Manoah's rough start puts him in rare company

Blue Jays pitcher Alek Manoah was a Cy Young candidate in 2022 but his difficult start to the 2023 season is almost unprecedented in MLB history.

Video Transcript


- If you're a Toronto Blue Jays fan, there's a pretty good chance that you know Alek Manoah is struggling right now. And he's pretty much struggling for most of the reasons that you would imagine a pitcher would struggle. His strikeouts are down. His walks are up. His slider, which has been his signature pitch, is just not moving the way it generally does. His fastball velocity is down.

There's a lot of things you can point to in terms of why Manoah just isn't Manoah this year. What's interesting is he's coming off an incredible 2022 season. It's really one of the best seasons in recent history. In the last 30 seasons, there have just been 32 times when a pitcher has had an ERA under 2.25 and 150 innings pitched or more. So what Manoah did last year in 2022 is the sort of thing that happens approximately once per year in the Major Leagues. That's how good this season was.

And yet, he's struggling in a pretty profound way. And the question becomes, have we seen guys in the past who had these amazing seasons and struggled out of the gate the way Manoah has? And the answer, sort of. A couple. Really, there's three guys you can put in the same bucket as Manoah right now, guys who had an ERA of 4.50 or more in their first nine starts after having one of those amazing seasons.

So the number one guy is Greg Maddux. Now it's tough to be compared to Greg Maddux. This is one of the very best pitchers of all time. And in 1999, he got off to a rough start. He had an ERA over 5 in his first nine outings. But when you look at the numbers, there wasn't that much to be concerned about. He was a guy who had a high BABIP. He had a few more home runs than usual.

His strikeout rate was never high. It was a little bit lower than you'd think. But as you might imagine, Maddux, after his rough patch, he just rolled on and had maybe not his best year ever, but a Greg Maddux-caliber year. And kind of the learning there is that sometimes, even the best pitchers in MLB can have these types of stretches where they're not effective for a little bit and then they are. So that's the good news for Manoah fans. The bad news is that just Maddux is maybe a different caliber pitcher and some of the underlying numbers weren't too bad.

Number two is Zack Greinke. Zack Greinke had an unbelievable 2015 with the Los Angeles Dodgers, an ERA under 2, and then he joined the Arizona Diamondbacks and things went awry. What's interesting with this one is that he actually looked pretty good in those first nine starts. He had a couple more home runs than usual. But most of the underlying stuff, the strikeouts, the walks, was more or less the same.

So at the time, you might have said, OK, here's a guy who's just going through a weird patch, and He's going to be fine. But what actually ended up happening was that the rest of his season was pretty unimpressive as well by his standards. And so this isn't a case where, yeah, a guy comes out and he's got a rough start, and that rough start is an indication of what you're going to see for the rest of the season, which is something to keep in mind with Manoah.

Number three is Dylan Cease. This one we don't know the story yet. Dylan Cease was unbelievable in 2022, like Manoah. He was a Cy Young candidate, a really good one. And he's fallen apart this year. Again, not quite to the extent of Manoah. Got an ERA that's in the 4.80s opposed to 5. The strikeouts are still there for him. He doesn't look as good, but it's not quite the same fall-off.

So if you take all that history under consideration, Manoah is a pitcher who has looked significantly worse in almost every facet of his game. And the results are worse than really any we've seen from pitchers in recent history who've had seasons as good as his 2022 was. If you're a Blue Jays fan, and you're concerned about Alek Manoah, you're right to be. Because we haven't seen something like this before.