Making sense of the comparisons between Alek Manoah and Roy Halladay

After a disastrous outing on Monday, Alek Manoah looks to be in the midst of a lost season that reminds fans of Roy Halladay's infamous 2000 campaign.

Alek Manoah's 2023 season has had no shortage of low points, but he seemed to hit rock bottom on Monday night.

The 25-year-old recorded just one out before getting the hook, allowing eight hitters to reach bases safely and six runs to score. Manoah has been ineffective all year long, but this was undoubtedly the worst outing of his career. It hammered home the idea that this is a lost campaign for the big right-hander, who was demoted to the Florida Complex League on Tuesday in an effort to get him back on track.

The extent of Manoah's struggles are inviting comparisons to Roy Halladay's infamous 2000 campaign that saw the Hall of Famer post the highest ERA ever in a season with at least 50 innings pitched — and change the course of his career.

Alek Manoah's struggles in 2023 have been shocking to Blue Jays fans. (Mark Blinch/Getty Images)
Alek Manoah's struggles in 2023 have been shocking to Blue Jays fans. (Mark Blinch/Getty Images)

It's easy to draw that straight line because in both cases the performance decline was inexplicable, and not age or injury-related. But it's worth examining if it's fair to say Manoah's season is comparable to one of the greatest outliers in MLB history.

Where the similarities lie

These cases are reminiscent of each other when you look at the broad strokes.

Like Halladay, Manoah is a big right-handed starter drafted in the first round who had success at the MLB level prior to his rough season.

Comparing the two pitchers' statistics, there are also some parallels to draw. Manoah has 13 starts under his belt, and when Halladay had made 13 appearances in 2000 (one was a relief outing), many of his numbers looked similar.

Via FanGraphs
Via FanGraphs

The ERA discrepancy is massive, but many of the underlying numbers match up. Both pitchers had difficulty with the long ball and an inability to compensate for their bloated walk rates with sufficient strikeout totals.

We don't have Statcast numbers that might help us explain what kind of hard contact drove Halladay's ERA, but his .373 BABIP and LOB% of 49.3 (compared to Manoah's 70.3%) give us some clues.

There are also some similarities here in that each pitcher outperformed their peripherals in the previous season, leading to outsized expectations. Manoah's ERA in 2022 (2.24) was well below his xERA (3.31) and FIP (3.35).

While Halladay's xERA in 1999 isn't available, his FIP (5.36) was well above his ERA (3.92). Manoah's previous work was far better than the Blue Jays legend's, but the pattern of crashing to earth after a season that might've been luck-aided is consistent.

This point in 2000 proved to be an important moment in Halladay's season. The then 23-year-old was removed from the rotation after his 13th outing. He made three more appearances out of the bullpen before getting banished to Triple-A for the second time in the season.

More than two months passed between that 13th appearance and his final chance to start in 2000.

The important distinctions

Manoah's case can look like Halladay's when you take a broad view, but if you bring out the microscope it doesn't hold up so well.

The 25-year-old had far more success entering 2023 than the two-time Cy Young Award winner had prior to 2000. Manoah came into the current season with 308.1 MLB innings pitched. He posted a 2.60 ERA in that time, appeared in the 2022 All-Star Game, and came third in Cy Young voting last year.

Halladay, on the other hand, pitched just 163.1 MLB innings before imploding in 2000 — and nearly half of career his appearances came out of the bullpen. He was not an established star at the time of his nightmare season, he was an ascending talent that went astray.

That makes what's happening to Manoah even more improbable in some ways. There is already a significant sample of the right-hander performing at an elite level in the majors.

Manoah has also shown the ability to put together the occasional strong outing in 2023, which can't be said for Halladay in 2000.

He has pitched seven scoreless innings twice, and has three more outings of at least five innings with two or fewer runs allowed. Halladay, on the other hand, didn't have a start where he allowed fewer than three runs in 2000.

Despite similarities in the peripheral numbers, there's no doubt the extent of Manoah's issues don't run as deep as Halladay's did. They are also more difficult to explain.

What about Ricky Romero?

Another seemingly relevant example of a star-level Blue Jays pitcher falling off a cliff in his prime is Romero. The southpaw himself is vocally resisting this comparison — and for the most part Manoah's trajectory doesn't mirror Romero's.

While the former Blue Jays starter was an all-star in 2011 before a disastrous 2012, his performance decline is easier to explain by taking a closer look at those seasons.

Via FanGraphs
Via FanGraphs

The ground ball and home run numbers suggest the contact against Romero was similar, but his BABIP skyrocketed. The strikeout and walk rates both suffered, but the walk issues in particular weren't a massive surprise for a pitcher who struggled with free passes for much of his professional career.

Romero had a BB/9 of 4.63 as a minor leaguer, so losing his command in the majors wasn't as shocking as what's happened to Manoah, who was nothing short of dominant at every level prior to 2023.

The difference between the lefty's FIPs between 2011 and 2012 are probably a better indication of how much Romero fell off than his ERA, which suggests this was a slide more than a collapse.

As Romero himself said, every case is distinct and recent franchise history isn't necessarily a helpful guide here.

Halladay's 2000 season led to a journey to Single-A which helped put him on a Hall of Fame track. Romero pitched just 7.1 more innings at the big-league level after his 2012 letdown. It seems fair to predict that Manoah will wind up somewhere in between the two, but that still leaves plenty of room to interpret where he goes from here.