After finishing 3rd in the AL in Cy Young voting in 2022 Alek Manoah has had a rough start to 2023. He has a 5.53 ERA and 6.16 FIP . Hitters are hitting .274 with a .458 slugging percentage and wOBA of .375. His expected numbers (.278 xBA , .474 xSLG, .382 xwOBA) aren’t too different either so this isn’t necessarily a case of a pitcher having bad batted ball luck.
One thing that makes Manoah so enjoyable to watch is his ultra competitiveness and bulldog mentality on the mound. Even when he had bad games in 2022 he fought through it. This season though, he can’t seem to get over the hump. Look at how his numbers have dropped.
Hitters are swinging less but making contact more frequently. When they make contact they’re hitting the ball hard at a rate 11 percentage points higher than last season and their barrel rate is 3 percentage points higher. His swinging strike and chase rates are down. Those numbers being down means his K% is down and BB% is way up.
The velocities on his sinker, slider, and 4-seam are down 1 MPH and his command has been poor, especially on the sinker. He’s throwing it basically middle-middle. Last season he would pepper the corner of the plate on his arm-side. He doesn’t have the ability to control the inside part of the plate to righties anymore. These heat maps come from Baseball Savant.
The slider is Manoah’s most important pitch when he’s effective. While his slider command hasn’t changed much, the metrics of the slider are different. He’s getting 1.6 inches less sweep. The pitch also doesn’t have the same sharp break that it did in 2022. It looks like it’s breaking earlier and it’s easier for hitters to track and either do damage or lay off it.
Alek Manoah’s Slider
|Spin Rate (rpm)
His slider is his favorite pitch to throw with two strikes and this season he’s been getting hurt on it. He’s thrown it 37% of the time and hitters are 9 for 37 (.243 avg) with 3 HR and only 20% of their swings missed.
In 2022, he threw 2 strike sliders 36% of the time and hitters hit .156 (22-for-141) with 2 HR and missed on 29% of their swings.
I’ve watched a lot of video on Manoah and noticed there are three key moments throughout his delivery that are clearly different from last season.
- His hand placement at the leg lift apex
- His hand placement and timing when the leg starts to come down
- His shoulder tilt when his heel touches down.
His body is completely disconnected, so there’s not the same fluidity and intensity in his delivery. His arm is lagging behind his lower half at the beginning of the motion. It’s causing him to be about one tenth of a second slower to the plate on average than he was last year. When there aren’t any intentional changes in the motion, one-tenth of a second can make a huge difference.
2022 1.56 seconds average time to plate
2023 1.64 seconds
You can watch a year-to-year comparison for the slider and fastball here:
Now let’s break it down with stills.
In the pictures below (2023 left, 2022 right) I highlight the three main issues with Manoah’s delivery. The first two pictures against Judge are synced at first leg movement. It shows how far behind he is this season compared to last. The side-by-side against the Tigers and A’s shows how different his leg height is when his hand is waist high. Then the final picture against Judge is synced at Manoah’s heel touch.
2023 (L) vs 2022 (R)
Hand placement at leg apex.
In 2022 his hands already began to drop.
In 2023, his hands are still as high as when he started the leg lift. This has his arm behind the rest of his body during his delivery and slows his entire body down so the arm can catch up.
2023 (L) vs 2022 (R)
Hand at waist. In 2022 when his hand was at his waist it was behind his left knee because he was bringing his hand down earlier. 2023 the left knee is already down ready to straighten out but his hand is still at the waist.
2023 (L) vs 2022 (R)
These photos are synced at first leg movement. Manoah is clearly further into the delivery in 2022.
In 2023 he’s lagging behind and throwing off his entire momentum.
Heel Plant. Manoah’s shoulder tilt is incredibly different. Instead of being parallel to each other his front shoulder is a lot higher. His throwing arm is coming into the throwing position at a different angle.
This is making him get under the ball more and is the main reason his slider has a different shape and less bite to it. It’s also affecting his command and velocity of his fastballs because he isn’t getting through the ball well enough.
It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact cause without speaking with Manoah but there are a few things that can be factors.
The first potential cause is the pitch clock. Manoah was one of the slowest pitchers based off tempo in 2022 and still ranks among the 20 slowest both with the bases empty and runners on base in 2023.
The pitch clock could be causing him to rush between pitches and not be able to fully set himself before delivering. The shorter time between pitches could also have him more fatigued. We don’t know if that’s the case.
The second potential factor is Manoah’s comfort on the mound. The pitch clock could play a part in comfort but Manoah has also moved his position on the mound pretty frequently going back to last season, which we could tell from looking at his horizontal release point data (we think he’s changing his position, thus producing different numbers). He moved closer to the middle of the mound in an effort to get a better attack angle against lefties. Lefties have given him more trouble than righties in the past.
The change didn’t affect his numbers too much in 2022, but this season both righties and lefties are crushing him.
|2022 vs LHB
|2023 vs LHB
|2022 vs RHB
|2023 vs RHB
Manoah has been been tinkering with his position almost every game this year and is slowly getting back to where he was in the first half of 2022. It can’t be easy switching mound positions almost every game while also worrying about the pitch clock and fighting your mechanics.
Manoah has shown that when he’s right he’s one of the best pitchers in baseball. Pitchers go through slumps and the great ones always find their way back to being dominant. I expect as the season goes on that Manoah will figure this out, as he’s too competitive and talented not to. He might just need more time to adjust.