Joe Mantiply Focusing on “Executing and Making Pitches”

Joe Mantiply
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Meet Joe Mantiply, Diamondbacks Lefty Stopper

Arizona Diamondbacks reliever Joe Mantiply returned to the mound for the bottom of the seventh early Thursday evening at Nationals Park in the Nation’s Capital. He had pitched a quick, four-pitch bottom of the sixth, shutting down Juan Soto, Nelson Cruz, and Josh Bell 1-2-3 to protect his team’s 4–2 lead. Now he needed to get switch-hitting catcher Keibert Ruiz and left-handed left fielder Yadiel Hernandez out before giving way to righty teammate Noe Ramirez.

Mantiply fell behind Ruiz 2–0 and 3–1 before coughing up a bouncer through the hole and into left for a single. Up came Hernandez, who took the first pitch low and away and the second pitch low, running the count to 2–0. This drew a visit from catcher Carson Kelly, who settled Mantiply down. Two strikes evened the count before a curveball barely missed away, running the count full. A hard sinker on the inner half drew a sharp three-hopper to second. Ketel Marte smoothly fielded it and whipped it to second, rolling a crucial 4-6-3 double play and clearing the bases. Ramirez retired his man on two pitches, and the Diamondbacks ultimately hung on for the victory.

“Big Ol’ Joe Mantiply, the Slingin’ Left-hander”

Joe Mantiply, the 31-year-old Virginian, is in his fifth season on a major league roster. He did not pitch enough to shed his rookie status until 2021, his fourth time season in the bigs. This season was the first time he was ever on an Opening Day roster. He got to pitch in that game — a 4–2 Diamondbacks victory capped by the dramatic Seth Beer walk-off home run — and was the winning pitcher.

Teammate Luke Weaver called the 6’4”, 220-lb. Mantiply “Big Ol’ Joe, the slingin’ left-hander” during a spring training interview. He added, “Joe’s a great guy who has a nice ease to his personality. (He) comes in consistent every day. (Joe) is a workhorse. I feel like, last year, he was pitching almost every single day. And he’s not one to complain. He just wants the ball.”

Stability amidst Chaos

Weaver’s memory was correct. Mantiply led Diamondbacks relievers with 57 appearances in 2021 despite not being called up until May 15. This was a welcome sight for a team that struggled to find dependable relief pitching. The Diamondbacks had 35 players make at least one relief appearance in 2021 — second in the National League behind the Chicago Cubs (36). But the Cubs blew everything up at the trade deadline and commenced a full rebuild. The Diamondbacks didn’t. They started the season with a giant question mark hanging over their bullpen, and full answers did not come until very late in the season.

Mantiply was a consistent answer in 2021, a season where he established career highs in appearances, innings, and every possible counting stat that matters. It was his fourth season in the big leagues, but it was the first time he either appeared in more than five games or pitched more than three innings. He made his debut in 2016 with the Detroit Tigers but only pitched 2 2/3 innings across five appearances. Three seasons later, in 2019, he made one appearance for the New York Yankees, pitching three innings of long relief and earning the win. He signed with the Diamondbacks in January of 2020, pitching at the alternate site until September, when he made four appearances. Thus 2021 was the first time he was really given a chance to pitch consistently in the majors.

2021 Performance

Mantiply put up promising numbers in 2021. In 39 2/3 innings across 57 appearances, he had a 3.40 ERA (82 ERA-minus), with 41 scoreless outings. This gave him a scoreless outing percentage (ScOtg%) of 71.9%, with league average being 69.4%.

But there were other areas that needed to improve. One was WHIP, which measures how many baserunners a pitcher gives up per inning. League average, for decades, is in the 1.300s, and in 2021, it was 1.327. For Mantiply, it was 1.563. It wasn’t due to walks, since his walk rate was slightly better than league average, but due to hits. Another was consistency in late innings. He had a straight one-to-one ratio of goose eggs to broken eggs, something that should be at 3.0 or higher. Furthermore, he led the team in meltdowns, games where his win probability added (WPA) is -0.060 or lower. In other words, his pitching performance in those games reduced the team’s chances of winning by 6% or more.

Joe Mantiply Reflects on 2021

In games where Mantiply pitched effectively, he was lights out. From August 30 to September 28, he had 14 straight scoreless appearances. In addition, he only gave up an inherited run in two of the twelve, so it’s not like these numbers were fool’s gold. Furthermore, from July 25 through the end of the season, he allowed four earned runs and two unearned runs total. Of his 26 appearances, 21 — 80.8% — were scoreless. Out of the 21, he only allowed an inherited runner to score in two of them.

Heading into the offseason and again into spring training, the coaching staff told Mantiply what to work on. “Basically, there are some things I could do with the placement of my fastball,” Mantiply said in a spring training interview. “We think that I could probably utilize the glove side of the plate more to maybe get more swings and misses at the top of the zone. That’s been the main focus, and then execution. Keep trying to get better at executing and making pitches. The bad outings came down to me not executing pitches and my misses being in spots where I can get hurt, so I’m trying to focus on being able to execute better and miss barrels.”

