There have been few, if any, better relievers in the major leagues this season.
A rare three-time draftee, Joe Mantiply eventually signed with the Tigers after they picked him in the 27th round of the 2013 draft – a slot that doesn’t even exist any more. After moving to the bullpen, he reached the majors with them in 2016, but was put on waivers at the end of the season. From there, he bounced around to the Yankees and Reds, then missed all of 2018 after Tommy John surgery. He went back to the Yankees, then was released. He signed as a free agent with the D-backs in January 2020, though barely made a blip here. Joe was DFA’d that September, and his MLB career appeared to be on life-support. The then 29-year-old had just eight major-league innings, with a 13.50 ERA.
But amazingly, since resigning a minor-league deal in November 2020, Mantiply has been among the best relief pitchers in baseball. Over 66.1 innings going into play yesterday, he had a 2.17 ERA. His 195 ERA+ ranks in the top ten among the 200 relievers with 50+ IP since the start of 2021, above the likes of much better-known bullpen arms such as Kenley Jansen or Craig Kimbrel. And this year, he has been otherworldly. In 26.2 innings, he has allowed ONE earned run, for a 0.34 ERA, and his ERA+ of 1233 (!) is best in the majors (min 20 IP). He has allowed precisely ZERO barrels this season, and Mantiply’s FIP is a mere 1.51. It’s largely down to a K:BB ratio of 26:1. He walked the second batter faced this year, and that’s it.
Since then, he has made 28 consecutive appearances without a walk; the next-best active streak in the majors is 13. It’s already the best walkless streak by a Diamondback, breaking the previous best of 23, from Joe Thatcher in 2014 – and that covered only 13.1 innings, barely half of Mantiply’s 25.2 IP. [Fun fact: by innings, the longest Arizona streak belongs to Javier Vazquez, who went 54.2 innings and 220 batters between walks in 2005] Mantiply’s run is currently =25th all time, and who knows how high it could be by the time it finishes? He seems to have a shot at challenging the all-time mark of 41 consecutive appearances without a walk, by Dennis Eckersley in 1989-90.
It’s hard to say what has triggered the sudden explosion into near-perfection from Mantiply, because there was such a small sample size from when he sucked. Michael took a look at Joe’s improvement a few weeks ago, and noted a first-strike rate well above average, at 70%, and an elite chase rate (getting swings on pitches outside the zone). I strongly recommend you read the article for more technical analysis of how Mantiply is getting his outs. Here, I’m simply making the case for All-Star consideration. The problem there is, relievers in the All-Star game almost all tend to be closers. No matter how good you are as a set-up man or middle-inning reliever, you probably won’t get the call.
Last year, for example, the bullpen arms on the NL roster were Josh Hader (MIL), Craig Kimbrel (CHC), Mark Melancon (SD) and Alex Reyes (STL). All four had 20+ saves at the break – Mantiply has two at time of writing – and made the roster ahead of relievers like Ranger Suarez of the Phillies. His first-half ERA of 0.77 across 35 innings, was better than all the closers above, bar Kimbrel. Making the uphill climb tougher for Mantiply, if an NL spot is given to a non-everyday closer, Joe has competition in the Cardinals’ Ryan Helsey. He has almost the same ERA (0.33), a better K-rate (37 in 27 IP), and despite only five saves, has become the go-to guy there. Local media is making the case for him to be an All-Star…
If last year is any guide, I imagine the relief spots this year will go to Taylor Rogers (SDP), Hader (MIL), Jansen (ATL), Edwin Diaz (NYM) and maybe Daniel Bard, because some Rockie has to make it. But Mantiply has been better than all of them, both by ERA and FIP. It’s just a misfortune he is in a relatively small media market, and stuck behind Mark Melancon. With Mantiply under control through 2026, it will be interesting to see what happens to him, if he continues to perform at (or anywhere near!) his current high level. Either when Melancon loses too many games even for Mike Hazen to tolerate, or leaves in free agency, Mantiply could become the team’s first “home-grown” closer since Archie Bradley.