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Sunday, June 24, 2012

Neyer: Will R.A. Dickey’s Angry Knuckleball Change The Game?

R.A. Dickey is probably throwing a pitch that no professional batter had ever seen before he started throwing it.

People wonder how he’s doing this, and if he can keep doing it.

Over the last month, he’s doing it by throwing knuckleballs faster than anyone’s ever thrown them.

No. Scratch that. Dickey had thrown those knuckleballs before this recent run. What’s changed is that he’s now throwing more of those fast knuckleballs. According to ESPN.com’s Mark Simon, in Dickey’s second one-hitter last week, he “threw 35 knuckleballs at 80 mph or faster, the third straight start in which he’s thrown at least 30 knuckleballs at that speed. Before those three starts, his previous high in a start was 17 such pitches.” ...

Lots of guys have tried to reinvent themselves as knuckleballers, and very few of them have succeeded. Maybe they were doing it wrong. Maybe instead of learning to throw it 65 miles an hour like Wilbur Wood and Phil Niekro and Tim Wakefield, they should have been learning to throw it like R.A. Dickey.

Except until this season, nobody knew that was even possible, let alone how well it could work. Until this season, nobody knew that a power knuckleball could be, at least for a few weeks, the single most unhittable pitch on earth.

Now, everybody knows. Robert Alan Dickey is one of a kind. But it’s at least possible that in 10 years, he’ll be viewed as the father of an entire generation of angry knuckleballers.

The District Attorney Posted: June 24, 2012 at 02:24 PM | 45 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: knuckleball, mets, r.a. dickey, rob neyer

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   1. Bhaakon Posted: June 25, 2012 at 06:25 AM (#4165439)
I wonder if the fact that he's throwing it so hard will negate many of the rubber-armed qualities seen in past knuckleballers.
   2. Ray (RDP) Posted: June 25, 2012 at 07:45 AM (#4165447)
The Yankees handled him well last night, so let's hold off just a wee a bit longer before we proclaim him an elite pitcher.
   3. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: June 25, 2012 at 07:52 AM (#4165451)
a few years back there were articles in this community on how clubs would initiate knuckleball pitcher development programs with the sox approach with charlie zink as the model.

um, how is that going?

i do think clubs should be more willing to try knuckleball pitchers. for various reasons it hasn't happened.

here's hoping something brings knuckleballers back into the game more prominently
   4. Dan Lee is some pumkins Posted: June 25, 2012 at 08:07 AM (#4165454)
The Yankees handled him well last night...
Dickey didn't have a great game by any stretch of the imagination, but he was extremely unlucky to give up five runs.

The Yankees scored three in the third, in an inning that went: Strikeout, walk, infield single, walk, sac fly, home run, foulout. If the infield single is hit a fraction harder, it's a groundout and another scoreless inning. The two they scored in the fifth came when Tejada threw a potential double play ball about ten feet wide of first base.

Yes, Dickey put himself in a bad situation with the walks he gave up. Yes, if my aunt had balls she'd be my uncle. Coulda, woulda, shoulda. I know. But it's not like the Yankees were smacking him around. They were scoring because of infield hits and awful defense.
   5. Dan Lee is some pumkins Posted: June 25, 2012 at 08:16 AM (#4165457)
I'm half asleep. The Yankees scored four in the third and one in the fifth. Carry on.
   6. Ray (RDP) Posted: June 25, 2012 at 08:21 AM (#4165459)
If the infield single is hit a fraction harder, it's a groundout and another scoreless inning. The two they scored in the fifth came when Tejada threw a potential double play ball about ten feet wide of first base.


Well, yes, if a pitcher gets every last break to go his way, he ends up looking something like Dickey looked for his previous 6 starts, with a 40 innings scoreless streak and with people making ridiculous noise about how he has revolutionized the game. But getting insane luck like that is not an ability level, and when Dickey got more normal luck, he looked more normal. Giving up two walks and a homer in an inning isn't exactly the stuff of Sidd Finch.
   7. Dan Lee is some pumkins Posted: June 25, 2012 at 08:22 AM (#4165460)
Clearly yesterday's start established that he's a human being, yes.
   8. Rickey! trades in sheep and threats Posted: June 25, 2012 at 08:29 AM (#4165463)
The Yankees handled him well last night, so let's hold off just a wee a bit longer before we proclaim him an elite pitcher.


