CSS Button No Image Css3Menu.com

Baseball Prospectus home
  
  
Click here to log in Click here for forgotten password Click here to subscribe

<< Previous Article
Fantasy Article Value Picks: Second, S... (07/02)
<< Previous Column
Fantasy Article Resident Fantasy Geniu... (06/25)
Next Column >>
Fantasy Article Resident Fantasy Geniu... (07/05)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Bizball: How Much Sala... (07/02)

July 2, 2012

Resident Fantasy Genius

Does the Knuckleball Discriminate?

by Derek Carty

the archives are now free.

All Baseball Prospectus Premium and Fantasy articles more than a year old are now free as a thank you to the entire Internet for making our work possible.

Not a subscriber? Get exclusive content like this delivered hot to your inbox every weekday. Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get instant access to the best baseball content on the web.

Subscribe for $4.95 per month
Recurring subscription - cancel anytime.


a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Purchase a $39.95 gift subscription
a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Already a subscriber? Click here and use the blue login bar to log in.

Back at the Baseball Prospectus Citi Field event on June 2, the BP crew and our guests had the pleasure of watching R.A. Dickey extend his impressive scoreless streak with nine innings of shutout ball against the St. Louis Cardinals.  Sitting with industry friend Craig Glaser of Bloomberg Sports (who you may recall was on the Fantasy Baseball Panel with Eno Sarris and I at the SABR Analytics Conference), we got to talking about Dickey and how much we loved following him.  Craig presented one interesting theory of his that I wanted to test out today.

When watching Dickey, Craig noted how, as a Mets fan, he’s really not that much more scared of the opposing team's great players as he is of their average players.  We know that the knuckler is a rare and not-completely-understood pitch, and Craig wondered whether the knuckleball has some inherent properties that neutralize batter talent.  He wondered whether good hitters are just as susceptible to being fooled by the pitch as poor hitters are.  And when you think about it, this makes some sense.  After all, the pitch is rather unpredictable in its movement, and it’s not as if batters have a lot of practice in hitting it.  Coming up through amateur ball and the minors, hitters rarely see knuckleballs in the way they do fastballs, curves, and the like.  While good hitters see these “normal” pitches over and over, adjust to them, and learn how to hit them, such a process doesn’t really take place with the knuckleball.

To study this theory, I started by looking at all knuckleballs thrown between the start of the PITCHf/x era in 2007 and 2011, limited to known knuckleballers Tim Wakefield, Charlie Haeger, Charlie Zink, and, of course, Dickey.  This gives us roughly 17,000 knucklers to examine.

Next, we need to separate the “good” batters and the “poor batters.”  There are a few ways to do this, any of which will be necessarily subjective in some respect, but I decided to go a very simple route and take the top and bottom 20 percent of batters in terms of seasonal TAv who faced at least one knuckleball that season and who accumulated at least 300 total plate appearances.

From here, we need to measure a batter’s effectiveness against each individual knuckler.  To do this, we need to compare the run value of the situation before the pitch is thrown to the run value of the situation that arises after the pitch is thrown.  So, for example, a batter who hits a home run on an 0-2 count will be given more credit than a batter who hits a home run on a 3-0 count since the expectation to do something good is lower in a pitcher’s count.  Once we do this for every pitch, we can take the average change in the run value for each of our groups (the “good” hitters and the “poor” hitters) and compare them.

Now, onto the results!  I’ve tried to put them into a format that is as easily digestible as possible.  What I’ve done is converted the difference between “good” and “poor” batters into a Runs Allowed per Nine Innings format (i.e. ERA but including unearned runs too, assuming 15 pitches per inning).

Good/Bad Hitter R/9 Gap

Knuckleballs

1.13

Basically, imagine that a pitcher throws all knuckleballs for nine innings versus a team of “good” hitters and then does the same versus a team of “poor” hitters (ignore the game theory ramifications of throwing the same pitch every time and the compounding effects of facing so many good/poor hitters).  The pitcher would allow 1.13 fewer runs versus the team of “poor” hitters than it would the team of “good” hitters.

Of course, this number doesn’t mean a whole lot without some context.  Using the same group of “good” and “bad” hitters, I also examined the gap for two other common pitch types: four-seam fastballs and curveballs.  After all, maybe knuckleballs don’t completely neutralize the batter’s talent, but if it neutralizes it more than other pitches, then that’s important to note.

Good/Bad Hitter R/9 Gap

Fastballs

Good/Bad Hitter R/9 Gap

Curveballs

Good/Bad Hitter R/9 Gap

Knuckleballs

3.41

2.14

1.13

The difference between “good” and “bad” hitters is a full run smaller for knucklers than it is for curves and nearly two and a half runs smaller than it is for fastballs.  While the knuckleball may not completely eliminate the differences in hitters as Craig postulated, the pitch does indeed seem to diminish the importance of batter quality.

Related Content:  R.A. Dickey,  Knuckleball,  Tim Wakefield

9 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Horvendile

Since batters so rarely face knuckleballs it almost totally eliminates the learned aspects of hitting. The advantages that good hitters get from correctly guessing which pitch is coming, picking up the rotations, and judging how far a pitch will break are eliminated. What's left is that the good hitters will tend to be better athletes with reflexes which still gives an advantage. Just as you'd expect the better hitters will also be on average better cricket players or golfers.

