Tim Kurkjian on Alek Manoah The Gold and Blue Nation Podcast

Longtime ESPN baseball analyst Tim Kurkjian is the latest guest on The Gold and Blue Nation Podcast, and he's a big fan of former Mountaineer Alek Manoah. In this interview with Ryan Decker, Kurkjian breaks down Manoah's presence on the mound, and explains why the pitcher's career with the Blue Jays has begun with so much success.  Kurkjian also dishes on another former Mountaineer, John Means, who will miss the remainder of the MLB season due to injury. The Orioles ace is the only former Mountaineer to throw a big league no-hitter. 

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Alek Manoah has started his Major League Baseball career at a record-setting pace.

He has won 18 of the first 22 decisions of his career. He finished eighth in the American League Rookie of the Year voting in 2021, and is certainly a candidate for this year’s American League Cy Young Award.

Even though “[h]e doesn’t look like a pitcher,” Manoah is quickly becoming one of the brightest young stars in the game.

When an athlete gets off to such an impressive start to his career, it’s only a matter of time before we start looking ahead and try to predicthow the rest of his career could look.

The future of Manoah’s career was one of the topics of conversation with Tim Kurkjian, the longtime baseball analyst for ESPN, when he appeared as a guest on The Gold and Blue Nation Podcast last week.

QUESTION: You just mentioned Alek Manoah going forward. Not to put you on the spot here Tim, but based on what we’ve seen from Manoah thus far, and all your knowledge of the game, what kind of career can Mountaineer fans, and Blue Jays fans, expect out of the big right-hander?

KURKJIAN: “Well, I think he’s going to be really good for a long time. The stuff is there. The competitive nature is there. And the size is there. Now, when you’re that big, you have to be careful, of course, not to get any bigger. But I always go back to CC Sabathia, who was a really big man – 6’7″, 260 whatever he weighed. And he lost a lot of weight one year, and didn’t pitch very well, and he said I think I pitch better when I’m bigger. So, the key will be with Manoah, is to keep that body tuned the best he can. It’s a real advantage for him now being that big and that strong, and he needs to stay in that sort of shape as he moves forward. But knowing your own body is really important. And, it’s just impossible to predict with a pitcher anymore, because of injuries and everything else, but there’s no reason to think this guy won’t be a really good pitcher for a long time.”

Baseball fans will remember Sabathia as an all-star and Cy Young candidate with Cleveland and the New York Yankees.

Sabathia made his MLB debut three years younger than Manoah did. Though, the pitchers do have very similar physical builds.

Sabathia pitched for 19 seasons in the big leagues, finally hanging up his cleats in 2019. He will be eligible for the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame ballot in 2025.

Thanks to FanGraphs, it’s easy to see the comparisons between Manoah and Sabathia in the early stages of their careers.

As you can see, Manoah is performing better at this stage in his career than Sabathia in every case. In some cases, such as ERA, WHIP, and LOB%, Manoah is pitching better than Sabathia ever did in his career.

While it’s not full-proof, it’s a good indication of what we could expect from the former Mountaineer moving forward.

I also asked Kurkjian if this start to Manoah’s career is comparable to someone from throughout the game’s history.

QUESTION: The start that he is having to his career, does it remind you of anyone else that you have seen – from a starting pitcher that does have a really good win-loss record, but is also keeping his ERA down? Is there a good comparison for him so far?

KURKJIAN: “Well, there are so many pitchers in baseball history, and ones that I’ve covered, that have gotten off to a similar start. I mean, Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher of this generation [and] got off to an unbelievable start. And so did many others, including Mark Fidrych, who I watched in the 70s. And, he’s not Alek Manoah when it comes to build, but you know, when it comes to presence and charisma and everything else, there was nobody like Mark Fidrych.”

Kershaw is a surefire future Hall of Famer. Let’s look at the comparison between the two of them using the same metrics.

Once again, Manoah compares favorably. While he doesn’t boast any numbers that exceed Kershaw’s career bests, Manoah is consistently within reach of the Dodgers legend’s production, statistically.

Kurkjian added an important note during our conversation: plenty of examples exist (Dwight Gooden, Stephen Strasburg, etc) of pitchers who got off to amazing starts to their careers but couldn’t continue them long term.

“Health is so, so important — especially for a pitcher,” Kurkjian stated.

QUESTION: I was poking around on Alek’s Baseball Reference page the other day, because of course it’s never too early to start looking at Hall of Fame credentials. One thing that struck me was his similarity score most matched up with Tim Hudson through his age 23 season. Do you see that comparison at all?

KURKJIAN: “Yeah. Tim Hudson is probably giving up 100 pounds to Alek Manoah, but it was the same idea – bulldog attitude, tough guy. Tim Hudson once gave up two runs in the first inning of a really big game against the Mariners. And he screamed to the entire dugout, ‘Just give me three runs, because I’m not giving up any more runs in this game. That’s it!’ And the A’s came back and scored three runs, and Tim Hudson won the game 3-2, just like he predicted. So, that’s where the bulldog in Tim Hudson comes in. And, you know, he kept up his greatness for a long time. He’s not a Hall of Famer, but he’s in that discussion. And if Alek Manoah can end up with a career like Tim Hudson, he should be very proud.”

Tim Hudson was on the MLB Hall of Fame ballot for two years. He didn’t receive enough votes in 2022 to remain in consideration for another season.

While he fell short of the Hall of Fame, Hudson, too, made his big league debut at age 23 and was impressive early in his career.

Here is a comparison using the same statistics between Manoah and Hudson.

Once again, Manoah is better at 24 years old in every category. And in almost every instance, the WVU grad is posting numbers that Hudson rarely, if ever, touched in his career.

Like Kurkjian alluded to, it is impossible to accurately predict what a pitcher’s become just based on two seasons this early in his career.

However, based on the comparisons between Manoah and three pitchers who have or will appear on a Hall of Fame ballot, Manoah is starting on a path to get the same honor.