Manboat, Boycanoe, Gentlemantugboat — whatever you want to call Jeff Manship, he is a man (and a ship) now forever tied to Cleveland Indians lore. Maybe not a big portion of it, but when you tell your grandkids about the great World Series run of 2016 — and the boring season that preceeded it — you should try and bring up one Mr. Jefferson Manship at least once.
If you have not heard by now, Manship has signed a contract with the NC Dinos*, a Korean professional baseball team. He was initially non-tenderd by the Indians back in early April, letting the Indians avoid paying him the upwards of $1.2 million MLB Trade Rumors estimated he would make through salary arbitration. With so many talented relievers already on the major-league roster and coming up through the minor leagues, Manship was just kind of an odd man out in December. I, like many others, thought the Indians would snatch him up on another minor-league deal with an invite to spring training. But it wasn’t meant to be.
[*Fun fact: The NC Dinos are owned by NCSOFT, a video game publisher behind several MMO’s of various success including Wildstar, Aion, and the Guild Wars series]
Manship’s departure was a non-issue for most Indians fans. We were all still coming down from a dramatic World Series and there were early rumblings of interest in Edwin Encarnacion. Losing a middle-of-the-road reliever to a non-tender was not the most important sports thing going on in Cleveland. I think he deserved a bigger sendoff than what he got, though.
Just look at the two seasons he spent in Cleveland, in which he threw a shade over 80 innings. Among major-league pitchers with at least those 80 innings between 2015 and 2016 (just so we squeeze Manship in there), only eight other relievers had an ERA lower than Manship’s 2.07. Dial it back to simply 2015 and no one, not even Wade Davis, had a lower ERA than Manship’s remarkable 0.92.
Maybe most astounding of all is the kind of career that Manship had before coming to Cleveland. It’s kind of amazing he even got as many chances as he did, because from his rookie season in 2009 to his final non-Indians season in 2014, Manship never finished with more than 35 innings pitched and his ERA was lower than 5.50 only once. From 2011-2014, the four seasons prior to the Indians adding him as a non-roster invite to spring training, he had an ERA of 7.21 over 78.2 innings. He just plain wasn’t effective until he got to Cleveland.
Most of this just points to the faults of ERA and small sample sizes, but as someone who constantly watches the Indians I was always taken aback when I would watch Manship pitch, then look up his stats for a write-up. His name was never more than a footnote in game recaps, and I can’t find a single thing we at Let’s Go Tribe wrote about him exclusively besides the Indians non-tendering him. But he was always there in the middle of blowouts, effective as always.
He was constantly used in low-leverage situations, so his name rarely came up in anything meaningful, but by damn he did what he was supposed to. So well, in fact, that he got the call in three postseason games. And what did he do in those 2.1 innings? He kept the Toronto Blue Jays scoreless in the ALCS and Chicago Cubs scoreless twice in the World Series.
The problem was, most of his appearances were not postseason displays, or even anything close to it in the regular season. Games in which Manship competed were rarely close. On average, he took part in games with a run differential of around 3.7. That does not necessarily speak to when Manship came into games, but he was not exactly trusted with crucial match-ups during his tenure in Cleveland.
Manship’s time with the Indians probably won’t be remembered, but it is actually kind of fascinating. If nothing else, just for how uneventful — yet strangely dominant — he was in his short time. A lot of things point to it being luck, and it was not a stretch of innings that could buck his career-long trend of being a below-average reliever, but I truly hope a strong season or two in Korea means he’ll find his way back into major-league baseball. The baseball world needs more Manboat on its biggest stage.