No, Dickey will not revolutionize the game with his "angry knuckleball," though he may impact it somewhat in the way Glavine's circle-change away or Maddux' cut fastball did. Time will tell.

Regardless, Dickey is already a near-elite pitcher. He's thrown great baseball for a couple of years on end now.
   9. Lassus Posted: June 25, 2012 at 09:04 AM (#4165476)
Well, yes, if a pitcher gets every last break to go his way, he ends up looking something like Dickey looked for his previous 6 starts, with a 40 innings scoreless streak... But getting insane luck like that is not an ability level, and when Dickey got more normal luck, he looked more normal.

You're not saying the main reason Dickey has been a top ten pitcher the past two years is insane luck, are you? It seems you are.
   10. Rickey! trades in sheep and threats Posted: June 25, 2012 at 09:20 AM (#4165486)
You're not saying the main reason Dickey has been a top ten pitcher the past two years is insane luck, are you? It seems you are.


I really don't understand Ray's disability when it comes to acknowledging that Dickey has been a very good pitcher for two years now. I rarely agree with Ray Ray on the merits of many questions, but I usually get his schtick. But this one confounds me.
   11. zack Posted: June 25, 2012 at 09:28 AM (#4165493)
Heh. The second Swisher hit that home-run I thought, "well there's Ray's proof that Dickey sucks".

But getting insane luck like that is not an ability level, and when Dickey got more normal luck, he looked more normal. Giving up two walks and a homer in an inning isn't exactly the stuff of Sidd Finch.


The point is he wasn't giving up walks or homers, that's why he hasn't needed extreme luck. Walks in his last 8 starts are 1, 1, 0, 1, 0, 2, 0, 2. With 1 home run in that second game.
   12. Yeaarrgghhhh Posted: June 25, 2012 at 09:38 AM (#4165497)
Maybe Dickey has decided to stop avoiding fried meats.
   13. Der-K and the statistical werewolves. Posted: June 25, 2012 at 10:09 AM (#4165516)
Setting aside his improvements this year...
Since he joined the Mets, Dickey has posted a 2.91 ERA (129 ERA+) in 488 innings, allowing 8.1 h/9, 0.7 hr/9, 2.2 w/9, 6.3 k/9. Some of that success has been babip fueled, particularly this season (by year: .280, .285, .246), but you'd expect a knuckleballer to have a better than average mark here - inducing weak contact is much of the point of the pitch.
Expect this monster success of this season to continue would be absurd, but he's been a legit #1 starter.

I gotta say, I'm as pro-knuckleballer as the next guy, but Zink mania made zero sense to me.

We tend to talk about all knuckleballs are the same pitch - but it's really a class of pitches (granted, you could say the same about fastballs, etc...). Dickey is not the only guy to throw a "hard knuckler", didn't Jared Fernandez toss one as well? Has anyone looked at pitch f/x to see how Dickey's knuckler varies from those of his brethen (though there probabyl aren't enough of them to be as helpful as I'd like)?
   14. Der-K and the statistical werewolves. Posted: June 25, 2012 at 10:12 AM (#4165518)
(wish i knew why i couldn't edit that post for grammar)
   15. Rants Mulliniks Posted: June 25, 2012 at 10:14 AM (#4165522)
Maybe Dickey has decided to stop avoiding fried meats.


Possibly, but wouldn't angry blood contribute to the anger in his knuckler?
   16. Crispix reaches boiling point with lackluster play Posted: June 25, 2012 at 10:16 AM (#4165523)
I really don't understand Ray's disability when it comes to acknowledging that Dickey has been a very good pitcher for two years now. I rarely agree with Ray Ray on the merits of many questions, but I usually get his schtick. But this one confounds me.

