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A salute to a very special group.

Earlier this week, Angels starter C.J. Wilson threw a knuckleball—or so he said. Whether what left his hand was the genuine article is a matter of some uncertainty, which we’ll attempt to resolve before this article is over. Regardless of whether Wilson deserves induction into the knuckleball club, though, his claim made me wonder what other knuckleball news I might have missed. If a 33-year-old can break one out without warning in his 10th big-league season, who’s to say another knuckler hasn’t made an uncredited appearance at some point in the past several seasons? Knuckleballers, like ring-bearers, are entitled to retire to Valinor, so it’s important that we don’t leave anyone out.

Fortunately, pitch-tracking technology has made knuckleballs much easier to monitor. Over the seven-plus seasons for which PITCHf/x has been active, Pitch Info (aka Harry Pavlidis) has tagged 23, 922 pitches as knuckleballs, thereby establishing them as superior to every other offering. For those precious pitches, we have 11 men to thank, classified below by their relationship to and reliance on the pitch.

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A PITCHf/x look at Red Sox righty Steven Wright.

Red Sox knuckleballer Steven Wright—profiled in a BP piece here—pitched 5⅔ scoreless relief innings last Thursday night against the Mariners. The 28-year-old utilized a floater that sat almost exclusively between 74 and 76 mph and an occasional fastball in the mid-to-high 80s. Although people tend to think of knuckleballs being in the mid-60s, I think the lasting influence of Tim Wakefield distorts perceptions of the pitch. Wakefield’s soft knuckler was only about 8 mph slower than his fastball on average—not all that different from Wright (-9), R.A. Dickey (-6), Charlie Haeger (-10), and Eddie Bonine (-6), the other knuckleballers of the PITCHf/x era. Given Wright’s fastball speed, his knuckler is right on target.

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The Rangers left fielder shows off his...knuckleball?

Rangers left fielder David Murphy is normally a solid offensive contributor, posting a career .277 TAv. This season, he’s been subpar at just .234. What’s a manager to do? Why not change his position? Ron Washington, short of arms in a 17–5 blowout at the hands of the Red Sox on Tuesday night, decided to audition Murphy as a relief pitcher.

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Ben and Sam discuss Ben's trip to Phoenix for the SABR Analytics Conference, covering the sabermetrics of marketing, clubhouse chemistry, knuckleballers, bullpen usage, the WBC, Kyle Lohse, and other topics along the way.



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Meet Steven Wright.

Most of our writers didn't enter the world sporting an @baseballprospectus.com address; with a few exceptions, they started out somewhere else. In an effort to up your reading pleasure while tipping our caps to some of the most illuminating work being done elsewhere on the internet, we'll be yielding the stage once a week to the best and brightest baseball writers, researchers and thinkers from outside of the BP umbrella. If you'd like to nominate a guest contributor (including yourself), please drop us a line.

Jonathan Zeller’s articles have appeared in the New York Times, Paper, and New York. His favorite baseball team is the Portland Thinkers.
 


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Ben and Sam answer listener emails about R.A. Dickey, the Red Sox, and more.



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R.A. Dickey will make his final start of the season tonight. You know how good he's been at retiring batters, but you might not know about something else he excels at.

R.A. Dickey, who makes his final start of the season this evening in Miami, doesn't lack for résumé bullet points to sway Cy Young voters. Unsatisfied to elevate his career at an age when most pitchers are heading out to pasture, Dickey has also elevated the standard to which knuckleballers can aspire. He leads the National League in strikeouts, innings pitched, complete games and shutouts. He has an ungodly 4.1 K/BB ratio. He’s been one of the few bright spots on a Mets team that might be in last place without him. And fine, I’ll say it: Dickey is the first Met to win 20 games since Frank Viola in 1990. He even offers enough charming human interest angles to fill several episodes of This American Life.

Allow me, then, to toss a molehill on top of that mountain of accomplishment: R.A. Dickey is doing a historically great job of holding runners on base. With agility, poise, and a deep understanding of the fundamentals—as well as some out-and-out flaunting of the rulebook, which we’ll examine later—Dickey has overcome the highest possible degree of difficulty to not only hold his own against the running game, but become one of the very best in baseball at shutting it down. In 2012, only three qualified starters in all of baseball have allowed fewer stolen base attempts per stolen base opportunity than Dickey (defining “stolen base opportunity” as a man on first or second with the next base open). The average qualified starter has allowed 5.81 stolen base attempts per 100 opportunities this season. Dickey has allowed 1.85.

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July 2, 2012 5:00 am

Resident Fantasy Genius: Does the Knuckleball Discriminate?

9

Derek Carty

R.A. Dickey's success raises a question: Do poor hitters do just as well against a knuckleball as good hitters? Derek investigates.

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.

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June 29, 2012 5:00 am

Raising Aces: Dickey's Fine Malt Knuckler

2

Doug Thorburn

Doug examines R.A. Dickey's mechanics to see how Dickey does things most knuckleballers couldn't dream of.

The baseball life of a knuckleball pitcher is truly unique. Survival is predicated upon the success of a single pitch type, one that is rooted in randomness and whose effectiveness is sensitive to everything from mechanics to grips and even weather conditions. A knuckler's approach is based on the notion that batters know what pitch is coming, but not where it's going. The knuckleball was a recurring theme in my inaugural chat with BP, with many suggesting that washed up minor leaguers should adopt the pitch to re-forge a career in the bigs, though it is easy to underestimate the difficulty of harnessing a knuckler to the degree necessary to succeed at the highest level. Mercurial performance patterns have become par for the course of knuckleball pitchers, but R.A. Dickey's recent run of dominance is changing the way that we perceive this rare and exotic breed.

​Notable Knuckleball Pitcher Ratios

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June 21, 2012 5:00 am

On the Beat: Who Wants to be the Next Skipper?

10

John Perrotto

A look at 10 new managerial candidates, and a conversation with Mets manager Terry Collins.

The All-Star break is coming into view, yet no managers have been fired this season. In fact, there have been only a few reports of any of the 30 major-league skippers even possibly being in trouble. But it will eventually happen. Some owner will finally get fed up, drop the axe, and his club will begin a managerial search.

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Can knuckleballers like R.A. Dickey control the speed and movement of their knucklers depending on the count?

The knuckleball is a difficult pitch to hit because of its unpredictable movement. But few analyses have ever looked at another component of the knuckleball: its speed.

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A look at Dickey's incredible run.

He went for $2 in the Tout Wars Mixed.  He went for $5 in Tout Wars NL draft while going for $4 in LABR NL (purchased by Derek Carty in both instances). Yet, there is no hotter fantasy baseball asset in leagues right now than R.A. Dickey, who currently stands 11-1 with a 2.00 ERA, 103 strikeouts, and just 21 walks in 99 innings of work. Those are the kind of numbers people pay $24 to roster Cole Hamels for, yet Dickey owners are getting it for a 75 percent discount amidst arguably the best story going in baseball today. Dickey’s last six starts encompass 48 2/3 innings of work in which he has allowed just 21 hits, one earned run, five walks, and 63 strikeouts. Those are not even Hamels-like numbers; those are more like Koufax numbers.

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