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July 2, 2012 5:00 am

Resident Fantasy Genius: Does the Knuckleball Discriminate?


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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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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July 2, 2010 10:37 am

Overthinking It: Knuckling Under


Ben Lindbergh

Might a knuckleballer's night not truly be over when he leaves the mound?

“I just take my three swings and go sit on the bench. I’m afraid if I ever think about hitting it, I’ll mess up my swing for life.”—Dick Allen, on the knuckleball

“I just hope that Wakefield doesn't mess up the swings of our hitters for a couple of days.”—Cito Gaston, May 2009

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Rany comes clean about an obsession with the knuckler, and his active interest in the best prospect to throw it in years.

It's no secret that I'm a fan of the knuckleball and the men who throw it. Among the many clues I have left in my wake, the most obvious is the time I ignored the objections of a fewokay, all of my colleagues, and attached Charlie Zink to the bottom of our Top 50 Prospects list three years ago. Fortunately, Zink has gone on to great and glorious success since then, completely vindicating my faith in him.

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With Tim Wakefield's personal catcher Doug Mirabelli traded to San Diego, Keith wonders how successful the personal catcher strategy really is.

Though there are examples prior to the 1990's--Tim McCarver catching Steve Carlton almost exclusively, for example--the phenomenon of the personal catcher has become more prevalent in the the past 15 years. Greg Maddux' preference of Eddie Perez (also Paul Bako or Henry Blanco in later seasons) over regular catcher Javy Lopez is well documented. John Flaherty was Randy Johnson's personal catcher in 2005. The unique demands of catching the knuckleball has meant that Mirabelli has worked with Tim Wakefield for the past several seasons, giving Jason Varitek the night off.

Giving the primary catcher periodic rest is one of supposed benefits of this arrangement. With the personal catcher playing every 5th day when his pitcher's turn in the rotation came up, it created a pattern of 25-30 games per year the regular catcher would have off. This rest, in theory, would help the regular catcher from getting worn down over the course of a long season, remaining fresh enough even in September to contribute offensively. It is this question that interests me today--do personal catchers provide a measurable boost to their primary counterparts by allowing them periodic rest? Does the fact that Tim Wakefield has Josh Bard (and previously, Doug Mirabelli) as a personal catcher help Jason Varitek stay productive in September?

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An exciting and unusual pitching matchup highlights this week's tilt, as AL East (sort of) rivals collide.

And what better opponent to follow than the Boston Red Sox. I don't know if you know this, but the Sox won the World Series last year. It's true, you can look it up!

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(Numbers in parentheses indicate number of ballots on which the player appeared, then number of first-place votes received.)

AL MVP (14-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1)

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