Drafted in the 11th round in 2011, standing all of 6’0 tall, a fastball hovering around 89 MPH, and no devastating off speed pitches to speak of, Seth Maness simply shouldn’t be good. The Cardinals 2012 minor league pitcher of the year is defying odds and he’s not just good, he’s awesome.
Maness entered the league with one strength, control. In 247.2 minor league innings, Maness walked only 18 batters, which is 0.7/9 innings. That walk rate has inflated to 1.7/9 innings, but is still Maddux-esque (Maddux had a career 1.8 BB/9 IP). A starter in the minors, Maness has been used as a double play specialist of sorts out of the bullpen for the Cardinals in his brief career. In a defiance of the odds, Maness has actually dropped his 2.80 minor league ERA to 2.40 in the majors. Fellow blogger of mine @elmaquino broke down the concept of a double play specialist last year.
Here is that link: http://wp.me/p2DXa4-187
Last year Maness induced 16 double plays in a matter of 62 innings, no other relief pitcher induced more than 12. In 2014, the right hander has induced only six double plays in his 43 innings of work, still good for fourth in the National League among relievers. After a slow April posting a 4.09 ERA, Maness has settled in and had ERAs of 2.31, 1.84, and 1.59 in May, June, and July respectively.
So what makes Maness so awesome? Obviously the ability to throw strikes and induce ground balls while doing so has been the key to his success. Maness doesn’t have the “stuff” to issue free base runners, therefore his ability to throw strikes becomes even more vital. Fangraphs database suggests that the league average for groundball% (GB %) is 44%. The Cardinals secret weapon blows that number out of the water with a career 63.6 GB%. Essentially, Maness is inducing a groundball ~20% more often than the average pitcher. That has allowed him to keep his through the roof 25% double play percentage.
Maness utilizes a sinker in his arsenal of pitches, as most groundball specialists do. However, that isn’t necessarily the key to his success. Mixing pitches, and being able to get groundouts with any one of his weapons has gotten Maness to this point. The East Carolina product has produced 44 groundball outs to go along with his 6 double plays this year, doing so with a variety of pitches.
The fastball and slider haven’t been the most effective pitches for Maness’ groundball habits, but he still has gotten 20% of his groundballs with those two pitches. Besides, it would makes sense that the two pitches with the most downward vertical movement, sinker and changeup, are the most effect groundball getters. Here is a heat map of all of those groundball outs.
Maness doesn’t necessarily keep the ball down as often as he should, but his stuff is so effective, hitters haven’t been able to elevate it regardless of location. It’s obvious that Maness checks out in all the basic pitching categories, but given that he doesn’t really pass the eye test of what a dominant pitcher should be, I wasn’t sure his peripheral stats would check out. They do.
FIP which stands for fielding independent ERA is a stat that defines what a pitchers ERA would have been over a given time period given a league average defense. For a pitcher like Maness who relies heavily on balls in play, this stat can vary greatly from real ERA. Compared to his 2.40 ERA, Maness FIP is 3.39, while that seems like a big jump Fangraphs still defines that FIP in the above average to great range.
The only worry is that Maness is subject to regression due to a sky high left on base percentage (LOB %). This is the number of runners that reach base, and are stranded there. The league average is 72% and 80% is considered extraordinary. Seth Maness leaves 82% of runners on base. Maness is forced to be this great because he allows a higher batting average on balls in play (BABIP) than most pitchers, not to mention has more balls put in play than most pitches. The worst part of Maness game is that he allows a 12.3% HR/FB ratio (the number of home runs hit per fly ball) which falls in Fangraphs category of “awful.” Any sabermartrician will tell you that a high LOB% mixed with a high BABIP and HR/FB makes any pitcher subject to regression.
Regression isn’t in Maness’ future, and here is why. BABIP is used unfairly when looking at performance. He gives up a slightly higher than average line drive percentage, which is what leads to his slightly above average BABIP, but given his ridiculous GB%, that BABIP will always remain reasonable. The HR/FB is glaring, but given the very few amount of fly balls that Maness allows, it’s not a terrible issue that 12% of them leave the park. The reason that LOB% is so high and will stay so high is because of the groundball and double play ability.
The reality is that the only test Seth Maness doesn’t pass, is the eye test. People underestimated him coming out of college, hence the 11th round draft position, and people continue to do so now. Maness is living proof it doesn’t take a 98 MPH fastball and a devastating slider to be an effective relief pitcher. He has proved a valuable weapon in the Cardinal bullpen, especially when being used in a pinch. His quick pace, and ability to throw strikes make him as fun to watch as any pitcher in my opinion. Here is to hoping Seth Maness continues to be awesome. Thanks for reading.
It’s not crazy, it’s sports
*all stats and info courtesy of Baseball Reference, Baseball Savant, and Fangraphs