Jul 02, 2012 04:01 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Derek Carty
BP staff

Exactly.

Jul 02, 2012 14:40 PM
 
swarmee

Why aren't there more knucklers in middle relief? Also, does left or right handedness matter for the hitter or pitcher when dealing with knuckleballs? If that effect isn't as pronounced either, they'd be a great weapon in a bullpen since they could fire multiple innings, pitch to both sides of the plate, and face any part of the lineup.

Jul 02, 2012 05:16 AM
rating: 0
 
dwinning

The answer is probably: if you have a guy that's good enough to get outs with a knuckleball, you want him to eat as many innings as possible and the way to do that is by starting him. If you have a knuckleball pitcher who's NOT good enough to get outs, well, nobody cares about that guy.

My (related) question would be, because he's not stressing his arm like a regular pitcher, could a guy like RA Dickey throw consistently on 2 or 3 days rest?

Jul 02, 2012 12:46 PM
rating: 2
 
swarmee

Good question; would you have wanted Wakefield to bump someone in the rotation if he was willing to make 45 starts? That would seem to be one way to get a 300-strikeout season, since that hasn't happened since Randy Johnson in 2002.

Jul 02, 2012 12:54 PM
rating: 0
 
bwilhoite

Something like Wilbur Wood 1972-1975? He between 42 and 49 starts each of those four seasons.

Jul 03, 2012 16:30 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Derek Carty
BP staff

I think dwinning provides a good answer to this. The other thing is that, up until now, we really haven't seen a knuckleballer as dominant as Dickey. Even at his absolute best, Wakefield topped out at a 7.9 K/9, and he was under 7.0 for 16 of his 19 years pitching. That's just not really good enough for a middle reliever, especially when a knuckleballer can do pretty much the same thing as a back-end starter.

Jul 02, 2012 14:44 PM
 
Drew

This is great stuff.

Jul 02, 2012 10:44 AM
rating: 1
 
jrcolwell

This is awesome stuff. It could provide some insight on managers to who they should play against Dickey. If I'm Charlie Manuel trying to work Chase Utley back into the lineup would I use him against Dickey? Ignoring Left/Right splits I would be better off resting him and playing Mike Fontenot (I'm assuming Utley is in the "good" group and Fontenot in the "poor" group). Then using Utley the next day against Santana. If Utley isn't going to provide that much of a bump against Dickey you might as well just play a replacement player and then use Utley against a more conventional pitcher where he provides a much higher premium. I've also heard announcers speculate that facing the knuckler can mess with guy's swings for a few at bats after. If there is truth to this, employing the "Dickey Vacation" strategy for your starters makes that much more sense.

Jul 07, 2012 12:51 PM
rating: 0
 
You must be a Premium subscriber to post a comment.
Not a subscriber? Sign up today!
<< Previous Article
Fantasy Article Value Picks: Second, S... (07/02)
<< Previous Column
Fantasy Article Resident Fantasy Geniu... (06/25)
Next Column >>
Fantasy Article Resident Fantasy Geniu... (07/05)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Bizball: How Much Sala... (07/02)

RECENTLY AT BASEBALL PROSPECTUS
Fantasy Rounders: The Young and the Splitles...
Premium Article Minor League Update: Games of Thursday, May ...
Premium Article What You Need to Know: Bummed!
Premium Article The Prospectus Hit List: Friday, May 22
West Coast By Us: Day 1: In The Land Where E...
Premium Article Rubbing Mud: The Quarter-Season Odds Report
Going Yard: The Near Perfection of Pederson

MORE FROM JULY 2, 2012
What the Contenders Need
Premium Article Bizball: How Much Salary Can You Allocate to...
Fantasy Article Value Picks: Second, Short, and Catcher for ...
The Week in Quotes: June 25-July 1
Premium Article Collateral Damage Daily: Monday, July 2
Premium Article The Prospectus Hit List: Monday, July 2
What You Need to Know: Monday, July 2

MORE BY DEREK CARTY
2012-07-12 - Fantasy Article Resident Fantasy Genius: Quit Wasting Your D...
2012-07-09 - Fantasy Article Resident Fantasy Genius: Making the Most of ...
2012-07-05 - Fantasy Article Resident Fantasy Genius: Thome Trade Tests A...
2012-07-02 - Fantasy Article Resident Fantasy Genius: Does the Knucklebal...
2012-06-28 - Premium Article Top 10 Trade Targets
2012-06-25 - Fantasy Article Resident Fantasy Genius: Potential League-Ho...
2012-06-22 - Fantasy Article Resident Fantasy Genius: Starting Pitchers t...
More...

MORE RESIDENT FANTASY GENIUS
2012-07-12 - Fantasy Article Resident Fantasy Genius: Quit Wasting Your D...
2012-07-09 - Fantasy Article Resident Fantasy Genius: Making the Most of ...
2012-07-05 - Fantasy Article Resident Fantasy Genius: Thome Trade Tests A...
2012-07-02 - Fantasy Article Resident Fantasy Genius: Does the Knucklebal...
2012-06-25 - Fantasy Article Resident Fantasy Genius: Potential League-Ho...
2012-06-22 - Fantasy Article Resident Fantasy Genius: Starting Pitchers t...
2012-06-18 - Fantasy Article Resident Fantasy Genius: Seven Magnificent P...
More...