Blue Jays’ Alek Manoah is Struggling to Find a Rhythm in 2023
Toronto Blue Jays starter Alek Manoah is struggling to start the 2023 season, with the Florida product battling at times on the mound.
The Toronto Blue Jays entered the 2023 season with one of the most intriguing starting rotations in the American League, as the club bolstered the pitching corps this past offseason by adding Chris Bassitt on a three-year deal, joining José Berríos, Kevin Gausman, Yusei Kikuchi, and Alek Manoah in the club’s starting five.
Berríos and Kikuchi entered the campaign looking to bounce back after struggling in 2022 while Manoah earned the Opening Day start and was considered one of the more dependable arms on the squad, forming a formidable one-two punch with Gausman at the top of the rotation.
After making his debut with the Jays back in 2021, Manoah’s sophomore campaign was remarkable, pitching to a 2.24 ERA through 31 starts and 196 2/3 innings.
He finished the year with an 8.2 K/9 while limiting the walks to a 2.3 BB/9, utilizing his sinker, fastball, and slider combination with a changeup mixed in to keep hitters to a .202 batting average en route to becoming a Cy Young finalist.
The right-hander didn’t allow more than four earned runs through any of his starts last season and had seven starts where he didn’t allow a single run, eventually finishing with a 3.35 FIP and a 0.992 WHIP. This year, Manoah has struggled to repeat that success.
Blue Jays Alek Manoah Struggling Early
So far, the start to the year has been a derailment of sorts for the Florida product, as the Jays pitcher is not only struggling with his command but is also failing to get swing-and-miss on his offerings.
Through nine starts, Manoah has amassed a 9.8 H/9 and has allowed 27 earned runs to the tune of a 5.40 ERA, battling through most of his outings. While the West Virginia University alum has two outings where he has pitched seven innings, in five of his outings he failed to eclipse the five-inning mark, allowing anywhere from three to seven runs.
More concerning is his command, as his BB/9 has grown to 6.4 on the year and sits in the seventh percentile in BB%, over 4.0 walks higher than what Manoah finished with last season. The Jays starter has always been a bit wild, leading the AL in hit batters in both 2021 and 2022, but the command of his fastball and slider is putting him in tough situations on numerous occasions this season that is coming back to hurt him on the scoreboard.
Overall, the trend is concerning for the Jays, as the club sits in a tough AL East division that is currently seeing them fight for third/fourth place against the New York Yankees, while both teams sit around the .570 winning percentage mark.
Although Berríos and Kikuchi are putting up solid numbers early this year, the club will need Manoah to get back on track if they want to have a chance to make a postseason run with the Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays, and the Baltimore Orioles starting out strong.
His fastball, which was one of his best pitches last season, generating a -18 run value with a 22.8% PutAway%, has struggled to live up to expectations and is sitting at a 48.6% HardHit% while opposing hitters own a .265 average on his low 90s offering.
Even more concerning is his slider, which was his strongest whiff% pitch (31.8%) and K% (27.7) last season. This year, the go-to pitch for Manoah has not generated nearly the same amount of swing and miss (25.3 whiff% and 15.2 K%) and has been tagged by opposing pitchers to the tune of a .368 average and a .737 SLG, as he has been leaving the pitch over the plate too much for opposing hitters, leading to a +13 run value.
When it comes to the ball in play, Manoah is generating weak contact (5.6%) but his solid contact and barrel percentage are trending in the wrong direction at 11.9% and 9.8% respectively.
We could look at the stats and the comparison between this season and last year at greater lengths but the bigger question remains in the ‘why’ Manoah is struggling on the mound. Is it the pitch clock? Tipping his pitches? Something with his mechanics? Something with his slider, with Sportsnet producer Chris Black providing an excellent thread on why his slider may not be as effective this season. Maybe even a combination of some of the things mentioned above?
Blue Jays and the AL East Picture
Whatever the cause may be, the fact of the matter remains that for one of the first times in Manoah’s professional career, he is struggling on the mound and is in a funk that Jays fans have never seen before from the 6’6″ right-hander.
While I wouldn’t be so quick to send him back to the Minor Leagues to figure things out or a phantom IL stint to give him a breather, Manoah has always been a competitor and I would think that he and the Jays coaching staff will continue to tinker with his mechanics and approach on the mound to try and get him back into the form we saw in his two seasons prior.
In a stacked AL East division, struggling on the mound and failing to get deep into games will really hurt the club, especially since the Blue Jays are currently on a stretch that will see them play 30 games in 31 days. If Manoah continues to produce similar results, the Jays may have to get creative with their Opening Day starter to hopefully right the ship sooner rather than later.