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The worst starters ever?

There’s hyperbole and then there’s however you want to describe Ross Stripling and Sean Manaea’s performances.

Ross Stripling and Sean Manaea making struggle faces against a gray background. Photos by Lachlan Cunningham / Getty Images

I’m going to answer the headline question right away: no, Sean Manaea and Ross Stripling are not the worst starting pitchers in baseball history; but, with Stripling set to take the mound for the San Francisco Giants this afternoon, I figured it was worth looking at his and Manaea’s terrible start to the season.

I approached it a couple of ways. First, let’s start with the historical. I did some Baseball Reference Play Index work and it helps that Stripling and Manaea have — until today — appeared in the same number of games: eight (8).

They are 2 of 19 pitchers in New York & San Franicisco Giants history to have an ERA greater than 7 through their first 8 appearances to start the season and with at least 25 innings pitched. Most recently was Jake Peavy in 2016.

Manaea (7.96 ERA) is having a worse season than Stripling (7.14), but both of their terrible ERA’s appear at 254th and 605th, respectively, on a master list of 23,037 pitchers/seasons sorted descending by the worst pitching ERAs in baseball history where a pitcher has started at least four games and pitched at least 25 innings in a season.

Now, that’s if the season ended today, which for most fans would probably be a good thing. From a current season and Statcast perspective, Manaea and Stripling don’t have a lot going for them.

Stripling is still managing to avoid giving up walks at a decent clip, but literally every other batted ball metric used at Baseball Savant has him in the bottom third percentile. Manaea’s zippy fastball velocity, strikeout rate, and arm extension all get high marks, but the actual batted ball data is worse than Stripling’s by a good measure.

Sean Manaea’s slider is the 9th-worst pitch in baseball by Statcast’s Run Value rankings (+10). Ross Stripling’s changeup (+5) is 62nd. Manaea uses his slider the most after his 4-seam fastball at 29.7%. Stripling’s changeup is his third-most used pitch (24.3%).

By basic FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement (fWAR), Stripling is the 2nd-worst pitcher in baseball (-0.6) while Manaea is 9th-worst (-0.4). If you ignore fWAR and just look at something as simple as FIP, they’re still disatrous: Stripling at 7.17 and Manaea at 6.61, the 4th- and 8th-worst values in all of MLB.

Anyway, we had some fun with small sample sizes last week with Casey Schmitt, and I figured it was worth a look at the most glaring (though by no means only) issue with the Giants fortysomething games into the season. It hasn’t been good and there’s nothing “under the hood” to indicate that a turnaround is imminent for either of them.

This will require some work in the Giants’ pitching lab — or, it’ll flip immediately and Stripling will pitch five innings of 1-run ball today. I don’t know what that means for Manaea, and I’m sure both guys would like to be disentangled in the public’s eye, but they are conjoined awfulness until somebody starts moving in a separate direction.