Detroit Tigers year in review: Matt Manning looks to fix stinker starts

DETROIT, MI - SEPTEMBER 20: Matt Manning #25 of the Detroit Tigers pitches against the Chicago White Sox at Comerica Park on September 20, 2021, in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MI - SEPTEMBER 20: Matt Manning #25 of the Detroit Tigers pitches against the Chicago White Sox at Comerica Park on September 20, 2021, in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images) /
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Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Matt Manning will look to iron out his inconsistencies next year

Detroit Tigers starter Matt Manning was a scout’s dream in many ways coming through the system. Low mileage on his arm, a tall frame with physical projection, long limbs, great extension, high athleticism and work ethic, and some bloodlines for good measure.

For these reasons, there was a point within his development where I felt Manning had the highest ceiling of their big pitching prospects (Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, Alex Faedo, and Manning). “Bet on the athlete” is a common phrase in the scouting community and Manning is yet another example of why it rings true even in today’s game.

That athleticism came in handy as he was forced into learning two pitches at the big league level. Let’s dive into Manning’s early days, his season in 2021, and his future.

Who is Matt Manning?

Being a blue-chip prospect in the Detroit Tigers system for some time, Manning’s early days have been well-documented. Manning was a late bloomer to baseball and he even committed to play basketball in college before getting drafted 9th overall in the 2016 draft by the Detroit Tigers.

His development was cautionary and methodical; spending time at the club’s complex in Lakeland in the Gulf Coast League before finding Connecticut, West Michigan, Lakeland, Erie, and Toledo in order. Across those five seasons, Manning pitched to a 3.49 ERA in 364 innings while averaging 11 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched.

Injuries to Julio Teheran, Spencer Turnbull, and Matthew Boyd coupled with the limitations surrounding rookies Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal allowed Matt Manning to make his debut and stay with the big league club through the 2021 season.

Matt Manning in 2021

I had the pleasure of getting a couple of looks at Manning during his days in Toledo and happened to catch his most successful starts in what were otherwise rough outings (attested by his 8.07 ERA before getting called up). The first was a May 22nd outing in which he’d go 6.2 innings, 2 ER, 1 BB, 7 K. The other would be his last start before the call: 6 IP, 2 ER, 2 BB, 8 K.

Interestingly, though, and as I wrote at the time back in my days with Prospects Live, I was gravely concerned about Manning’s lack of a viable third offering. He was essentially a fastball/curveball pitcher and would mix in a changeup that moved more like a cutter.

Manning’s call can be a lesson that even if a player is not ready for the big leagues, perhaps it is still the best place for them to be. The right-hander is a completely different pitcher in terms of his arsenal; picking up a more traditional changeup as well as a slider that has above-average flashes while almost entirely scrapping a curveball that many evaluators projected to be a plus pitch at the highest levels.

The early fruits were rotten before the changes he made. In his first 10 starts: 48.2 innings, 33 ER, 13 BB, and 25 K good for a 6.10 ERA while opponents batted .305 and supplied a .829 OPS against him. His last five starts in 2021 were encouraging, however; four of which came against playoff opponents: 22.1 innings, 11 ER, 12 BB, 22 K; a 4.43 ERA (3.53 FIP) while opponents hit just .195 against.

Matt Manning’s 2021 stats

 Matt Manning’s Future

For Matt Manning, fixing his stinker starts should be his main priority. 4 of Manning’s 18 starts yielded 5+ earned runs, but 11 of those same 18 appearances resulted in 2 runs or fewer. It’s easier said than done, of course, but at face value, ironing out his secondaries and developing more consistency with those offerings would do wonders for his hit totals.

His fastball remains

fairly straight

which also is something to pay attention to, but increased consistency with his secondary offerings may help to keep hitters off his fastball. We have seen what a year can do already with Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal–writing off Manning at this stage would not be prudent. Repairs to the rough outings will morph Manning into the inning-eater they’ll need for next season and beyond.

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