Positives

The coaching staff liked his mindset, especially in the “big spots,” Mantiply said. The staff encouraged him to “build on that and keep that focus that was able to get me out of those situations. Try to repeat that as much as possible.” Mantiply himself was thinking along the same lines when reflecting personally on his season. “Obviously, I liked the times I had success. I will try to build on that and try to do that more. Hit on those outings and don’t try to get too up or too down with good ones or bad ones. Move on to the next pitch and try to execute.”

Mantiply has enjoyed working with new pitching coach Brent Strom. “He definitely has a good mix of the ‘old school’ and the analytics, the new kind of stuff. I think he tries to really tailor what you do and not try to make you somebody you’re not. Take what the analytics say and try to help you improve on what you already do.”

The addition of veteran closer Mark Melancon and veteran set-up man Ian Kennedy have also benefited Mantiply. “They’ve been there, done that. Whenever you have a question about what they’re thinking in certain situations, they’re definitely willing to give their expertise.”

Praise for Joe Mantiply

Joe Mantiply’s efforts have not gone unnoticed in the clubhouse or the manager’s office. Manager Torey Lovullo said that Mantiply is “a story of perseverance. He’s done a great job of grinding through some minor league seasons. (Joe is) landing his pitches and changing speeds and throwing pitches with authority, and we count on him in a big way. We turned to him several times last year, and he started to feel that, taking on that responsibility. It wasn’t perfect every single time, but I think he’s grown and learned with every outing he’s had up to this point. I don’t think that will ever stop. He’s gained a lot of confidence. Confidence in this game is key, and he’s in a really good spot for us.”

Pitching coach Brent Strom added, “Being left-handed, obviously, is a big plus for him. He has really good ball movement, is a very good competitor, and has a resilient arm. He’s still finding his way in the major leagues, but he’s very, very important to this team in terms of the fact that he’s not just a left-handed specialist, but he can get right-handed hitters out.”

“A Great Friend and Great Teammate”

Fellow reliever Noe Ramirez called Mantiply “a great friend and great teammate.” But Ramirez also noted, “We saw last year how effective and how nasty he can be. He pounds the zone, goes after hitters. If he’s gonna get beat, he’s gonna get beat with his best stuff. He’s never tiptoeing around the strike zone but always going right after hitters. I think that’s why he’s had a bunch of success. He likes to compete, throw strikes, and pretty much let them hit it. It’s pretty cool to watch. Him being ready, it seems like it throws almost every single day. I thought I threw a bunch last year. But if you look at his appearances it’s like, wow. He’s a workhorse. It’s always good to have that guy.”

Carson Kelly spoke highly of Mantiply’s consistency and professionalism. “He always has a plan and knows what he wants to do out on the mound. You know he’s a guy you can rely on. He comes in and gets the job done. (Joe) brings it every single day. He does his thing, is very informed, knows what he needs to do, and continues to make adjustments when need be.”

Weaver likes the transition he sees from Mantiply when he takes the mound. In the clubhouse, Mantiply is a gentle, affable guy. On the field, however, he is a fierce competitor. Weaver commented, “When you get out there and watch him feed off some of his edge — he’s a chill guy, but he’s one of those guys who gets out there and an animal can come out a little bit. And I love that, because you need that in the big situations where he’s gotten some huge outs for us last year.”

“He’s Funky”

Set-up man Ian Kennedy remarked about Mantiply’s build and how tough that is on left-handed hitters. “He’s funky. So he makes it hard on all the lefties. Some of the best hitters are left-handed, and as soon as you throw him in there, it’s (tough). He’s got a great slider with good command. You could throw him in there to get lefties and righties out, but he’s really tough on lefties because he’s got so much arms and legs going all over the place with that good slider going.

“You need someone like that to shut down someone like (Juan) Soto or Freddie (Freeman) or (Bryce) Harper. Guys that are elite hitters. (Pitchers like Mantiply) bring a little more ‘funk’ than everybody else. For some reason, when a lefty sees a lefty, it’s like the they’ve never seen a lefty before. They see a slider from a lefty, and it’s like the first time they’ve ever seen one.

“Off the field, he keeps everything pretty consistent. That’s what the best thing about him is. He’s pretty consistent (in) his personality, a great dude around the clubhouse.” Kennedy added that he’s looking forward to getting to know Mantiply better as the season continues.

Outlook for Joe Mantiply

So far in 2022, everything has paid off for Mantiply. In 5 2/3 innings across six appearances, he has yet to allow a run. Facing 21 batters, he has only allowed four hits — none for extra bases — and walked one while striking out two, giving him a 0.882 WHIP. It’s early, yes, but his efforts have already given him a 0.3 WAR for the season. This puts him in a tie for fourth on the team in WAR, a rarity for a middle reliever. For a team in the NL West, a lefty stopper is crucial. If Mantiply continues his success, he will be a valuable weapon for the Diamondbacks.

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Players Mentioned:

Joe Mantiply, Juan Soto, Nelson Cruz, Josh Bell, Keibert Ruiz, Yadiel Hernandez, Noe Ramirez, Carson Kelly, Ketel Marte, Seth Beer, Luke Weaver, Brent Strom, Mark Melancon, Ian Kennedy, Torey Lovullo