In every thread, on every topic, his position is "I see no reason to be impressed by this." It's like our adversarial legal system. Even the most ridiculous position gets to have an advocate.
   17. The Long Arm of Rudy Law Posted: June 25, 2012 at 10:25 AM (#4165527)
Never saw him impressed.
   18. Rennie's Tenet Posted: June 25, 2012 at 10:38 AM (#4165543)
The weird arc of the knuckleballer's career:

College pitchers drafted in the first round in 1996: Benson, Looper, Koch, Greisinger, Dickey, Mark Johnson, Milton, Corey Lee.
High schoolers: Patterson, Matt White, Eaton, Seay, Todd Noel, Westbrook, Meche, Marsonek, Josh Garrett, Bierbrodt, Reitsma, Marquis.
   19. zack Posted: June 25, 2012 at 10:40 AM (#4165545)
College pitchers drafted in the first round in 1996: Benson, Looper, Koch, Greisinger, Dickey, Mark Johnson, Milton, Corey Lee.
High schoolers: Patterson, Matt White, Eaton, Seay, Todd Noel, Westbrook, Meche, Marsonek, Josh Garrett, Bierbrodt, Reitsma, Marquis.


THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE
   20. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: June 25, 2012 at 10:41 AM (#4165550)
i have to admit i thought capuano would evolve into a knuckleballer
   21. Ray (RDP) Posted: June 25, 2012 at 11:09 AM (#4165579)
You're not saying the main reason Dickey has been a top ten pitcher the past two years is insane luck, are you? It seems you are.


No, I am not. Please read my post 6 again. I was talking specifically about his 40-inning scoreless streak. (Or whatever it ended up being.)

Saying "Oh, but he should have been out of the inning, because he induced a weak swinging bunt that went for an infield single" implies that other pitchers don't also get dinged by weak hits.

-----

I really don't understand Ray's disability when it comes to acknowledging that Dickey has been a very good pitcher for two years now. I rarely agree with Ray Ray on the merits of many questions, but I usually get his schtick. But this one confounds me.


Since I first started commenting on this issue last week I have always explicitly acknowledged he has been a very good pitcher for going on three years now.
   22. Lassus Posted: June 25, 2012 at 11:30 AM (#4165601)
No, I am not. Please read my post 6 again. I was talking specifically about his 40-inning scoreless streak. (Or whatever it ended up being.)

Ah, that makes a little more sense. But I did go back and read it again.

But getting insane luck like that is not an ability level, and when Dickey got more normal luck, he looked more normal.

I did not quickly equate "normal" with "top ten pitcher over the past 2+ seasons.
   23. You Know Nothing JT Snow (YR) Posted: June 25, 2012 at 11:36 AM (#4165608)
Yeah, HIS 40-inning scoreless stream was a fluke, unlike all the other 40-inning scoreless streaks.
   24. Ray (RDP) Posted: June 25, 2012 at 11:37 AM (#4165612)
I did not quickly equate "normal" with "top ten pitcher over the past 2+ seasons.


Think of it this way: "abnormal" is 13 hits and 1 run in 43 innings.

No pitcher is truly that good, or close to it, and I sincerely doubt RA Dickey will be the first pitcher in 150 years to be anywhere near that good.
   25. SoSH U at work Posted: June 25, 2012 at 11:41 AM (#4165621)
No, I am not. Please read my post 6 again. I was talking specifically about his 40-inning scoreless streak. (Or whatever it ended up being.)

Saying "Oh, but he should have been out of the inning, because he induced a weak swinging bunt that went for an infield single" implies that other pitchers don't also get dinged by weak hits.


Dan wasn't claiming that the walk and the swinging bunt was more proof that Dickey was an angry, unstoppable knuckleballing machine (an argument no one here has made but you dutifully keep knocking down). He mentioned it as a counter to your claim that the Yankees "handled him well."
   26. Lassus Posted: June 25, 2012 at 11:50 AM (#4165632)
Think of it this way: "abnormal" is 13 hits and 1 run in 43 innings. No pitcher is truly that good, or close to it, and I sincerely doubt RA Dickey will be the first pitcher in 150 years to be anywhere near that good.

