R.A. Dickey

All I wanted from the winter meetings was an ace and all the Mariners gave me was a lousy knuckleballer.

Yesterday, I drove up to Bellingham to watch the Cougars play Gonzaga and see one of my fellow bloggers (who just so happens to be my brother in law). The Cougars didn’t play their best game but they beat a good team on the road. I was hoping that the Mariners would make a splash move for Bedard (or Santana) to make it a truly great day for my fandom. Unfortunately, the only player the M’s have acquired has been from the rule V draft.

I’m of the opinion that knuckleballers haven’t caught on because you don’t know what you are getting pitch to pitch. When I play catch, I’ll break out the knuck from time to time. Sometimes it dances and hits the person I’m throwing to, other times it’s the juiciest meatball you’ve ever seen in your life. Imagine being a manager watching Tim Wakefield give up 7 runs in the first two innings: Do you pull him or do you leave him in? With a traditional pitcher, a manager goes to the pen to clean up the mess. With Wakefield (or any good knuckleballer) they can put it together on any given pitch. The other dilemna is when to pull a knuckleballer. Managers don’t like making those kind of decisions.

R.A. Dickey must pass two tests for the M’s to profit big from this move. First, he must play well in the small sample size theater known as spring training. Dickey will need to impress in this brief audition, even though his success will largely hinge on where batted balls drop. A few balls bounce the wrong way for Dickey and he’ll be blocked in the Twins system. Second, Dickey needs to actually be good. Depending on who he matches up against in spring training, he may face a bunch of kids who have never seen a knuckleball before. Hard to tell from a month.

 If Dickey is good enough to survive in the major leagues, he will be a no. 3 starter. If not he will be worthless. Should be fun to watch.

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6 Responses to R.A. Dickey

  1. Graham says:

    Well, just because he’s a knuckleball pitcher doesn’t mean he’s going to be a #3 or nothing. If we posit that there is some sort of magical pitcher goodness line that defines major leaguer vs. minor league journeymay, then it seems a little absurd to apply that to everyone but knuckleballers.

    Knuckleball throwing pitchers can be good or bad and everything in between just like everyone else. Wakefield is a good pitcher because his knuckleball consistently changes speed with good movement. If it did so a little less often, he would simply become a bad pitcher rather than unfit for the majors.

    Yeah, knuckleballers get a boost from being so weird, but it doesn’t make them magical…

    That said, I like the pickup, and I think Dickey will be a good long reliever/5th starter insurance. He doesn’t have a hope of being a #3 calibre pitcher in my opinion though 🙂

  2. brentschwartz says:

    Phil Neikro
    http://www.baseball-reference.com/n/niekrph01.shtml
    Charlie Hough
    http://www.baseball-reference.com/h/houghch01.shtml
    Tim Wakefield
    http://www.baseball-reference.com/w/wakefti01.shtml
    Steve Sparks
    http://www.baseball-reference.com/s/sparkst01.shtml

    Sparks is kind of an outlier but even he had some pretty good seasons. Those are all the knuckleballers I remember in my lifetime. If you can throw it, you will be successful (and keep an ERA+ of about 100 making you average), if you can’t throw it consistently you will be worthless.

  3. Ken says:

    I’d agree with Graham. I don’t suppose that there is no in-between, it is just that the sample size of knuckleballers is so small that we only have 4 guys to look at, one of whom you declare is an outlier. Making any statement with a sample size of four is pretty unfounded. That said, he probably won’t be an impact player for the Mariners, but he was a cheap rule 5 guy, so there is basically no risk.

  4. brentschwartz says:

    Steve Sparks was a swingman. Even he had some above average seasons.

    My theory on the knuckleball is that if a pitcher can consistantly get it to homeplate with no rotation, it will be a devastating pitch. The pitch requires very little in the way of location and the movement of the ball does the rest. No one knows where the pitch is going and that favors the pitcher. According to my theory, every knuckleballer is basically the same pitcher. The big if is whether or not a pitcher can throw the pitch without rotation consistantly.

    I think Graham is overstating his case when he says that Dickey doesn’t have a hope of becoming a #3 caliber pitcher. Lots of knuckleballers have been very good no. 2/3 starters over the years. If Dickey has discovered how to throw the pitch, why wouldn’t have a good season? He just decimated the PCL last year. Give me 100 R.A. Dickeys and some of them (though I’m not sure how many) will become #3’s.

    BTW- I didn’t mention this earlier but Dickey hasn’t been a knuckler for very long. He went to it in 2006 when it was obvious he couldn’t cut it as a major league pitcher. Little known Fact- Tim Wakefield used to be a middle infielder, but when he couldn’t hit in the minors he converted to being a knuckleballer.

    This is a legit, low risk high reward situation. If we can make a move and land Bedard I will be thrilled about what the Mariners have done with the pitching staff this offseason.

  5. Ken says:

    1. If knuckleballers are so magical, why doesn’t every team turn every no-talent,wash-up smuck into one, with the chance that anybody who can get the ball over the plate instantly becomes a number 3 starter, which is worth like 12m at least in the open market, doesn’t the reward seem worth it. all failed pitchers should be converted to knucklers.
    2. Your knuckleball sample is inherently screwy. Aside from being only 4 they are the ones that you remember well enough. On top of that, you get one guy who is an all-star and pitches until he is 50, who in the prime of his career has 6 out of 7 seasons above 115era+ (Niekro). Then you got a guy who is a journeyman, breaks in at 29, has a couple of up and down years (like most starters) and is out of baseball (Sparks). Hough gets into the majors at 22, peaks around 35, nothing like Niekro, though, and Wakefield is just a model of consistency, only 11 of his last 12 seasons within 10 points of his career era+. That looks like variation to me.
    3. I dont know how some guys couldn’t throw it a little more often, or a little more consistently, or with a little less spin than others. I see no reason why the ability to throw a knuckleball is not normally distributed like almost everything else in the baseball world.

  6. Ken says:

    For what it is worth, if you wikipedia knuckleball, it links you to a page listing all known knucklers
    Knucklers since 1990:
    Dan Boone in 1990
    Tom Candiotti
    R.A. Dickey*
    Jared Fernandez (2001-2004)
    Charlie Hough
    Ryan Jensen (2001-2004), no longer throws it
    Cody McKay (2004)
    Kirt Ojala (1997-1999)
    Rich Sauver (1986-2000), but only pitched 14 innings in 14 years
    Dennis Springer (1995-2002)
    Steve Sparks
    Tim Wakefield

    These guys cover all lengths and successes of careers, I’d say it is safe to say that all knucklers are not alike, I see no magic to the knuckleball. R.A. Dickey is a no-risk guy who may make it in some capacity, be in long relief, #3 starter, or whatever.

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