Alek Manoah Is My God Now
(Plus - Series Preview: Toronto Blue Jays (28-27) vs Cleveland (27-21))
It’s not often that we have opportunities to swing the tone of a conversation about a baseball team 180 degrees one way, before swinging it back 180 degrees the other way. Nevertheless, that’s the situation we find ourselves in.
Once again, the Blue Jays took two games out of three from the fraud Yankees, who I never once referred to as being “once again, good”. It was far from the most dramatic series, for the most part. The Jays only scored 11 runs, getting by mostly on good starting pitching holding the depleted and fraudulent Yankees lineup in check.
The guy making this extended blurb necessary took the mound Wednesday afternoon after his major league debut was postponed from the day before due to weather. Alek Manoah looked excellent, dicing through the Yankees in six innings of shutout baseball, as his extremely enthusiastic family cheered him on.
The vibes were good in New York. Manoah is a big man decked out in chains, confidence, and composure. His enthusiasm for the game is palpable, whether he’s on the bench or on the mound when his single-minded focus on taking the batter apart will occasionally turn into its opposite in an outpouring of elation.
You could definitely quibble about aspects of his start. The slider wasn’t as sharp as had been previously reported, and he definitely hung one to Aaron Judge at one point that should’ve crossed the Atlantic Ocean. This was also a Yankees team that has underperformed offensively and had lost Giancarlo Stanton, Luke Voit, and Aaron Hicks to injury, with the sorry likes of Rougned Odor, Mike Ford, and Brett Gardner taking crude facsimiles of at-bats in their place. You could actually make the argument that Manoah’s next scheduled start against the Miami Marlins in Buffalo will present an equal or greater test.
On the other hand, A) his changeup, supposedly his weakest pitch was spectacular, and B) it takes a real ghoul to rain heavily on this parade. Nitpick it however you like, in the final analysis, Alek Manoah looked really fucking good. Not every start is gonna look as good as today, but this was as good a start as any to start his career off with.
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Hitter: Bo Bichette (3) 11 plate appearances, .364/.364/.909, 3 Weighted Runs Created, 0.30 WPA/LI
I could’ve flipped a coin and given it to Semien or Vladdy, but Bo hitting two homers in different hames on the same day carried it for me.
Honourable Mentions: Marcus Semien, Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
Pitcher: Alek Manoah (1), 6 innings, 22 batters faced, 2 hits, 0 earned runs, 2 walks, 1.79 FIP, 74 Game Score v2, 0.30 WPA/LI
In March 2021, I said that Manoah was “probably further off [from making the big leagues] than [Simeon] Woods Richardson” and that “it’s probably not realistic to expect him up this year.”
Even if Steven Matz was just as good, there was just too much going for Manoah performance- and narrative-wise for me not to give it to the Large Rookie. Matz will easily get a nod though.
Robbie Ray finally showed some mortality, turning in his worst start of the season (and his first multi-walk game April 18 against Kansas City), taking him out of the running for the final Honourable Mention, which I’m sure must be devastating for him personally. Jordan Romano got my last Honourable Mention, as he struck out four Yankees in a couple high relief innings.
