Chess over arm wrestling: Maness loves the challenge of finesse -

Chess over arm wrestling: Maness loves the challenge of finesse pitching

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By John Bailey By John Bailey

(BaseballStL) – The battle of brains versus braun is a seemingly unending contest.

It’s a battle Seth Maness knows well, and appreciates. The 24-year-old reliever is having a tremendous first year, and he’s doing it with thoughtful execution rather than power.

As covered before, Maness models his approach on the mound after perhaps the most cerebral pitcher in history, Greg Maddux. (To open the month, I looked at a statiscial comparison of the two).

“The way he attacked hitters, just pitching to contact and still getting people out,” Maness said. “He made people hit his pitch and made it look fun and easy.”

And easy it was for The Professor, who averaged just 3.3 pitches per plate appearance over his 21-year career. He threw 63,668 pitches in his MLB tenure over 744 games, an average of 85.5 pitches per game. He only appeared in four of those contests as a reliever. In his starts, he averaged 6.8 innings per game.

Efficiency should have Maddux’s picture next to it in the dictionary. If imitation is sincere flattery, then Maness is surely flattering his idol.

Averaging 3.5 pitches per plate appearance, Maness is following the track laid by Maddux- throwing well below the 3.8 MLB average.

“I think he had a gameplan and was able to execute it better than a lot of people,” Maness said. “I think some people may have gameplans and know what they want to do, but physically being able to do it pitch for pitch he’s one of the best.”

The young Cardinal is no slouch himself, sporting a 5.3 ground out to fly out ratio. He throws a strike on the first pitch 66 percent of the time, compared to Maddux’s 64 percent.

Like his inspiration, Maness doesn’t have a power fastball, instead relying on location and movement to retire hitters.

“It’s not the overpowering stuff where people say ‘oh I see how he’s getting people out,’” he said of his pitching aresnal. “You gotta work for it.”

Growing up, the North Carolina native’s other pitching heroes were on the far other end of the spectrum. When asked who were the three best pitchers he had ever seen, Maness said other than Maddux he loved to watch Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez.

Despite revering two power pitchers, he said he doesn’t long for a blazing fastball.

“I think that would help, but I like that challenge,” he smiled.

Despite striking out just 13.2 percent of batters, Maness is delivering outs at a breakneck pace. His 18.1 innings of relief in the second half are the most in the bullpen, and he has made 14 straight scoreless appearances.

Part of that is his astounding double play rate. Out of 52 opportunities for a double play, Maness has gotten 14. His 27 percent rate is more than double the MLB average of 11.

As he continues to get more and more work, the mental chess matches he’s grown to love are becoming rematches and best-of-three series. Facing batters for the second and third time is something Maness says he’s ready for, and knows how to handle.

“It’s about not trying to overthink it, I think sometimes you can do that,” he said. “Go with your strengths and go with what got you there. The hitters will tell you what you need to change.”

If that’s the case, it sounds like they’re telling him not to change a thing.  

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