I don't even think whomever claimed that Dickey would cause a pitching paradigm shift said that he was going to continue that pace. Did anyone?
   27. cercopithecus aethiops Posted: June 25, 2012 at 11:58 AM (#4165642)
Getting back to the point of TFA, throwing a knuckleball is hard. If it was such an easy path to MLB success for failed position players and/or pitchers who couldn't hack it with a more conventional approach, then we'd see a lot more Tim Wakefields, wouldn't we? And if R. A. Dickey is now proving that all you have to do to achieve even greater success is throw the damned thing a little harder, then why the hell is Dickey the first hard knuckleballer since, well, ever? It's not like people haven't had 150 years or so to work on this ####.
   28. Ray (RDP) Posted: June 25, 2012 at 12:07 PM (#4165653)
He mentioned it as a counter to your claim that the Yankees "handled him well."


But they did handle him well, so there was no counter. He gave up a damaging home run while only going 3-3 in Ks/BBs.
   29. SoSH U at work Posted: June 25, 2012 at 12:18 PM (#4165665)
But they did handle him well, so there was no counter.


Actually Ray, and I know you have trouble with this concept, that's a subjective matter. (-:

Dan disagreed with your idea that the Yankees "handled him well," and laid out why. He didn't imply no other pitcher gets dinged by infield hits. That was your incorrect inference. He didn't suggest he's a knuckleballing superfreak.
   30. cercopithecus aethiops Posted: June 25, 2012 at 12:21 PM (#4165669)
I don't even think whomever claimed that Dickey would cause a pitching paradigm shift said that he was going to continue that pace. Did anyone?


Probably not, but articles like this one almost certainly don't get written in the first place without the scoreless innings streak.
   31. Dan Lee is some pumkins Posted: June 25, 2012 at 02:16 PM (#4165775)
Dickey is not the only guy to throw a "hard knuckler", didn't Jared Fernandez toss one as well?
He did, but it was slower than Dickey's. Fernandez topped out around 76, generally sat around 73-75.
Dan disagreed with your idea that the Yankees "handled him well," and laid out why. He didn't imply no other pitcher gets dinged by infield hits. That was your incorrect inference. He didn't suggest he's a knuckleballing superfreak.
Thanks, SoSH. Yes, that.

I think this comes down to Ray and I having different ideas of what "handling a pitcher well" means. I tend to think that means a team is raking line drives all over the place, putting balls in the gap, consistently hitting the ball hard. All I was saying is that's not how the Yankees scored those runs.

Certainly they did score the runs, and ultimately winning and losing is a function of runs. In that sense, they handled him well, yes. But just as a pitcher consistently getting luck in order to get scoreless innings isn't a repeatable skill, that same pitcher isn't always going to clump his walks together in the same inning as a fluky infield single and the only extra-base hit he gives up all day.

I don't suspect Ray's opinion is going to change, and I know mine isn't going to change. And that's fine by me...there wouldn't be any reason to have places like BTF if everybody agreed on everything.
   32. bunyon Posted: June 25, 2012 at 03:13 PM (#4165820)
It was a disappointing game, I thought. Dickey didn't get lit up but didn't dominate, either. And I thought CC looked worse. I have no idea what the numbers are, but it seems every time I settle in to see a pitcher's duel, at least 10 runs are scored.
   33. Lassus Posted: June 25, 2012 at 04:30 PM (#4165880)
...there wouldn't be any reason to have places like BTF if everybody agreed on everything.

Are you the biggest idiot ever?
   34. A big pile of nonsense (gef the talking mongoose) Posted: June 25, 2012 at 04:40 PM (#4165891)
Is that even legal?
   35. jack the seal clubber (on the sidelines of life) Posted: June 25, 2012 at 04:44 PM (#4165894)
Great slide by Dickey, last night, though.

