Sean Manaea threw a no-hitter last night, against arguably one of the best lineups in baseball. Post-no-hitter, the question is whether Manaea will ascend into becoming an elite starting pitcher, or will be go the way of pitchers like Philip Humber and Homer Bailey, who also threw a no-hitters, but had a hard time getting outs after that?
To answer this question, we’ll look at where Manaea’s been, and make a prediction about where he’s going. First, in Manaea’s 3-year career at Indiana State, he was solid, but not spectacular: 15-12, 3.13 ERA, 1.24 WHIP. Also note that he had a relatively high BB-rate: 3.9 BB/9 IP. Why is the BB-rate important? When ranking starting pitchers (SP) by IP in 2017, the average BB-rate for these pitchers was 2.5 BB/9IP, and only 4 of the top 20 had BB-rates higher than 3.1: Martinez (3.12), Verlander (3.15), Dickey (3.17), Gonzalez (3.54). I’ve chosen to focus on IP because true #1’s throw a lot of IP. For examples, see Sale, Kluber, Sherzer, Verlander. Can you be a #1 starter if you don’t throw around 200 IP? I don’t think so, and I’m even more old school than that: I think true #1’s should throw closer to 250 IP than 200 IP. Note that Manaea has never thrown more than 160IP in a single year, so whether he can get to 200 IP is currently unknown.
What about Manaea’s minor league career? When compared with his college career, it’s virtually identical. In the minors, he had a cumulative 16-9 record, 2.84 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, and 3.5 BB/9IP. Again, the BB-rate is too high, and also note that he didn’t throw more than 121 IP in any of his 3 minor league seasons. Stretching a SP from 120 IP/yr in the minors to 200 IP+ in the majors may be too much without increasing injury risk. For more on that, see (https://www.si.com/mlb/2018/02/19/young-pitcher-year-after-effect-report-card).
Prior to 2018, based on Manea’s performance in college and the minors, I’d would’ve projected that he’d become an average-to-slightly above average SP, but not a dominant #1. Pitchers who throw ~160 IP are closer to being #4 or #5 starters than #1s. The no-hitter argues against that, right? Also, note that Manaea’s BB-rate in 2018 is currently 1.5 BB/9IP. Granted, it’s a small sample size, 36IP, and whether Manaea can continue to keep the BB-rate that low in 2018 in unknown. But consider this: when average or slightly-above average pitchers ascend to becoming dominant #1s, the BB-rate is almost always dramatically reduced. For great examples of that, see Randy Johnson, Corey Kluber, and Clayton Kershaw.
So can Manaea keep the BB-rate low and throw 200 IP+? If he can, he will have ascended into becoming a dominant #1 in 2018.
Stats via http://thebaseballcube.com/players/profile.asp?ID=163027