At the risk of angering the gods, this post is about how today’s starting pitcher has been pitching great. Sean Manaea, despite his uncharacteristic struggles with walks, has the best ERA and FIP among all Mets starting pitchers. And unlike Jose Butto, who was getting the majority of his starts in the 2024 extreme pitcher’s park of Citi Field, Manaea has equally split his eight games between home and road starts. Before today’s start in Miami, where the Marlins have put up 18 runs against Mets pitching in the first two games of the series, Manaea has a 2.61 road ERA, the only starter on the Mets with an ERA below 4.20 away from Citi Field.

Manaea was an average or better starter for the first six years of his career. Following his career-best 3.3 fWAR season in 2021, the A’s traded Manaea to the Padres, which in hindsight would have been an excellent sell-high opportunity. Instead, the A’s received just two middling prospects, neither of which are likely to make an even modest impact in the majors.

In his last season with the A’s, Manaea allowed 25 HR in 179.1 IP, which is a 1.25 HR/9, a career-worst mark at the time. But in his one season with the Padres, he served up 29 HR in 158 IP, an ugly 1.65 HR/9. After his 3.3 fWAR season in 2021, Manaea hit free agency after posting a 1.0 fWAR with the Padres in 2022.

He signed a one-year deal with the Giants and the gopher balls followed him to San Francisco. In his first eight games with the Giants, Manaea allowed 7 HR in 26 IP, which is a dismal 2.42 HR/9. That terrible start saw him busted to the pen, where Manaea turned his season around, in no small part due to the development and deployment of a sweeper. Previously, Manaea had two good pitches with his fastball and change. Now he had a good breaking ball to give batters a completely different look. And the results were striking.

In his final 22 games of the year, Manaea had a 3.42 ERA and allowed just 6 HR in 68.1 IP, a 0.79 HR/9. And while most of those games were as a reliever, Manaea made four consecutive starts to close the season. In that span, he posted a 2.25 ERA and allowed just 2 HR in 24 IP, for a 0.75 HR/9. He left the Giants as a free agent and signed a one-year deal with a player option with the Mets.

Manaea had a solid Grapefruit League season with the Mets, where in 16.2 IP, he allowed just 4 BB and 0 HR, to go along with 21 Ks. He gave up a few more hits than you would have liked to have seen but everything else was really good. And Manaea carried that into the regular season. In his first two games, he allowed just 1 ER in 11 IP.

And then came his start at home versus the Royals.

In eight games this year, Manaea has been average or better in seven of them. The exception was his third start of the year against the Royals. In that game, Manaea lasted just 3.2 IP, allowed 9 H and 8 R, six of which were earned. The shellacking saw his ERA go up from 0.82 to 4.30, an indication of how one bad start can really skew things early in the year.

That one start is still influencing his numbers. If we remove that game from his ledger, Manaea has a 1.91 ERA in his other seven starts this year. As it is, he has a 3.05 ERA, supported by a 3.26 FIP.

The good news is that Manaea is still being stingy with his home runs allowed. In 41.1 IP this year, he’s allowed just 1 HR – which, unsurprisingly, came in that game against the Royals. It gives him a microscopic 0.22 HR/9, which is the complete opposite end of the spectrum from his first eight games a year ago.

You would think that great HR rate would lead to a better FIP. The problem so far has been the walks. Prior to this season, Manaea had a lifetime 2.4 BB/9. Yet like almost every other starter on this year’s Mets, the free passes have increased for the southpaw. Manaea has a 4.4 BB/9.

However, there has been some good news recently in this department. In his last two games, Manaea has just 2 BB in 12 IP. If he can continue to keep the ball in the park while limiting his walks, Manaea’s ERA and FIP will move from good to great.

According to Statcast, Manaea has five pitches that he throws at least 10% of the time. He continues to have good results with his sweeper. When he first introduced the pitch last year, batters had just a .422 OPS against it. There was at least some concern that as more video became available that hitters would adjust accordingly against the pitch. But in 22 PA where the sweeper was the last pitch, batters have a .190/.227/.238 line, for a .465 OPS.

Manaea has had good success with what Statcast groups as fastballs – which includes 4-seamers, sinkers and cutters. The one pitch that he’s had trouble with so far has been his change, which is his second-most-thrown offering. In 37 PA which ended with a change, Manaea has a .333/.516/.367 line. The 16.0 BB% is certainly troublesome. The good news here is that batters aren’t making great contact against his change, as Manaea has a .222 xBA on the pitch.

Hopefully, Manaea will have better results with his change going forward. It’s reasonable to expect improvement, as he’s had good results with the pitch in six of his eight previous seasons, including last year. In the 82 times a PA ended with a change last season, Manaea limited batters to a .224/.268/.342 line.

Last year, a 3.05 ERA would have finished tied for ninth in the majors among the 141 pitchers with at least 90 IP. But so far this season, run scoring is down compared to a year ago. In 2023, MLB teams averaged 4.62 runs per game, while this season it’s a 4.32 mark. In this run environment, Manaea’s 3.05 ERA would place him as an SP2.

It would be nice if Kodai Senga was pitching and could be the team’s first starter. Regardless, Manaea’s output this season has made him an excellent addition to the squad. And you can see a path to even better performance going forward. Watch to see how he fares with walks allowed and see if he gets more traditional results with his change.

And hopefully this piece doesn’t jinx him later today.

2 comments on “Sean Manaea rewards David Stearns’ faith with a strong start to 2024

  • NYM6986

    So far Manaea has delivered as good as we had hoped. Throwing strikes, not walking batters and limiting the long ball are all ingredients for a strong starting pitcher. When we get Senga, Megill
    and Peterson back, we could have a much improved staff if the latter two can finally step up and not be the wannabes they have been. There is a long way to go to being a good team. Good starting pitching is a key. Fingers are always crossed with this team.

  • Brian Joura

    Hitters were 1-4 against his change today, with the one hit having an exit velocity of 63. Ball 4 of his only walk was a sinker and the HR came on a slider, which is essentially his sixth pitch and one of only two sliders he threw the entire game.

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