We’ve seen a number of no-hitters and perfect games over the past few years, and the truth is they’re not always all that impressive. Most involve a fair amount of luck and a miracle defensive play or two, and the line between a no-hitter and a merely good outing can be rather small. Plus, most of them aren’t thrown by someone as charming as Sean Manaea.
That wasn’t the case last night. Sean Manaea had complete control over the Boston Red Sox from start to finish, giving up little meaningful hard contact and never finding himself with more than a single runner on base. He withstood a few defensive miscues, and with the help of some good umpiring fortune found himself entrenched in the annals baseball history.
In the game, the Red Sox hit only four balls far enough for an outfielder to get involved. By my count, the Red Sox hit exactly two balls which required an outfielder to back up. There wasn’t a single time where an A’s outfielder broke into a full sprint and there was no real risk of extra bases.
Getting the ball deep into the outfield is a strong proxy for hitting the ball well. Clearly the Red Sox didn’t do that, so this wasn’t a fluke no-hitter. It gets better — of the four balls hit to the outfield, three of them were hit the other way. Balls in the air to the opposite field yield a batting average of just .277 and a slugging percentage that pales in comparison to balls pulled. Even when the Sox were able to get under the ball, Manaea ensured they traveled in a harmless direction.
Personally, I have some Statcast fatigue. Baseball players hit the ball hard, they hit it high, we get it. But this is actually pretty telling
Sean Manaea only allowed 2 batted balls with a hit probability greather than 50%. The hardest hit ball off him was Hanley's last batted ball of the game.— Daren Willman (@darenw) April 22, 2018
In a small sample this year, the A’s defense has been pretty good! A minor miracle after the past two seasons, but not unexpected with the team’s new third baseman. It’s still far from an amazing defensive team though, and the data point above reinforces that Manaea wasn’t carried by his defense.
In addition to weak flyball contact, the Red Sox couldn’t even make solid contact on the ground. In a way that’s a bad thing, as Matt Chapman didn’t have to make any superhuman plays. The average exit velocity on a groundball in the league this year is 85 MPH, and Manaea last night gave up groundballs with an average exit velocity of 84 MPH. Statcast is best used to shoehorn somewhat flattering information about Sean Manaea into a We Love Sean Manaea post.
Eno Sarris wrote a wonderful post about Manaea’s transition to staff ace this year, with the conclusion remaining that he’s putting the ball where he wants. It’s a beautiful sight to see and it’s had huge ramifications into his overall game, which we saw last night.
Manaea is now comfortable throwing just about any pitch in just about any count to any type of hitter. His more complete arsenal was on display last night which we saw in the form of his punchouts — five came via the fastball, four came via the slider, and one came via the changeup. His tremendous command and confidence manifested in his pitch selection — in the three three-ball counts he faced, he threw two change ups and a slider, an indication he’s completely at ease throwing his secondary stuff for strikes when needed.
The Red Sox are an offensive machine
Teams of all shapes and sizes get no-hit but typically they’re low on the list of offensive ability. You know by now, but it’s hard to overstate just how strong the Red Sox roster is top to bottom and just how hot their offense was coming into Saturday’s game. Some noteworthy facts:
- In a sport as luck-based as baseball, no-hitters are frequently foiled by a squibber here or a rogue pop up there. A pitcher’s best bet at neutralizing luck? Strikeouts! Manaea had 10 beautiful punchouts last night.
- Relatively speaking, the Red Sox don’t strike out. Their 17% strikeout rate is the lowest in baseball by a full point. This wasn’t Manaea striking out a bunch of free swingers or unaccomplished youngsters, this was Manaea mowing down a lineup of stars.
- The Red Sox are the best offense in baseball by wRC+, though the much more handsome A’s are nipping at their heels. If they were to keep that offensive performance up for the entire season? They’d be the 7th greatest offense of all time.
- We do have to point out that the Sox have been pretty awful against lefties this year but I’ve strategically left pointing this out till the end to not dampen the delight.
A story of growth
It hasn’t always been the smoothest road for Manaea since his arrival. In his first season in the bigs, he often got rocked, with the nadir of that season possibly coming at the hands of the Red Sox. That game, Manaea went 2⅔ innings giving up 10 hits and eight runs against another great lineup.
Manaea didn’t instantly figure it out from there, but he did start to turn a corner. That night, Manaea repeatedly threw balls in the middle of the zone early in counts and was dearly punished. To use an old cliche, he threw, he didn’t pitch. Last night, Manaea controlled the zone, pitching his pitches to his spot, confidently controlling the game. We’ve watched Manaea turn from a highly touted prospect into a rookie who couldn’t harness his stuff to a smart, strike-throwing out machine. It’s been a joy to watch, and it couldn’t have happened to a better guy.
What was your favorite part of Saturday night’s no-hitter?