Sean Manaea, Checking Them Off

If you want to know the most insidious part of my job, it’s deciding what to write about when. Some of the decisions aren’t that crafty — sometimes I have to sit on a Kenta Maeda interview because August just wrote him up, for example. Other times, it’s a small move, like publishing a piece about a pitcher on the day he pitches instead of the day before.

But there are times that make me feel icky. Like the time I talked to Sean Manaea in May and never wrote it up because I felt like there were topics out there that might get more interest. And because I was waiting for a good stretch of ball from him. Well, congratulations to me for being a bad person — Manaea has a 2.84 ERA with 38 strikeouts and just eight walks in 44.1 innings since July tenth. Time to transcribe, you awful, awful dude!

The good news is that we can now check in on the things that Manaea was working on back then and see how they worked out. Welp. If I’d been less honest now, I could have said I planned this all along. Oh well, now you know more about me. Time to know more about Manaea.

With the Royals, Manaea was a big-fastball lefty with strikeouts to spare. The walks and the command came and went because of some funky mechanics, and the third pitch was an issue, but that fastball and the strikeouts offered promise.

Sometimes dubbed the Baby Giraffe, the six-foot-five is able to release the ball out front. That size lets him stride well, and even though he’s got a crossover delivery, he’s got some of the best extension in the game.

Best Four-Seam Fastball Extension in 2016
Name Avg Extension Count (4S)
Jacob deGrom 6.96 907
Michael Wacha 6.93 1101
Addison Reed 6.89 580
Sean Manaea 6.88 914
Shelby Miller 6.83 677
John Lamb 6.82 628
James Shields 6.78 590
Stephen Strasburg 6.78 1162
Noah Syndergaard 6.76 794
Tony Cingrani 6.73 696
SOURCE: Statcast
Extension in feet.

That extension makes his 92.3 mph fastball play like a 93.3 mph fastball on average. Add in that he’s a lefty — lefties average a tick slower than righties, on average — and you’ve got some of the best lefty velocity in the league.

But he admitted that he was struggling with two things: changeup command and the slurve.

To combat one, he was in the midst of a grip change back then in May. That decision was the result of a winding road when it came to that pitch.

He used to have a two-seam grip, the one his college roommate showed him, but he felt the need to change. “The two-seam changeup felt really good, but the higher up you get, the more likely they are to notice the spin, so I went back to the four-seam changeup,” Manaea told me back in May. That four-seam change would have the same spin as his four-seam fastball, he felt.

Then, in Royals camp in the spring, he found a mentor on the four-seam changeup. “I talked to Ryan Madson a lot about changeups, and he showed me how he did his, and he explained what I should be thinking about with my wrist and how it should feel,” said the lefty, “not so much pronation, but letting it slide out of my hand.”

Still, he was struggling with command and action on the pitch early this year with Oakland, so he decided to go back to his old grip and let the grip do the work. “It has a lot better action,” he said of his new grip. “For the four-seam I felt like I had to do more with my arm. I know this one is a little harder, but I throw it like a fastball and get deception from my arm speed.”

Manaea

So instead of focusing on spin, he focused on his arm for deception and the grip for movement. That new grip is a two-seam grip, but it’s also almost a split-finger at the top. It’s most commonly known as the FOSH because those secondary fingers are on the ball, and the ball ‘slides’ out off those fingers, much like the mechanics Madson told Manaea to try and find. The movement and results on the changeup line up well with the grip change, which had happened that week in May.

Manaea’s Two Changeup Grips
Changeup Grip Velocity Horizontal Movement Vertical Movement Ball% Whiff% GB%
Four-Seam 84.1 8.5 2.9 54% 11% 50%
Two-Seam FOSH 84.8 8.6 0.3 32% 20% 57%
Movement in inches, velocity in mph.

The next checkbox item for Manea after that talk in May was about the slider. “It’s a struggle right now,” he said of his breaking ball. “I’m trying to find the right grip, the right feeling.”

The lefty said he was working with pitching coach Curt Young to turn his occasional good ones into a more consistent better one. The mechanical keys for him were to continue “trying to stay on top of it and keep my hand from breaking too way to early,” but mostly it was the velocity of the pitch he wanted to improve. “It’s slow. I’m trying to figure out a way to speed it up.”

Mission accomplished, sort of. It’s harder these days, at least.

ManaeaSlider

Along with that extra velocity have come more whiffs, gradually. But as A.J. Hinch said in his scouting report before a game against Manaea, he struggles to keep his velocity and mechanics on the breaking ball and it still gets more slurvey late in games.

At least Manaea knows what there is to work on, even if it’s a bit different than a ton of pitchers. “I feel like everybody else is trying to get more break and I want more velocity,” the easy-going lefty laughed. With the progress he’s made, it’s easier to believe in future progress. And even what he’s done so far is at least worth some attention. On the day of his start. After a good roll. Sigh.



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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.


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