Sean Manaea’s great experiment paying off with strong Mets debut

Sean Manaea Mets
Sean Manaea during his debut start with the Mets on Monday night. (Screenshot)


QUEENS, N.Y. — Sean Manaea was always hesitant to leave his comfort zone.

Even during his college days at Indiana State University when teammates would try to show him a new pitch, the experimentation period was always brief for the now 32-year-old southpaw.

“I didn’t know any better,” Manaea told amNewYork. “My teammates would show me stuff and I’d be like, ‘OK, I’ll try it.’ And if it didn’t work out at first or a couple of times, I was like, ‘This is terrible,’ and I’d go back to something else. I’ve been like that my whole big-league career… I never really gave stuff a chance.”

That changed last season when the nine-year veteran was demoted from the San Francisco Giants starting rotation to the bullpen after posting a 7.96 ERA across his first eight appearances of 2023.

After watching former NL Cy Young Award winner and controversial pitcher, Trevor Bauer, break down how he threw his slider on a YouTube video, Manaea went to work developing a new pitch to add to his repertoire.

“When you struggle and you’re trying to figure stuff out, sometimes you reach for random things,” Manaea said. “I remember watching Trevor Bauer’s video on how he threw his slider one night and I was like, ‘OK, I have to try that out.'”

That video helped lay the foundation for his sweeper, a looping, offspeed pitch that averages between 77 and 79 mph, 41 inches of vertical break, and 14 inches of horizontal movement. He threw it just under 10% of the time last season (192 pitches in total), but allowed only six hits and racked up 12 strikeouts with it, per Baseball Savant

“It feels weird because I’ve tried that before, like a grip which was the way he kind of described it… and I was like ‘OK, that kind of makes sense,'” Manaea said. “Then there has been a slow evolution from there. The way I would describe it now is throwing it with the same grip but with a different velocity and path.

“What was the worst that could happen? A lot more experimentation has led to a lot more confidence.”

Sean Manaea
Mets pitcher Sean Manaea (Screenshot)

The sweeper coupled with an increase in velocity on his fastball and sinker unlocked by extensive torso work with Driveline Baseball — an analytics-driven training facility — Manaea figured things out. He posted a 3.44 ERA across his final 29 games of 2023. That included a return to the rotation where he made four starts to end the season, allowing just six earned runs in 24 innings (2.25 ERA) with 18 strikeouts. 

His finish caught the eye of Mets president of baseball operations David Stearns, who signed Manaea to a two-year, $28 million deal to bolster the rotation.

Early returns have been significantly promising. In his Mets debut on Monday night against the Detroit Tigers, Manaea went six scoreless innings and allowed just one hit, taking a perfect game into the fifth inning and a no-hitter into the sixth. He struck out eight, mostly with his four-seam fastball. The sweeper was thrown seven times and Tigers batters whiffed at five of them.

“It’s great. That’s what I worked toward last year,” Manaea said. “I did a good job when I had the opportunity again. Spring training felt great and with all the things I worked on, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t have confidence going out there.

“I’m very excited with where I’m at.”

For more on Sean Manaea and the Mets, visit AMNY.com