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« Max Scherzer Platoon-Proof in 2013 | Main | Peter Gammons: Sunday Red Sox Notes - Looking for pitching »

R.A. Dickey Loses Zip on His Knuckler

During the offseason, the Blue Jays parted with top prospects Travis d'Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard and ponied up a two-year, $25 million contract extension to pry 2012 NL Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey from the Mets. But the knuckleballer hasn't been the top-of-the rotation arm the Jays expected, with his ERA climbing by nearly two runs per nine innings pitched (from 2.73 in 2012 to 4.69 this year) and his strikeout rate tumbling from a career-best 8.9 K/9 last season to right around his career average (6.4 K/9).

Dickey's hard knuckler made him a bat-missing oddity, even among knuckle ball pitchers. Unfortunately, he's not throwing his flutter ball with the same level of zip in 2013. Those fast knucklers induce the most chases and whiffs from hitters.

Distribution of Dickey's knuckleball velocity in 2012

 Distribution of Dickey's knuckleball velocity in 2013

During his Cy Young Award-winning 2012 season, Dickey threw about 87% of his knuckleballs at 75 MPH or faster. This year, he's hitting 75-plus MPH just 63% of the time. Even when he does ramp it up, he's not getting wild swings and misses from hitters like he did in 2012, particularly when he throws one low and off the plate to the glove side.

Opponent swing rate vs. Dickey's 75+ MPH knuckle balls in 2012


Opponent swing rate vs. Dickey's 75+ MPH knuckle balls in 2013


Last year, hitters chased 36% of the time that Dickey tossed a knuckler at 75+ MPH. This season, that chase rate is down to 29%. Opponents' slugging percentage against Dickey's fast knuckleballs has jumped by nearly 100 points between 2012 (.319) and 2013 (.412).

Dickey seems to have lost his way -- and trademark velocity -- with the Jays. Perhaps it's time to summon Charlie Hough, the Niekros and Tim Wakefield for a meeting of the Jedi Council of Knuckleballers.

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