Originally written on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 11/12/14
Knuckleballers aren’t like other pitchers, or so the saying goes. Their pitches flutter like butterflies, they pitch at less than max effort, they don’t depend on velocity, and they can pitch into their fifties. All of these things seem true, and yet the more we know about knuckleballers the more they might actually be more like all the other pitchers out there. So when 38-year-old R.A. Dickey has lost some oomph on his seminal pitch, maybe it means something, just like it usually does for other pitchers. First, the fluttering. That might be an optical illusion. R.A. Dickey doesn’t agree, but scientists and physicists that have studied the path of the knuckleball agree with Professor Alan Nathan that it behaves ‘generally’ like other pitches. The unpredictability might still be wonderful, but it’s physically impossible for the ball to break multiple inches in each direction. The ‘dancing’ might be our minds trying to figure it out. Next the max effort thing. Dickey said he throws at about 75% of the effort he spent as a traditional pitcher. So that much may be true when it comes to rest and recovery. But it takes effort to put velocity on the ball. And we’ve seen that Dickey’s ‘fast’ knuckleball is probably the best one in his arsenal. The pitcher himself told me in an interview last year that he’d been getting more swings and misses from the fast knuckler. Professor Nathan found that velocity and movement were negatively correlated for the knuckleball, and it seems that Dickey’s elite control for a knuckleballer might have been at least partially due to the velocity on his most important pitch. Now Dickey’s three-year run of above-average control is in jeopardy. As you might have guessed, it’s not from a lack of movement. Professor Nathan plotted the movement this year and last year and found little change. But perhaps there is still something different about his knucklers this year. His velocity is down two miles per hour on average. Dickey throws a few knuckleballs, and the error bars on his velocity readings are large. Let’s look at the distribution of his knuckleballs instead of a straight average. Using three-mile-per-hour buckets, I plotted all of his knuckleballs from four distinct periods below. The first is pre-breakout Dickey. The second is 2010-2011 Dickey, who was great but not elite. Then you have Cy Dickey and this year’s Dickey. Those purple bars might have a little too much in common with the blue bars of Dickey’s darker days in baseball. They certainly don’t fit with his Cy Young year, and in some ways, they don’t even look like the 2010-2011 version. In 2010-2011, 34% of the knuckleballs Dickey threw went faster than 78 mph. In 2012? 47%. And this year he’s been throwing those fast knucklers 16% of the time. Dickey’s still getting whiffs this year. His 9.9% whiff rate puts him in the top 30 among qualified pitchers. But after three years spent walking less than six percent of the batters he saw, his walk rate is in the double digits this year. Maybe he has a little lost velocity to blame, since the pitch should have the least movement and was his go-to pitch in hitter’s counts last year. And, considering his back and neck problems this year, and his abdominal and hip and plantar fasciitis issues last year, it may be fair to ask if his body is robbing him of this velocity. Is that too conventional a question to ask of a knuckleballer? Here’s the distribution of Dickey’s knuckler velocity in half-mile buckets just for good measure:
GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

MLB reportedly will try to show compassion to Josh Hamilton

Jon Gruden: Bears need to move on from Jay Cutler

Blue Jays OF tears meniscus in freak sprinkler accident

Death threats show why some fans take sports too seriously

Five bubble teams playing well heading into March

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Falcons release Steven Jackson

Bill Walton has some words of advice for Derrick Rose

Five under-the-radar National Player of the Year candidates

Judge overturns Peterson suspension; NFL to appeal

Dez Bryant's mother in 2012: Dez threatened to knock me out

Full offseason breakdown for all 32 NFL teams

Rex Ryan has truck with Buffalo Bills paint scheme

WATCH: Sidney Crosby catches teammate's stick in mid-air

WATCH: Vanderbilt coach tells own player 'I'll f-ing kill you'

Are the Kings willing to trade DeMarcus Cousins?

Johan Santana signed by Blue Jays to minor league deal

Leafs trade David Clarkson to Blue Jackets For Nathan Horton

Panthers acquire Jaromir Jagr from Devils

Russell Westbrook is surging into the MVP conversation

HBO picks up The Rock’s football series, ‘Ballers’

The key offseason moves for every MLB team

Giancarlo Stanton gets first-ever customized facemask

Ronda Rousey, Arianny Celeste have verbal sparring match

All Sports News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Bostick death threats show why some fans take sports too seriously

Russell Westbrook is surging into the MVP conversation

Five-round NFL Mock Draft

Key offseason moves for every MLB team

Rousey, Arianny Celeste get into it

Dallas sportscaster back with another powerful essay

The parallels of Rose and Hardaway

Offseason breakdown for all 32 NFL teams

On Josh Hamilton's addiction and feeling alone

Judge rules against AP's suspension

Why the Lions should let Suh walk

Chris Jones charged with rape, sodomy

Today's Best Stuff
For Bloggers

Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.

Company Info
Help
What is Yardbarker?

Yardbarker is the largest network of sports blogs and pro athlete blogs on the web. This site is the hub of the Yardbarker Network, where our editors and algorithms curate the best sports content from our network and beyond.