We’re thinking again about infielder and surprise-knuckleballer Alex Blandino. Thank Kenny Kelly’s SB Nation article asking “Who is the best position player to pitch in 2018?” He notes that by mid-July 27 position players had been drafted as pitchers. And the issue is who “has the best stuff.”
Blandino, of the Cincinnati Reds, did not make it to the very top tier—defined as the six position players to throw a perfect inning in 2018—but he got pretty close.
Alex Blandino gave up a hit in an otherwise impressive inning. His fastball topped out at 90 mph and he got two strikeouts. He located his fastball well, keeping it on the edge of the strike zone. His changeup had decent movement and he was able to throw it for strikes. Most impressive was the knuckleball he struck out Brandon Guyer with.
Ordinarily, it has to be a little embarrassing to strike out against a position player, especially on three pitches, but I’m not sure you can blame Guyer in that situation. Blandino started him off with an 89 mph fastball down the middle and followed it up with a 77 mph changeup at the top of the zone. Then he pulled a perfect knuckleball at 67 mph. Blandino threw him three pitches and none of them were within 10 mph of one another. That’s a rough at-bat.
According to Kelly, only a third of the three pitches Blandino used to get Guyer was a knuckleball, but we’re going to give it a full 33.3334% of the credit anyway.
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In an interesting 2016 interview with MLB.com’s Tracy Ringolsby, Charlie Hough expressed some wonderment about how well Steven Wright was doing that season.
MLB.com: Does it surprise you, almost at the midway point of the season, to see a knuckleball pitcher leading the AL in earned run average?
Hough: Let’s just say the odds that a knuckleball [pitcher] is going to win an ERA title are not great. It just shows what a good pitcher he is, and what a good knuckleball he has.
MLB.com: You’ve worked with many knuckleball pitchers. Is Wright one of them?
Hough: Yes. I met him when he was in Cleveland’s Minor League system. I worked with him for a few years. I would see him in Arizona in Spring Training when he was with Cleveland. He is good. He is a legitimate big league starting pitcher. Plus, he can throw 90-plus miles per hour. He is from Southern California, and I live in Orange County, so he’d come out in the winter and throw some. I saw him this winter, watched him for a half-hour and told him I didn’t know what to tell him except keep doing what you are doing. Now, he’s learning to change speeds.
Hough also talked about why switching to a full-time knuckleball can be a good career move:
MLB.com: If Wright has a 90-plus fastball, why did he learn the knuckleball?
Hough: He was one of those average guys. He had an average fastball. He had an average change. He had an average slider. Right-handers like that are all over the Minor Leagues. He is a competitor, and he said he was not where he wanted to be. He didn’t want to be another guy. And he thought the knuckleball was his chance to be good. He was right.
MLB.com: A different reason than you had?
Hough: Yeah (laughter). I was in Double-A with a bad arm. I couldn’t think about throwing 90, much less throw 90. Learning the knuckleball was my chance to stay in pro ball.
MLB.com: Where would you have been without the knuckleball?
Hough: I would have been working at the Hialeah Race Track. Hopefully not at the $5 window.
Actually, the two cases of Hough and Wright are the same. With knuckleball: career advancement in baseball. Without the knuckleball: slow or fast fade-out of that career. If you’re not where you want to be as a baseball player, take note.
For more on Hough, see this 2015 IKA post.
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Okay, who won Pitcher List’s recent unscientific survey asking baseball fans which is the nastier pitch, Steven Wright’s knuckleball or Trevor Bauer’s slide? As Nick Pollack framed the burning metaphysical question: “Does the craftsmanship of a spinless knuckleball outweigh the high spin rate of Bauer’s slide piece?”
Offered a video clip of each, 50.62% of readers decided that Steven Wright’s knuckleball is nastier, 49.38% gave the palm to Bauer.
Hmm. How to spin this? (Not that we’re fans of spin anyway.)