Honourable Mentions: Steven Matz, Jordan Romano
Best Bird Standings
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. - 5
Bo Bichette- 3
Marcus Semien- 3
Randal Grichuk- 2
Teoscar Hernández- 1
Cavan Biggio- 1
George Springer- 1
Robbie Ray- 4
Steven Matz- 4
Hyun Jin Ryu- 3
Julian Merryweather- 2
Alek Manoah- 1
Anthony Castro- 1
Ryan Borucki- 1
Friday, May 28 (7 p.m. EST/5 p.m. MST): Hyun Jin Ryu vs. Eli Morgan
Ryu: Nine starts, 53 ⅓ innings, 2.53 ERA/3.47 xERA/3.01 xFIP, 24.6 K%, 2.8 BB%, .249 xBA Against, 34.6 HardHit%
Morgan: First start of the season. (Triple-A stats: Three starts, 13 ⅔ innings, 3.95 ERA/3.22 FIP/5.14 xFIP, 23.2 K%, 14.3 BB%, .271 BA Against)
Saturday, May 29 (7 p.m. EST/5 p.m. MST): Ross Stripling vs. Sam Hentges
Stripling: Seven games (six starts), 32 innings, 5.63 ERA/5.27 xERA/4.07 xFIP, 25.4 K%, 7 BB%, .268 xBA Against, 44.2 HardHit%
Hentges: Seven games (Three starts), 20 ⅓ innings, 6.20 ERA/6.39 xERA/4.78 xFIP, 22.4 K%, 12.2 BB%, .277 xBA Against, 40.6 HardHit%
Sunday, May 30 (1 p.m. EST/11 a.m. MST): Steven Matz vs. Aaron Civale
Matz: Ten starts, 54 ⅔ innings, 4.28 ERA/3.65 xERA/3.40 xFIP, 25.6 K%, 6.4 BB%, .244 xBA Against, 39.7 HardHit%
Civale: Ten starts, 68 innings, 3.04 ERA/4.00 xERA/4.05 xFIP, 20 K%, 6.4 BB%, .258 xBA Against, 28.9 HardHit%
Pythagorean Record: 24-24
Run differential: +4 (191 Runs Scored, 187 Runs Allowed)
Last 10 games: 6-4
Going into the season, Cleveland was on my shit list, as they had traded away star shortstop Francisco Lindor, with the Dolans, in all their brilliance, opting for an approach that boiled down to “we’re too cheap to give the front office and on-field management anything to work with, but we have enough cheap pitching and vaguely promising offence beyond José Ramírez and Franmil Reyes that we might be able to make the Wild Card. Regardless, we’ll make a profit, so eat shit.”
Despite having one of the worst offences in the American League and a bottom-third starting rotation, Cleveland is still second place in the American League Central, thanks to a solid bullpen helmed by resident nutjob James Karinchak (one of the best in the game at this point), Emmanuel Clase, Bryan Shaw (owner of some of the worse facial hair in the game), and Cal Quantrill, as well as the complete and utter collapse of the Minnesota Twins in the early going.
With that said, this is an example of a team where the win-loss record is somewhat deceiving. Beyond the excellent Shane Bieber, Aaron Civale, and Zach Plesac, who just went on the IL, and prospects Triston McKenzie and Logan Allen both earned themselves demotions to Triple-A Colombus, and Sam Hentges hasn’t inspired a lot of confidence. The vaunted Cleveland pitching factory has sputtered a bit in the first third of the season.
If the starting pitching hasn’t been great, the offence has been terrible. José Ramírez and Franmil Reyes (who just went on the IL for six-to-eight weeks) have been the two consistently great hitters. Jordan Luplow and Blue Jays Legend Harold Ramírez have punched above their weight in limited time. César Hernández and Amed Rosario have both been below-average, but their value is salvaged somewhat by their strong defence.
Everyone else? Utterly terrible. The defensively-minded catching tandem of the injured Roberto Pérez (65 wRC+) and Austin Hedges (14 wRC+!!!!!!!) have been unplayable at the plate. The centrepiece coming back from the Lindor trade, Andrés Giménez, played himself into the starting lineup of the Colombus Clippers. Eddie Rosario has been bad, Jake Bauers has been even worse, and Josh Naylor hasn’t fulfilled his potential, his offensive shortcomings being amplified by the fact that he’s a first baseman playing right field.
This is a team that leans HEAVILY on their starting pitching getting late enough into the game with whatever slim lead their offence can scrounge so that their nasty bullpen can extinguish opponents’ hopes. In a series like the upcoming one against the Jays, where the likes of Sam Hentges and rookie Eli Morgan are starting two of the three games, along with Aaron Civale. I’ve gotten burned by underestimating Cleveland pitching in the past, but if I’m the Jays hitters, I’m thinking that looks like pretty good eating.
Best Players Thus Far:
José Ramírez, Third Base, .256/.347/.535, 138 wRC+
Shane Bieber, Starting Pitcher, 3.13 ERA/3.60 xERA, 36.4 K%, 8.9 BB%
James Karinchak, Relief Pitcher, 1.59 ERA/2.24 xERA, 48.3 K%, 12.5 BB%
Aaron Civale, Starting Pitcher, 3.04 ERA/4.00 xERA, 20 K%, 6.4 BB%
Bryan Shaw, Relief Pitcher, 1.35 ERA/3.05 xERA, 28.7 K%, 17.5 BB%
Eddie Rosario, Left Field, .234/.286/.357, 78 wRC+
Jake Bauers, First Base, .202/.297/.303, 69 (nice) wRC+
Josh Naylor, Right Field, .245/.291/.381, 84 wRC+