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.
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.
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.
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.
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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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.
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.
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.
Finding out whether knuckleballs actually flutter, with the help of our friendly neighborhood physicist.
Believe it or not, 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.
Alan Nathan is Professor Emeritus of Physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. After a long career doing experimental nuclear/particle physics, he now spends his time doing research in the physics of baseball. He maintains a web site devoted to this topic athttp://webusers.npl.illinois.edu/~a-nathan/pob/. His younger colleagues at Complete Game Consulting have bestowed upon him the exalted title of Chief Scientist.