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Mountaineers in the Pros

Alek Manoah Shelled in Rookie Ball: Inside the Ace’s Struggles



Alek Manoah

Former WVU ace Alek Manoah gave up 11 earned runs in 2.2 innings in his first start for the Toronto Blue Jays’ rookie ball team on Tuesday as his nightmare season continues. 

Toronto demoted Manoah, a trendy Cy Young award pick to start the season, after lighting it up in his first two seasons in the big leagues and finishing third last year—to the Florida Complex League on June 6.

He pitched to a 6.36 ERA across 13 starts in the majors to begin the year. The Blue Jays hoped that the developmental league could help him hit reset. 

Through his first attempt, at least, that didn’t happen. 

What Went Wrong?

Perhaps the most frustrating element of Manoah’s struggles is that they’re impossible to boil down to one thing. His 42 walks allowed sit as the fourth worst in all of baseball, even with three weeks off. He’s allowing hard contact on 43.3 percent of batted balls, up close to 12 percent from last season, as his average and maximum fastball velocity dipped.

Allowing 1.7 home runs per nine innings—mixed with a generous number of free passes—creates a recipe for disaster.

Manoah isn’t getting batters to chase pitches outside the zone, which contributes to his ugly walk rate (14.9 percent). 

Even worse, when he throws over the plate batters aren’t missing: Baseball Savant puts his whiff rate in the 18th percentile, deep in the bottom of the barrel. 

Opposing batters are having greater success against all four of Manoah’s pitches—his four-seam fastball, sinker, slider and changeup—than they did last season. His slider (.603 slugging percentage in 2023, up from .324 last season) and four-seamer (.594, from .339) are the main culprits. 

He’s throwing the fastball less (down 8.5 percent from 2022) and missing the strike zone with his off speed offerings.

Pitch Clock Woes?

So what’s causing Manoah’s sudden case of the yips?

Blue Jays’ manager John Schneider spoke to the Toronto Sun about Manoah’s FCL outing on Tuesday, giving insight into Manoah’s struggles.  

“Obviously [I] saw the line score but heard the things we were talking about in terms of strike throwing, delivery, tempo, velo was all positive,” Schneider said. “I don’t think one day, one outing, one report will really change [what the Jays think of his rehab assignment]. I think there’s enough track record and confidence and belief in him.”

That’s coach speak—try though Schneider might, it’s impossible to find a bright spot in 11 runs allowed—but his words do provide a glimpse of what plagues Manoah.

Schneider’s mention of tempo implies that part of Manoah’s miserable season stems from MLB’s adoption of the pitch clock, a theory that fans and media alike turned to as it became clear that his problems ran deeper than a bad outing or two—especially given his reputation as a methodical worker.

Rather than having time to compose himself after making a bad pitch, the pitch clock means that Manoah has to be back in business immediately, ready to select and throw his next one. This could contribute to his downward spiral.

What Happens Next?

If the pitch clock is indeed the root of Manoah’s struggles, it’s heartening news that the Blue Jays are aware of it: if they know what the problem is, they can take concrete steps to address it rather than sitting by helpless as he continues to melt down. 

In theory, the FCL provides a lower stakes environment for Manoah to get right than getting optioned to Triple-A would: facing off against recent draft picks and international players who just made it stateside is an easier task than pitching to players who have several more years under their belts—although getting shelled against rookies can’t feel good. 

Taking Schneider’s words at face value, the Blue Jays sent Manoah down to the FCL so that he could figure things out without costing the team wins. If the Blue Jays are treating his outings as glorified practice, live at-bats without any of the pressure to win games as he tinkers around with getting comfortable at delivering timely pitches, then maybe his situation isn’t as dire as it seems as he works to return to form.

That said, he’ll need to figure out how to combine expedited delivery with competitive pitches at some point to get his career back on track.

WVSN’s Mike Asti asked Schneider about Manoah after a game earlier in the season.

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