(BaseballStL) — Youth begot success last season for the St. Louis Cardinals, as young pitchers throughout the staff performed like seasoned vets all year long.
One of the most successful newcomers was Seth Maness, a sinker specialist with the gift of ground balls.
Maness’ uncanny ability to induce the double play earned him a slot as a high-leverage guy, one that could kill a threatening inning with a few pitches and a well-placed roller.
He got 16 double plays in just 54 opportunities- a 30 percent success rate. That was nearly triple the MLB average.
This season, Maness’ touch seems to be missing.
“Right now he’s at times trying to find the plate which is something he’s never really struggled with at all in his career,” Mike Matheny said. “You look at his strikeout to walk ratio and it’s always been phenomenal and that doesn’t just go away.”
Walks might not be the biggest of Maness’ issues. The 25-year-old actually has a better strike out to walk ratio this season. The more troublesome change comes when balls are in play.
2013 saw Maness post a 2.3 ground ball to fly ball ratio, and a ground out to fly out ratio of 4.8.
This season, those numbers have fallen to 1.12 and 1.09, respectively. For a pitcher who relies on painting the lower edges of the zone and a hard sinking action to his pitches, any deviation in pitch control can undo success.
“We’re talking about a guy who has always kind of relied on pinpoint control and that pinpoint control is rare, even at this level. So the fact that it’s not there whenever you snap your fingers isn’t that [weird],” Matheny said. “I’d like to see Seth have a couple outings where he comes in, pounds the bottom of the zone and trusts that sink.”
Opportunities for those outings are becoming fewer as Pat Neshek continues to succeed in the role Maness manned last season. As such, the latter has been used in situations foreign to him in the Majors, something that may be making a return to form more difficult.
“We have to get him in there in situations he can have success with, it’s not really any more complicated than that. Something is to be said about the style we used him, coming in in the middle of an inning,” Matheny said.
The manager has considered the changing assignments for Maness could be complicating the situation, but until he can get his confidence back, mid-inning appearances are tough to justify.
“What we’re dealing with is a guy that’s going through something that every single one of them is going to go through at some point or another if they’re around very long and that’s trying to figure out how to get it back,” he said. “It’s not gone, it’s just not available right now and he’s just gotta get it there.”
Maness reiterated after Monday’s loss that he feels physically fine, something Matheny echoed Tuesday morning.