Where Is Robert Manuel?

The answer is Triple-A Pawtucket. The question is why. The Red Sox have a very interesting reliever on their hands in Robert Manuel, who is still in the minor leagues despite being past the point of being called a “prospect.” This off-season, upon the Sox picking up Manuel off of waivers, I wrote about my general enthusiasm for the move:

Is Manuel the next coming of Papelbon? No. His stuff probably isn’t good enough to make him a lights out force out of the pen in the big leagues. However, as long as he’s able to get strikeouts and avoid walks, Sox fans should be wary to overlook this guy, and instead be anxious to give Theo a nice pat on the back for this one. He deserves it.

I’m starting to take my hand off of Theo’s back pretty quickly. Manuel, a 26-year-old, 6’3″ right-hander who throws a fastball, slider, and changeup, has absolutely dominated in the minor leagues throughout his career. According to MinorLeagueSplits, his career MiLB FIP is 2.88 in 390 innings pitched. Over the past few years, Manuel has pitched 98.2 innings in Triple-A in a few organizations, compiling a 2.28 ERA with a 75:23 K:BB ratio. In Pawtucket this season, he has a 1.16 ERA in 31 innings, along with a 26:7 K:BB ratio.

But most importantly, Manuel could realistically be better than some of the other guys to see the mound for Boston this year. Scott Atchison, Scott Schoeneweis, and Ramon Ramirez have all pitched poorly, while Joe Nelson recently got the call up to Fenway despite a very poor outing with the Rays last season. Manuel could also be used as a bit of an early-inning ROOGY, as he’s struck out 208 and walked just 32 righties in his minor league career, good for a 2.80 FIP. Here are what the prognosticators said before the season:

Marcel: 4.31 FIP
ZiPS: 4.80 FIP

Not bad. However, there are legitimate concerns as to Manuel’s potential to be successful in the majors leagues (many scouts see him as a Quad-A reliever). About half of his balls in play during his minor league career have been in the air, including 57.1% this year. He’s been aided by a HR/FB rate of just 3.4%, a very low number. Considering his fastball sits in the mid to high 80s, it’s very possible he could be homer happy in the big leagues while successful in the minors.

Manuel is by no means a panacea for the Red Sox in their journey to climb over the Rays and/or Yankees in 2010. However, he can be a valuable arm in the bullpen, and maybe even more if finally given a chance to succeed in the big leagues. I think it’s just a matter of time before he forces the front office’s hand to give him that shot.

Pat Andriola is an Analyst at Bloomberg Sports who formerly worked in Major League Baseball's Labor Relations Department. You can contact him at Patrick.Andriola@tufts.edu or follow him on Twitter @tuftspat

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