• Will Dickey Change The Way Teams Think About Knuckleballers?

    Posted by on June 22nd, 2012 · Comments (5)

    Via Wallace Matthews

    After the 2009 season, when [R.A.] Dickey was being shopped on the free-agent market, the Yankees kicked the tires on the then-35-year-old journeyman — and walked away.

    “We did not pursue him in a really aggressive fashion,” said Yankees assistant GM Billy Eppler. “Obviously, you kick yourself a little bit now. If there’s such a thing as an outlier, he would be it.”

    Dickey wound up signing a minor league deal with the Mets. The Yankees traded for Javier Vazquez.

    The rest is history. Vazquez bombed out in his second go-round as a Yankee. Dickey is currently 11-1 with a 2.00 ERA.

    “He was not a guy we were running after,” Eppler said.

    In fact, neither Eppler nor Cashman can recall the last time the Yankees actively scouted, pursued or signed a starting pitcher who relies primarily on a knuckleball, for a variety of reasons.

    “I don’t think anybody gravitates to signing knuckleballers until they’ve had success for a year or so,” Cashman said. “I guess because they’re erratic and because there are very few who are very good for an extended period of time. But if you nail one like Dickey or [Tim] Wakefield, they can be saviors for your franchise, because obviously they can pitch on shorter rest, they never get tired and if they can control that pitch, they can be a great asset.”

    “There’s a certain sexiness about watching guys like [Justin] Verlander and CC, guys who throw hard and challenge you with a fastball,” Eppler said. “But at the end of the day, successful pitching is really about upsetting a hitter’s timing. If you can do that, you can be successful, and that’s clearly what Dickey’s been able to do.”

    I am not sure that Dickey’s success will change the way many teams view knuckleball pitchers. I suspect that a lot of clubs still view it as a freak pitch that carries too much risk. That said, in my lifetime, I have seen Tim Wakefield, Charlie Hough, Phil and Joe Niekro, and Wilbur Wood have success at the big league level throwing the pitch – and now Dickey. So, it is possible to have someone on your staff who features this pitch and be a benefit.

    Comments on Will Dickey Change The Way Teams Think About Knuckleballers?

    1. MJ Recanati
      June 22nd, 2012 | 9:36 am

      I think the issue is less how teams will think of knuckleballers and more about how there simply isn’t a pipeline of them to even choose from. It’s not a pitch that’s taught in HS or college and I doubt very much that it’s taught by anyone in the pros either (unless you happen to have a Neikro or Hough in your organization as a special instructor).

      There will always be one or two of these guys hanging around but I don’t see a time when every team will have guys throwing the knuckler. It’s such a “feel” pitch that it’s really not an efficient use of resources to try and develop guys throwing it.

    2. Garcia
      June 22nd, 2012 | 10:35 am

      They can always stop-in and see any over-30 baseball game and find a number of folks pretending to be the next great knuckleball pitcher. When I played it seemed like there was one on every team, and if by chance they happen to get a strike called then they’ll have this sly look on their face acting like they have 20 more just like that in their arsenal, then they get a little cockly, walk the next 3 guys and quickly realize that the junk they are throwing sucks.

    3. Evan3457
      June 22nd, 2012 | 3:55 pm

      What makes what Dickey’s doing special, unprecedented, in fact, is:

      1) He’s throwing the knuckler, with movement, at speeds unheard of in major league history, 80+ mph, and

      2) He has command of the knuckler, not only to the strike zone, but inside the strike zone.

      He is, at this point, unique. And we’d better hope he remains unique, because if this speed and command knuckler can be taught to other pitchers, then the knuckler will have to be outlawed, or major league baseball as we know it will cease to exist.

    4. Corey
      June 22nd, 2012 | 6:59 pm

      @ Evan3457:
      You don’t think major league hitters would eventually adapt because they’d see it so much more often?

    5. Raf
      June 23rd, 2012 | 2:07 pm

      MJ Recanati wrote:

      I think the issue is less how teams will think of knuckleballers and more about how there simply isn’t a pipeline of them to even choose from.

      Yep. And even so, look how long it took Dickey to get a hang of the knuckler. and for every Dickey, there are guys like Charlie Haeger, Charlie Zink and Jared Fernandez that aren’t as effective.

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