 walks against 16 strikeouts. Even in the lone outing in which he made it out of the fifth — a seven-inning, one-hit effort against the Royals — he surrendered four free passes.
Even if you were in the camp that didn't expect him to beat the pre-season projections of a 4.00 ERA, it's unlikely that you would have pegged him for an ERA just shy of 7.00.
So, what should the Jays do with their young stud, who is both a crucial piece of this year's team and a building block of the future?
The best course of action is to give Manoah time to sort himself out, which is precisely what the team intends to do.
Despite pulling Manoah in the fifth inning on Sunday, manager John Schneider gave his pitcher a vote of confidence following the loss, per Mitch Bannon of MLB.com.
"You go through it, you learn from it, you get better. We have all the confidence in the world he's going to do that," Schneider said. "He's been big for us for a long time now, for a couple of years now, so it shouldn't be any different going forward."
The big righty certainly has been solid for the Jays since his emergence in 2021. In case the last three weeks have erased your memory, here's a snapshot of Manoah's contributions to the team over the past two seasons.
In 51 starts, the 25-year-old has posted a 25-9 record with a 2.60 ERA, 1.01 WHIP and 307 strikeouts in 308.1 innings. Over that time, he accumulated an 8.9 bWAR (which is really, really good).
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Per Bannon, pitching coach Pete Walker admitted before Sunday's game that Manoah "feels like he's a little behind right now as far as stuff."
There are a few glaring issues to deal with as he works to smooth out his mechanics. While he has always had problems with pitches getting away, racking up 33 hit batters in his career, his control is more erratic this year. His walk rate has ballooned to 15.5%, up from 6.5% a year ago. That has, in part, led to his strikeout rate dropping from 22.9% to 16.5%.
That decreased strikeout rate also comes from a less effective slider. As found on FanGraphs, the pitch modeling of Manoah's offerings shows a decline in the quality of his slider. Over his first two seasons, his slider rated 112 in Stuff+, 98 in Location+ and 107 in Pitching+. (Remember, 100 is league-average).
This year, his slider rates 101 in Stuff+, 95 in Location+ and 98 in Pitching+. The decline in his stuff shows up in the results. He's getting fewer swings and misses on a pitch that he used to put hitters away with regularity last year.
For a detailed breakdown of Manoah's struggles with the slider this season, take a look atthis fantastic thread put together by Sportnet's Chris Black.
As was pointed out in his 2023 season preview, Manoah was among the league leaders in minimizing damaging contact in 2022. Not so much this year. He has given up a 15.6% Solid contact rate and a 10.9% Barrel rate. Last year those numbers both sat at an appetizing 5.4%. Once he gets his mechanics in order, those damaging numbers should come back down again.
As the team gives Manoah time, remember that it doesn't mean they are sitting on their hands and simply hoping he miraculously gets better. You can be sure that Walker and the Jays are all over the problem and are working with Manoah to right the ship.
"I'm going to keep fighting my way out," Manoah said. "That's all I know how to do and that's what this team needs from me."
The All-Star has earned some leeway. In a sport that can humble and make even the most experienced players look completely lost, the young righty had an incredible amount of pressure placed on his large shoulders coming into the season.
Remember, it's early. Manoah still has over 25 starts left. The best thing the team and the fans can do is be patient and show Manoah the support he has earned in his time as a Blue Jay.