No, Joe Mantiply’s 2022 All-Star berth was not another case of a team in need of a representative like 2018 Joe Jiménez. It was rather an opportunity for a journeyman pitcher to develop a public persona and begin to be regarded as one of the better relievers in the MLB.
It is likely, though, that the attention received on the red carpet in Los Angeles this past July is rather unfamiliar for Mantiply. He comes from a cattle farm-owning family in rural Virginia. So, how did a cattle rancher with below average arm talent from Danville make it to iconic Dodger Stadium for the 2022 All-Star Game?
After being a 48th round selection out of Tunstall High School in the 2009 MLB Draft, Mantiply elected to instead fulfill his lifelong dream of playing at Virginia Tech. He quickly hit a learning curve in Blackburg, as it took until his junior year for him to begin settling in as a starting pitcher for the Hokies.
Due to immense improvement in all areas between his sophomore and junior seasons, he was once again drafted, this time in 2012’s 28th round. While he could’ve hopped on this opportunity, he still had another year of college eligibility available, and knew the Va. Tech baseball program had big things in store in 2013.
Operating as the team’s ace that season, Mantiply led the Hokies to a historic 40-win season for the program culminating in a loss to LSU in the regional finals.
Well known in his home state for his unique delivery and calm demeanor, Mantiply was drafted in a round which no longer exists for the third time. A selection in 2013’s 27th round made him a Detroit Tiger.
Transitioning quickly out of a starting role into one which would allow him to rise to the big leagues, Mantiply dominated year after year out of the bullpen. In four seasons in the Tigers system, he compiled a 2.44 ERA in 240 innings pitched. The young arm was called up and made his major league debut on September 3, 2016.
After a mere 2.2 innings of unsatisfactory work, the Tigers (as they have so often done with promising players on the bubble) waived Mantiply. He was claimed after the season by the Yankees, and after a strong 2017 campaign in Triple-A, elected free agency.
Signed by the Reds, Mantiply was ready for an extended shot in the big leagues. Unfortunately, Mantiply underwent Tommy John surgery and missed the entirety of the 2018 season.
Following an abbreviated rehab process (since he didn’t sustain a full UCL tear, Mantiply was available early in the 2019 campaign), the now quickly-aging reliever was unable to regain consistency with Cincinnati’s AAA Louisville Bats. He was traded for cash to the Yankees in August of 2019, and was given his second shot at pitching in the majors.
After only three innings of three run work, though, Mantiply was again waived, and forced to start back at square one. 2020 presented another opportunity, though, in which he was signed by his current club, the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Despite showing promise in training camp, his narrative was forgotten following the four month hiatus as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. In the abbreviated season, Mantiply threw a mere 2.1 innings for the major league squad.
With skyrocketing walk rates following the surgery, Mantiply decided to make significant changes to his delivery entering the 2021 campaign. Dropping his arm slot even further and electing to improve his sinker, while nearly eliminating his four-seam fastball, Mantiply took every aspect of power out of his repertoire.
Once 2021 commenced, Mantiply slowly took shape into what baseball purists call a “crafty lefty.” Focusing on location and strategy, it didn’t take long for the 30-year-old journeyman to find his stride as a reliable member of Arizona’s bullpen. He finished the year with a 3.40 ERA and 2.94 FIP in 39.2 innings pitched.
After a breakout 2021 campaign, Mantiply made his All Star case in the first half of 2022 by posting a 2.21 ERA and, more importantly, a 2.51 FIP. Of greater note, though, was leading all major league relievers with two walks in 36.2 pre-break innings. He even set the Arizona franchise record by failing to record a walk in 25 straight games. This is, simply speaking, an historic level of control.
Working from a low three-quarter arm angle, Mantiply’s mixture of control and deception from the left side results in consistent ground balls. With a ground ball launch angle being defined as less than 10°, Mantiply’s 5.4° average opponent launch angle is extremely indicative of his ability to miss barrels and limit line drives.
Because he has a well-below average spin rate and velocity on all four of his pitches, arms like Mantiply rely heavily on release consistency and an accurate approach of attack.
Let’s take a deeper look. Pitchers with less velocity who throw inside consistently on righties, especially from the left-handed perspective, tend to find a lot of barrels. A right-handed hitter is naturally inclined to recognize such pitches out in front and catch them early enough on the inside half of the plate, thus stroking them to left field consistently.
Vertical movement in such instances is merely a simple adjustment as the recognition period is very high in this particular matchup. Mantiply, however, consistently attacks the inside half of the plate with his sinker and changeup, which combine for about 77.6% of his total output against righties. Yet, he is able to miss barrels while hitting the strike zone at an elite rate. Explanation? I have two.
First, the right-to-left tailing action on Mantiply’s sinker and changeup combined with his low arm slot allow for the ball to appear as if it was pulled across his body upon release and immediately gives the appearance of finishing off the plate inside.
3.2 and 2.1 inches of horizontal break on his sinker and changeup, respectively, cause deceptive movement back onto the inside edge of the zone. With consistent sinker placement on the inside edge (both low, middle, and high), it is clear the horizontal break from such an obscure arm slot is extremely deceptive to hitters.
Below, we can see the observed movement on each of Mantiply’s pitches as shown by Baseball Savant. Let’s specifically look at his sinker and changeup, while imagining the hitter is set up right in the middle of the clock.
Both of these pitches give the appearance of moving horizontally away from the batter with a significant amount of tail. A large majority of these even appear to be moving up and away as well (those at the 10 o’clock mark). With this amount of movement placed on the inside half of the plate, you can see how these could easily appear off the plate inside and return back to the inside edge.
A second explanation surrounds his pitch mix. The consistent mix between sinker and changeup is extremely effective. Both appear the same coming out of the hand, but the changeup ends up 1.8 inches lower than the sinker on average.
Although his changeup is his least accurate pitch, his pitch mix allows for it to be his leading swing and miss weapon. His changeup heat map shows the significance in location (being almost entirely low and inside on right-handed hitters).
Throw in the occasional four-seamer and curveball on the outside half of the zone, and you have enough pitch diversity and deceptiveness to throw off even the most disciplined hitter.
Now, how does this account for a dip of 0.11 FIP between a strong 2021 and an all-star 2022 despite an increase of over 20 innings pitched?
Well, in 2021, Mantiply threw his curveball nearly twice as much as his changeup, and this pitch was all over the zone. As his 2021 curveball heat map shows, he was all over the place and had a lot of misses over the heart of the plate.
Also, his sinker immediately dips out of his hand, whereas the curveball leaps upward. This is easily recognizable by right-handed hitters. Some misses over the heart of the plate and below average curveball movement, and Mantiply finished the season with a .410 SLG against this pitch.
In 2022, he’s begun to focus his curveball on left-handed hitters more consistently (46%) rather than the changeup (3.6%). His leading mode of attack on righties, however, has been his sinker (37.6%) and changeup (40.3%) combination.
The other more obvious factor in his improvement between 2021 and 2022 was his establishment of control. The SLG on his sinker, dropped by almost an astounding 200 points. This can largely be attributed to his establishment of the inside half on a pitch with some serious horizontal break. Mantiply, the most accurate reliever in baseball, can also dial this pitch into any location he chooses.
All of this summed up: Joe Mantiply is dirty, and if he sticks with his approach and finds continued accuracy, he will be priming himself for another strong year in the back end of the Diamondbacks bullpen. With a closer competition on the horizon, it will be interesting to see if Mantiply’s name will be in the mix as a crafty lefty amongst hard throwing rightie free agent signings, Miguel Castro and (internationally) Scott McGough.
Categories: Articles, Player Profiles
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