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Buy or Sell: Alek Manoah as a Top-100 Pick?

Often, I’ll spend time figuring out what went wrong with pitchers that performed poorly. Insert comment about Mitch Keller, who I wrote about earlier this week. Then buddy John Fish (@PileOfDial) tweeted and asked about Alek Manoah. Since we haven’t dug into Manoah yet, it’s a perfect time to dive into the rookie’s 2021 season. Since Manoah sits around pick 100, we’ll look at Manoah’s college, minor league, and MLB career, plus the underlying skills and metrics. That should help us decide whether to buy into or fade Manoah’s 2021 rookie season as we look to 2022.

Things look bleak now but there will be baseball in 2022! Why not get a head start and jump in a Fantrax Classic Draft contest? Get a jump on the season with a Best Ball league or maybe a Draft and Hold. Or put some green on the line with a new season-long league to try and conquer. There’s no better time than now to get your baseball on!

Examining Alek Manoah’s Rookie Season – Is He Worth a Top-100 Pick?

Alek Manoah (SP – TOR)

The Blue Jays selected the 6-foot-6 righty in Alek Manoah out of West Virginia in the first round in 2019. In college, Manoah finished with a 2.81 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 10.3 K/9, and 3.6 BB/9 across 218 innings. West Virginia used Manoah as a starter and reliever with 18 games as a starter and 42 total appearances. In 2017 and 2018, Manoah logged four saves, and we noticed the struggling strikeout to walk rate in those two seasons.

Manoah went from a 1.36 K/BB, then 2.14 K/BB that boomed to 5.33 in 2019 – his final season in college. That’s a product of the 12 K/9 with a college career low of 2.2 BB/9 in 2019. However, in 2017 and 2018, Manoah’s BB/9 sat at 5.3 (2017) and 4.7 (2018), with an improving K/9 of 7.3 (2017) and 10 (2018).

Manoah also logged a college best 108 1/3 innings across 16 starts that averaged over 6 2/3 innings per start. In Short-Season Class-A ball, Manoah threw 17 innings with a 2.65 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 39.7% strikeout rate, and 7.4% walk rate. Then the Blue Jays moved him up to Triple-A in 2021 for 18 innings (three starts) in May for a silly 0.50 ERA, 0.56 WHIP, 40.9% strikeout rate, and 4.5% walk rate. Across the 35 innings in the minors, Manoah boasted a 40.3% strikeout rate and 6% walk rate.

Manoah’s Rookie Season

Although it seemed like Alek Manoah barely threw any innings in the minors, he threw over 108 innings at West Virginia in 2019, then added 17 more later that year. In terms of injury or missed time for Manoah, he threw at Maikel Franco, which resulted in a five-game suspension. Also, Manoah went on the 10-day injured list once due to a back injury.

As a rookie in 2021, Manoah threw 111 2/3 innings pitched with a 3.22 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 27.7% strikeout rate, and 8.7% walk rate. Manoah’s .246 BABIP looks low, but the 76.6% LOB% isn’t a red flag. There’s a chance Manoah’s BABIP remains lower with a 40.6% FB% with a reasonable 10.7% HR/FB% and 0.97 HR/9. In Manoah’s 20 starts, he posted a quality start in 11 of them (55%) – all of them he allowed two or fewer runs. That’s a positive sign that the Blue Jays let him go a healthy chunk of innings per start (5.56).

Alek Manoah’s Pitch Mix & Results

Are you drooling yet? Well, it’s time with Alek Manoah’s arsenal. Manoah used three primary pitches in the four-seamer (36.2%), slider (27.8%), and sinker (26.7%). He also threw a changeup at 9.4%, primarily against lefties (155 out of 173).

Manoah’s four-seamer and slider elicit double-digit swinging-strike rates with 15.2% on the four-seam and 16.9% on the slider. He hammers the zone with the four-seamer (56.6%) and sinker (53.6%). The slider isn’t far behind with a 47.1% Zone%. Interestingly, Manoah’s four-seamer doesn’t overpower hitters at 93.7 mph that doesn’t stand out movement-wise. That aligns with the 78% Active Spin on the four-seam, but it’s not something to panic about since it still resulted in a -6 Run-Value. However, Manoah’s four-seam peaked at 97.3 mph, so he ramps it up.

The slider gets a ton of horizontal movement at 6.5 inches more than the average slider but barely any above-average vertical drop. However, Manoah’s slider resulted in a .146 BA, .293 SLG, and .236 wOBA, so he’s limiting the quality of contact. He uses the four-seamer and slider to elicit fly balls, both over 51%. Meanwhile, Manoah’s sinker induces a 53.9% groundball rate.

Manoah’s Swing-Take Visuals

Manoah thrived in the heart and shadow areas of the zone, evidenced by a -13 Run-Value (heart) and -20 Run-Value (shadow). It’s quite a feat to have a high negative Run-Value in both areas of the zone. Outside of the elite pitchers, we often find a pitcher thriving in one or the other with struggles in the heart. We have 37 starting pitchers with a profile similar to the -20 Run-Value in the shadow area, plus a -10 Run-Value in the heart or higher.

With the range of a negative 20-25 Run-Value in the shadow zone and a negative 10-15 Run-Value in the heart, we end with five other starting pitchers. Although it’s an arbitrary threshold, it helps narrow down the pool to Carlos Hernández, Kwang Hyun Kim, Sandy Alcantara, Luis Garcia of Houston, and Steven Matz. From a K-BB% and swinging-strike rate perspective, Manoah looks closer to Alcantara and Garcia. Check out my breakdown for Garcia back in late November.

From a prospect standpoint, evaluators graded Alek Manoah’s fastball and slider as above-average pitches, according to Prospects Live in March 2021. However, the command remained the question mark for Manoah. FanGraphs rated him similarly, so it’s safe to say Manoah’s skills and talent played well at the MLB level. The prospect reports hint that Manoah’s fastball could improve movement-wise to add to the excitement.

Alek Manoah’s 2022 Value

So what’s Alek Manoah’s value in 2022? In Draft Champions leagues in January, Manoah goes inside the top-100 picks at No. 92 near starting pitchers like Charlie Morton and Yu Darvish. In comparison to Alcantara and Luis Garcia, Alcantara goes in the ace range, and rightfully so. Meanwhile, fantasy managers could draft Luis Garcia and Manoah since Garcia goes around pick 137.

The projection systems have Manoah’s innings ranging from 147 to 151, so a jump of about 40 innings. ATC looks the most optimistic with a 3.88 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 27% strikeout rate, and 8.3% walk rate in 151 innings. Meanwhile, STEAMER projects a higher yet similar ERA at 4.12 with a 1.25 WHIP, plus a 26.2% strikeout rate and 8.4% walk rate. All projection systems expect Manoah’s BABIP to rise to around .290 with the LOB% to regress to 72-73%. Overall, it’s a fair projection for an above-average rookie season by Manoah. The rolling graphs show the ERA and BABIP aligning, so it’s something to monitor in 2022.

It’s a small sample of 276 batted ball events, but Manoah’s ability to limit hard contact with a .273 wOBA, .281 xwOBA, and .326 xwOBAcon adds to the optimism. Let’s see if those skills continue into 2022, but the pitch movement and results indicate they should. Look at Manoah as an SP3 with upside on fantasy squads. It’s within the range of outcomes for 150 innings with an ERA near 4.00 and a WHIP of 1.20 or below.

We’ll want to monitor the command of his pitches if the movement profile doesn’t change on the fastballs. In a few games where Manoah struggled, the fastball and slider command looked shaky, including some hit by pitches and poorly located ones that turned into home runs.

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