It’s a strange case indeed. Two ballparks, both alike in everything from classic fame to absurd dimensions to daunting home tenants, and Oakland A’s pitcher Sean Manaea has been an entirely different performer at each of them.
Manaea is having an excellent season so far. After years of shoulder issues, he’s got his velocity back and is looking like the All-Star-caliber starter we’d hoped for when he was acquired as a top prospect. Among his sparkling results, he’s thrown two shutouts in 15 appearances.
Also among those 15 outings have been visits to Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park. Throughout his career, regardless of how else he’s been faring each year, his visits to those venues have followed distinct trends. When he goes to New York he’s brilliant, carving up the opponent with surgical precision. But once he steps foot in Boston he undergoes an awful transformation, or rather his pitches do, into beach balls. This summer continued each pattern, as his fourth visit to the Red Sox went poorly and his third trip to the Big Apple was superb despite taking the loss.
- Dr. Bronx: 1.04 ERA, 17⅓ ip, 24 Ks, 6 BB, 0 HR, 8 hits, .248 xwOBA
- Mr. Fenway: 15.70 ERA, 14⅓ ip, 11 Ks, 2 BB, 6 HR, 39 hits, .474 xwOBA
His success at Yankee Stadium inspires you to utter some high praise. At Fenway, the Sox collect hits like they were Rod Carew.
Inspect each individual game and the story doesn’t change. In New York:
- 2017: 7 ip, 0 runs, 8 Ks, 1 BB, 4 hits
- 2019: 5 ip, 0 runs, 5 Ks, 3 BB, 1 hit
- 2021: 5⅓ ip, 2 runs, 11 Ks, 2 BB, 3 hits
He’d never allowed a run there until Sunday, and even then he was fantastic. He fanned 10 of his first 18 batters, and when the Yankees did finally score it was mostly because he created his own trouble by walking two hitters in front of one well-timed double. It’s only the third time in Oakland history that a pitcher has racked up 11 strikeouts in under six innings.
Meanwhile, in Boston:
- 2016: 2⅔ ip, 8 runs, 1 K, 0 BB, 2 HR, 10 hits
- 2017: 3⅔ ip, 7 runs, 4 Ks, 0 BB, 1 HR, 11 hits
- 2018: 6 ip, 4 runs (3 ER), 4 Ks, 1 BB, 1 HR, 8 hits
- 2021: 2 ip, 7 runs, 2 Ks, 1 BB, 2 HR, 10 hits
Yikes. He got smashed at Fenway in his rookie year, and then again the next year. In 2018 he slipped in one outing that barely cleared the threshold of a quality start, and of course it came the summer that Boston won 108 games and the World Series and led the majors in scoring. Three years later he returned, once again finding the Red Sox among the leaders in wins and offense, and melted down for by far his worst showing of an otherwise breakout season.
In his other 13 starts this year, at all other locations, he’s got a 2.27 ERA. For the season overall he’s at 3.01, and he ranks sixth among AL starters in both forms of WAR.
What makes these splits all the more curious is the lack of contrast in the seeming difficulty of these matchups. It’s not one good team and one bad, nor one bandbox stadium and one cavern. They both usually have juggernaut offenses, and their stadiums each have wacky dimensions that help and hurt pitchers. The Yankees aren’t hitting much this year but they were top-two in MLB in scoring the other times he faced them, and the Red Sox were top-three in scoring every time he visited except in 2017 when they still crushed him anyway.
Perhaps the culprit could be the specific oddities of each park? After all, Fenway could be tough for lefties like Manaea because of the shallow LF, allowing righty hitters to pepper otherwise catchable balls off the Green Monster, while center-right is quite deep. And the short porch at Yankee Stadium is in RF, where lefty batters might have a tougher time getting ahold of something against a southpaw hurler, while center-left is an expansive wasteland for flies.
But that doesn’t appear to explain this phenomenon. The opponent is hitting for nearly three extra mph of exit velocity at Fenway compared with New York, and his strikeout rate almost triples in the latter stadium. Manaea’s six homers at Fenway were all no-doubters unaided by the park, but the Yankees haven’t hit the ball farther than 386 feet, and only four out of 64 batters have cleared 340 feet. In Boston, 10 out of 81 batters cleared that 340 threshold, and five bested 386. The Sox weren’t just plopping wallscrapers behind the Monster nor into Fenway’s short RF corner, and the Yankees weren’t robbed of anything.
Maybe one team simply has his number, while the other can’t figure him out? Nope, the splits completely reverse when he faces the same adversaries at home. He’s gone against the Yankees twice at the Coliseum and allowed five runs each time. In 2018 he hosted the Red Sox in the Bay Area and threw a no-hitter against them.
So what’s the point? Nothing really, as this is most likely just a small-sample curiosity. There’s no obvious reason why Manaea has been an ace in one of the toughest venues in the sport but a batting practice machine at another of the toughest venues in the sport. Maybe he was just coincidentally tired each time against the Sox there, or they always happened to be locked in at the plate that week, or there’s some kind of mental block, or a specific level of humidity in the Boston air messes with his pitches, or the whole thing could be absolute random chance. Probably the last idea on that list.
For now, it’s just the strange case of Dr. Bronx and Mr. Fenway.