Sean Manaea's transition to the big leagues hasn't been as seamless as we'd all hoped. He's certainly shown flashes of the star we all expected, but mostly, he's been the guy with an ERA over five and a difficulty putting hitters away. On Sunday, Manaea showed a slightly different pitch selection than we've been accustomed to this year.
As we know from Kendall Graveman, Rich Hill, and about a billion other pitchers, sometimes, a turning point from bad to good can be as simple as altering one's pitch selection.
Manaea dropped a significant percentage of his fastball usage in favor of his change-up. It was an obvious adjustment, his change-up has been by far his offering this season while his fastball has disappointed and his slider has remained inconsistent.
Increasing the usage of Manaea's change-up should have a grand effect on his fastball. It's not easy to estimate quantitatively, especially when the writer is just a hungover fan in the middle of Mexico, but the relationship between the change-up and fastball is paramount. The change-up's success is derived from its similar look to the fastball out of a pitcher's hand and increasing the usage of a good change-up will almost certainly make his fastball a better pitch.
There's an area where we can better approximate just how valuable increasing change-up usage will be: his early count success. You've probably noticed hitters swinging out of their shoes in early counts against Manaea.
|Count||At Bats||Percentage of total AB (281)||OPS against||sOPS+|
A troubling amount (41%) of at bats are ending by the third pitch, a cause for concern as guys are easily putting the ball in play and rarely whiffing in early counts. Much of the damage has been done against the fastball.
|Fastball||Count||Ball||Strike||Whiffs||Ball in Play||BAA||Slugging|
While the change-up has been a much better offering.
|Changeup||Count||Ball||Strike||Whiffs||Ball in Play||BAA||Slugging|
His lack of fastball success remains troubling, however, it can also be a piece of hope on which to cling. My theory remains that hitters are sitting fastball early in counts because it's essentially all Manaea has thrown, and their ability to put the ball in play successfully is due to Manaea's predictability.
The fact that Manaea is predictable doesn't completely ease worries on how bad his fastball, a pitch that was supposed to be above average, has been. But with an increase in change-up usage that should make his fastball a better offering and with a correlated decrease in predictability, there's hope that Manaea's early woes are mostly due to his repertoire.
For a sample this small in an appearance so wonky (a spot-relief appearance), there are enough grains of salt required to raise your blood pressure. Noting this is a small sample size is not only a way to cover my own behind if Manaea goes out and throws 40% change-ups his next start out, only to be shelled in Surkamp-ian ways. It's also a way to say, this is something to watch. Manaea has the same tools that had many projecting him as a top of the rotation starter. Transitioning from the minors to the bigs usually requires adjustments, and this may be the biggest one Manaea's made so far. Let's see if it was a spot-appearance wonder, or if it's a conscious change on the part of the A's young lefty to keep hitters more off balance.