How many MLB rotations could Matt Manning crack today?

Bless You Boys

Battles for the fifth and final spot in the Detroit Tigers starting rotation are an annual staple of spring training down at Joker Marchant Stadium. This year’s competition, however, sticks out from years past, both for the depth of talent and the fact that it essentially ended in a stalemate.

While it became clear early on that the Tigers would slot in ace Tarik Skubal and veteran free-agent signings Jack Flaherty and Kenta Maeda into the team’s rotation, three young arms vied for two rotation spots in Casey Mize, Reese Olson, and Matt Manning. When the dust settled, nobody got injured, and Manning narrowly finished as the odd man out, losing the race to a former #1 overall pick and a 2023 young breakout arm.

Early results from these arms this regular season have only solidified the matter. Tarik Skubal is the live favorite to win the American League Cy Young award, Jack Flaherty leads the American League in strikeouts, Kenta Maeda has righted the ship with one earned run in his last 11 innings, Casey Mize won all five of his April starts, and Reese Olson finished April with a 3.18 ERA despite an unusually high 1.31 WHIP.

Matt Manning himself has continued to plead his case: in three starts as the 27th man for Detroit in double-headers, Manning has pitched his way to a 4.24 ERA and 1.18 WHIP. He also has far and away the best strikeout rate of his career going at 23.9 percent, more than eight percent better than last year. On the downside, he’s also walking a lot more hitters this year, issuing free passes at a 11.3 percent clip versus his career average of 7.8 percent. He’s also giving up a lot more home runs than ever before as well.

While the home runs are concerning, the walks will probably come down if he gets enough big league work, as he’s never had walk issues before and the circumstances of these call-ups are similar to those of a pinch-hitter.

At Bless You Boys, we’ve made the point repeatedly that this kind of depth often gets overlooked considering how valuable it is. Every time the Tigers are able to match up Manning with another team’s sixth starter, they’re at a distinct advantage over most teams.

So, how many MLB starting rotations could “sixth man of the year” Matt Manning slot into today? Let’s take a look.

First, here are Matt Manning’s stats as of today, just for close comparison’s sake.

Manning hasn’t accumulated any fWAR yet in 2024, but his initial results are encouraging on the field.

Manning is striking out a batter per inning early this season, is posting a career-high fastball velocity early on, and has posted favorable ERA numbers, if not FIP numbers. He also posted a 1.7 fWAR in 141 innings from 2022-2023. He also gets a little bonus, in my subjective comparisons, for his overall pedigree (top-10 selection, 60 FV graded top-10 prospect at graduation) and for his age (he’s only 26, and he has 243 innings of experience under his belt). At worst, Manning is a replacement-level #5 arm with upside, and at best, he’s a middle-of-the-rotation arm, whether you extrapolate the small sample size of 2024 or rely on the sample we received in 2022-23. (I’m deciding to ignore Manning’s rocky 2021 rookie season as a clear anomaly, and thus I don’t think that sample represents the Manning we are working with today.)

For the purposes of this article, I’m looking at Matt Manning, and I’m looking at the back-end of each MLB team’s rotation, and I’m making the call: would that team’s major league manager want Manning, or the real-life #5 starter? (Spoiler alert: a few teams might take Matt Manning over their #2 or #3 guy.)

Below, we will calculate how many rotations Manning cracks.

If Manning beats the #5 starter, he cracks the rotation, and I add one to the count.

Manning does not get an extra point for beating multiple pitchers in a team’s rotation, as that is not what I’m counting. (It is worth looking at on its own, however.)

Furthermore, if Manning only makes a team’s rotation due to a current injury, I will be giving him half a point (0.5 points) and noting that rotation with an asterisk. (I am hoping to reduce injury noise in my runthrough. Numerous teams have a guy who will be returning in the next week or two.)

Lastly, you may look at a name and immediately think that you’d take Matt Manning from a general manager’s standpoint, but if a guy is clearly outperforming Manning thus far in 2024, no matter how much of a “no-name” he was this preseason, he will keep his job.

(Huge shoutout to the FanGraphs RostersResource Probables Grid page for expediting this comparison.)

Lastly: remember that our 2024 sample size is miniscule, that this is just a largely qualitative analysis versus quantitative, and that other rotations will have their risers/fallers/injured arms from here, making this article quick to age!

American League — 9.5/15 rotations (approximately ten rotations)

AL East — 2.5/5 rotations (BOS #5, TBR #5, TOR #5*)

Even with young star pitcher Grayson Rodriguez on the Injured List, Baltimore would probably hold onto Matt Manning as a sixth starter at this very moment themselves, as Cole Irvin has been very solid in their final rotation slot dating back to last August. Boston, however, would likely be happy to swap in Matt Manning for Josh Winckowski. Luis Gil and Clarke Schmidt have outperformed Matt Manning at the back-end of the Yankees rotation, and Manning makes for an easy sub-in for Tyler Alexander in Tampa Bay. In Toronto, Manning likely would get the nod over Alek Manoah, but a healthy Yariel Rodriguez likely would keep his job if Manning suddenly arrived in town.