With respect to the debate as Dickey's performance, I've seen Wilbur Wood, Wakefield, even Sparks have these runs of a few games where they looked unhittable, but it never lasted for more than that. They all seemed to skew towards a .500 won-lost number and a 4.00 ERA..the difference with Dickey is that he has done this for an extended period of time, and the difference may be that he does throw a harder knuckler which may be easier to keep around the strike zone. I don't expect him to keep this up, but I think he's BTTAK (better than the average knuckleballer).
   36. Ray (RDP) Posted: June 25, 2012 at 05:23 PM (#4165928)
With respect to the debate as Dickey's performance, I've seen Wilbur Wood, Wakefield, even Sparks have these runs of a few games where they looked unhittable, but it never lasted for more than that. They all seemed to skew towards a .500 won-lost number and a 4.00 ERA..the difference with Dickey is that he has done this for an extended period of time, and the difference may be that he does throw a harder knuckler which may be easier to keep around the strike zone. I don't expect him to keep this up, but I think he's BTTAK (better than the average knuckleballer).


The difference with him seems to boil down to the K rate. (Though I haven't looked specifically to compare the hot stretches of the other knucklers to see how many they were striking out during their hot streaks.) But that is something that manifested itself literally this year, as well as his current level of 6.2 H/9 leading to a 163 ERA+. If you didn't think Dickey had this kind of ability 15 starts ago, you shouldn't think he has it now.

   37. Ray (RDP) Posted: June 25, 2012 at 05:24 PM (#4165929)
And by "you" I don't mean you specifically, but the generic "you."

The edit function is broken.
   38. Ray (RDP) Posted: June 25, 2012 at 05:34 PM (#4165938)
Considering this more, in fairness, I'm more inclined to think the new K rate is real, as opposed to the new hits allowed rate - though to some extent they go hand in hand.

I do need more evidence before I conclude that he is now a 160 ERA+ pitcher.

   39. PreservedFish Posted: June 25, 2012 at 05:48 PM (#4165944)
His ERA+ since joining the Mets is 129. I don't know where you draw the line between "really good" and "elite," but 129 is in the neighborhood.

Consistent 160 ERA+ starters do not exist, so yes, Ray, I think you've done a fine job arguing against that strawman.
   40. Matt Clement of Alexandria Posted: June 25, 2012 at 05:58 PM (#4165950)
Well, they exist, but they're extremely rare - inner-circle Hall of Famers, basically. There has been no clamor to lump Dickey in with Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, and Sandy Koufax. No one thinks he projects to pitch as well as the best peak starters in history.
   41. Ray (RDP) Posted: June 25, 2012 at 06:03 PM (#4165952)
Consistent 160 ERA+ starters do not exist,


They do in stretches. Not in 20 year stretches, but in 5, 10, and (in a sample of one - Pedro) 15 year stretches.
   42. Matt Clement of Alexandria Posted: June 25, 2012 at 06:04 PM (#4165953)
Yup.

And no one has claimed that RA Dickey projects as a 160 ERA+ starter.
   43. PreservedFish Posted: June 25, 2012 at 06:05 PM (#4165956)
Great. You know who else needs more evidence before we can conclude Dickey is among those exceedingly rare pitchers? Everyone on earth. I do, everyone on this thread does, RA Dickey's mom does. Why you are waging a multi-thread battle against a nonexistent viewpoint remains a mystery.
   44. Crispix reaches boiling point with lackluster play Posted: June 25, 2012 at 06:15 PM (#4165961)
You guys may claim that you're not strawmen, but I haven't seen any proof. Would it be that hard to just post a video of someone unsuccessfully attempting to use you as kindling?
   45. lieiam Posted: June 26, 2012 at 12:00 AM (#4166297)
IS RA Dickey really the first "hard knuckleball pitcher"? Well, above in the threat Jared Fernandez was already brought up with one in the mid 70s, but didn't some of the old time knuckleball pitchers throw it harder than most of the modern guys? [Granted, not exactly provable considering there were no radar guns then...]

I could simply be confused, but I really think there was at least ONE back in the day who supposedly threw the knuckler pretty hard.

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