This offseason was unlike any other in the Steve Cohen era of Mets baseball, noted more for the team’s austerity on the free agent market than the previous few years. There are myriad factors for that, but even with some very good players still available, the team seems willing to stand pat with the group they have.

Even though the Mets heavily tipped that they were going to be on a stricter budget this offseason, it is still amazing to realize they gave out just one multi-year contract – to Sean Manaea for two years and $28 million. But Manaea could end up being way more than just that footnote this offseason. There is reason to be optimistic that he could go down as the best bang for your buck signing of the year.

Manaea has spent much of his eight-year MLB career as a soft-tossing lefty, a fast-disappearing breed in the game. After success early in his career with the Oakland Athletics as a sinkerballing lefty who sat around 90 mph, he suffered through the worst year of his career in 2022 with the San Diego Padres, posting a 4.96 ERA and -0.8 bWAR in 158.0 innings capped off by a disastrous outing in the playoffs against the Phillies.

After that, Manaea began working with Driveline Baseball, a data-driven training facility in Kent, Washington that numerous Major Leaguers work out at and is at the cutting edge of training techniques and technology in pitching. His journey there was well-chronicled in a Will Sammon article in The Athletic last month.

He added a sweeper and gained a few ticks of velocity in his first offseason training at Driveline, and the results showed in 2023. His average velocity on his four-seam fastball, a pitch he began throwing in 2022 and threw even more in 2023, rose from 91.3 mph to 93.6 mph, his Hart Hit% (balls with Exit Velocity over 95 mph) dropped from 43.0% to 36.6%, and his K% ticked up to 25.7%, tying his career-high. Sammon notes in his article that if Manaea was ranked among starting pitchers, he would’ve led MLB in year-over-year velocity gain.

Though he only has a handful of spring training innings under his belt, the results look to be holding. His velocity has been up in the mid-90s, and we’ve seen a little bit of his new changeup and cutter (four-seam, cutter, sweeper, changeup is a common pitch mix being taught by data-driven coaches).

He pitched well enough with San Francisco in terms of actual game results that after he was moved to the bullpen, he was able to earn his way back into the rotation by the end of the year. In his last two starts against the Dodgers and Padres, he combined for 13.0 IP, 10 H, 2 R, 0 BB and 10 K. Not too shabby.

The big question for Manaea in 2024 is how much more of a step forward can he take this season with another offseason of working with the Driveline staff under his belt. Even if there is not a huge step forward and it is just a marginal improvement, how much does moving to another pitcher-friendly ballpark in Citi Field benefit him?

It stands to reason that with a better pitch mix, a better feel of the sweeper, and continued higher velocities that Manaea is poised for a strong season, which is exactly what the Mets need. With all of the question marks surrounding the starting rotation, Manaea is going to need to be a rock for the Mets this year.

The good news is that Manaea has taken it upon himself to improve his pitching, and hopefully he has given himself the tools to reward the Mets’ faith that his transformation is real.

4 comments on “Sean Manaea’s transformation is key to Mets’ rotation this season

  • Brian Joura

    Of all the moves the Mets made in the offseason, this is the one that feels like the biggest win to me.

    In my projection piece on Manaea – which came out a day before the Sammon piece you reference – I talk about the sweeper and came up with this:

    In the 42 times that a PA ended with Manaea throwing a sweeper, there were five singles, a double, a walk and 3 HBP. Batters were 6-38, with a slash line of .158/.238/.184 against the new pitch.

    Mets 2024 projections: Sean Manaea

    That’s a pretty big reason to be optimistic about Manaea!

  • TexasGusCC

    Nice piece Joe. It appears the Mets are looking for above average production with their starting pitchers, and if they get way above average, then great! Manaea getting a haircut certainly got rid of a distraction on every pitch; good job Sean! Now the question becomes: why did he do poorly the first trial as a starter after Driveline and are the results in September enough of a sample? It appears MLB felt they weren’t, or he would have gotten a better offer from someone. I’ll say one thing, I have much more confidence in Manaea’s staying power and results than the other lefty storages on this team.

  • NYM6986

    You have to hope that he wants to seize this opportunity of a fresh start and succeed. It would be fair to say that the rotation is a huge question mark. Manaea was brought here to become a staple in the rotation and I believe he will not disappoint.

  • T.J.

    It would certainly be fun to have Manaea mania sweeping Citifield this summer, although I’ll admit to some disappointment as I was looking forward to all the fans wearing wigs on his pitching day.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The maximum upload file size: 100 MB. You can upload: image, audio, video, document, spreadsheet, interactive, text, archive, code, other. Links to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other services inserted in the comment text will be automatically embedded. Drop file here