AL Central — 3.5/5 rotations (CHW #3, CLE #4, MIN #5, KC #5*)

Matt Manning likely is an upgrade over four of the six pitchers in the abysmal White Sox rotation; Fedde is an easy “yes” over Manning as of today, fresh off of his KBO MVP last season and a great April, and Garrett Crochet has been worse on the field but better peripherally. The rest of that rotation? Ouch. Cleveland, meanwhile, would be happy to take Matt Manning in Logan Allen or Carlos Carrasco’s place as of today (a healthy Gavin Williams, however, likely takes one of those slots first; Bieber is out for the year, so I won’t count his slot against Manning for this exercise). In Kansas City, Manning would likely slot into Daniel Lynch IV’s slot, but a healthy Alec Marsh likely holds onto his job over Manning through April. In Minnesota, I’d definitely take Matt Manning over Chris Paddack at this stage in their careers, but perhaps the universe will flip back around toward Paddack in the coming months; who knows?

AL West — 3.5/5 rotations (HOU #5, LAA #5, OAK #3, TEX #5*)

Houston is missing all of Luis Garcia, José Urquidy, and Lance McCullers (and to be fair, he’s always out), and I’d slot Matt Manning in over the latter two. As the rotation stands today, I’d remove either of Hunter Brown or Spencer Arrighetti in favor of Manning. In Anaheim, Tyler Canning can easily be canned in favor of Manning, and possibly Soriano, as well. Oakland would gladly take Manning over Alex Wood and Joe Boyle, and I’ll take him over J.P. Sears, as well. Seattle, loaded with pitching, may leave Manning fighting with Emerson Hancock for the sixth and final rotation slot, and Hancock spun three quality starts in April.

Meanwhile, Texas is missing Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, Tyler Mahle, and Cody Bradford, but Manning could probably climb above Andrew Heaney in the hierarchy there. He might not start immediately if he was dropped down there, but I’m going to count Manning as being preferable to Heaney.

National League — 11/15 rotations

NL East — 2.5/5 rotations (MIA #4, WSH #5, NYM #5*)

Atlanta is pretty well-covered in their rotation, even without Spencer Strider. Miami, however, would likely take Manning over both of Sixto Sánchez (pandemic legend!) and Ryan Weathers (high school legend!). The Mets would be happy to take Matt Manning over Adrian Houser at this point, but Kodai Senga would take Manning’s spot upon his return from injury. Philadelphia is well-covered, with six pitchers slated to start in the next week already, and Washington, right this second, would benefit only from lifting Patrick Corbin in favor of Manning.

NL Central — 4/5 rotations (CIN #5, MIL #2, PIT #5, STL #4)

There are seven starting pitchers on this upcoming slate for the Chicago Cubs, and Manning would be lost in the mix given the strong performances at the back-end of the current Cubs starter hierarchy. I imagine that Cincinnati would take a one-for-one swap of Frankie Montas for Matt Manning as of today, and the Brewers likely feel the same about Tobias Myers (heck, Manning likely competes with everybody but Peralta in Milwaukee’s live rotation, seeing as Brandon Woodruff is out for the year!). Mitch Keller vs. Matt Manning would be an interesting rotation battle to see unfold down the stretch, but Quinn Priester definitely loses his job to Manning. The Cardinals, meanwhile, would likely sub out at least Steven Matz and Miles Mikolas for Manning, and possibly Kyle Gibson, as well… not good for a team with no pitchers on the injured list or top prospects in Triple-A Memphis.

NL West — 4.5/5 rotations (ARI #5, COL #2, SDP #5, LAD #5*, SDP #5, SFG #5)

Arizona’s front office is likely quite happy with the results coming from most of its rotation, but I imagine that the Diamondbacks would take Matt Manning’s upside over Ryne Nelson as of today. Colorado, meanwhile, can only comfortably slot Ryan Feltner in ahead of Manning as of today. The Dodgers are a powerhouse, but they could slot Manning in for James Paxton until Bobby Miller returns. The Padres would very likely see Joe Musgrove’s struggles through over trying out Manning, but I imagine they’d run Manning’s upside out over knuckleballer Matt Waldron. Finally, the San Francisco Giants are short a starting pitcher with Blake Snell on the shelf, making Manning an easy fit.

Conclusion

In a league with 30 rotations of five starting pitchers each, Matt Manning today would slot in to all but seven rotations: the Baltimore Orioles, the New York Yankees, the Seattle Mariners, the Atlanta Braves, the Philadelphia Phillies, the Chicago Cubs, and your Detroit Tigers.

Once short-term injuries heal up, Manning also would be short a spot in the Toronto Blue Jays, Kansas City Royals, Texas Rangers, New York Mets, and Los Angeles Dodgers rotations, leaving him out of twelve of the league’s rotations. Still, however you draw it up, Matt would comfortably slot into 18/30 MLB rotations.

And of course, shoutout to the teams who would slot Manning into the upper-to-middle-end of their rotation!

In the American League, Manning would likely be the #2-3 starter for the White Sox as of today, the #3 starter for the Guardians until Williams returns (and perhaps even after), the #2-3 starter for the Athletics.

In the National League, he would be the #3 starter for the pitching-decimated Marlins, the #2 starter for the Brewers, the #3 starter for the Cardinals, and the #2 starter for the Rockies. (I can hear you writing up trade ideas with these teams in the comments already.)

Knock on wood, as the team could suffer a starting pitcher injury at any point in time, but it’s nice to have top-ten pitching depth in the Detroit Tigers organization (when factoring in top-end prospect Jackson Jobe and the outstanding pitching depth Detroit is harnessing in the minor leagues; guys like Keider Montero, Ty Madden, Brent Hurter, Lael Lockhart, and so forth).

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