Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey’s Best First-Half Performance; PLUS: Kratz Knuckleball Is Back

A few days ago, R.A. Dickey’s breakout season was recalled in Kirk Meyer’s New York Daily News article “Best first-half performances by Yankees and Mets pitchers.”

2012: R.A. Dickey, Mets (12-1, 2.40 ERA, 123 strikeouts)

Dickey caught lightning in a bottle with his knuckleball in 2012. At 38, Dickey peaked in June, when he threw consecutive complete-game one-hitters for the Mets. He was ultimately passed over for the All-Star start when NL manager Tony La Russa opted for the Giants’ Matt Cain, but he threw a scoreless sixth inning in relief. Dickey ended the season with a 2.73 ERA and 230 strikeouts in 233.2 innings, making him the third Met to win the Cy Young Award, after Tom Seaver and Dwight Gooden. The Mets traded Dickey to Toronto after the season, getting back Noah Syndergaard and Travis d’Arnaud in return.

When we last heard from Dickey, the knuckleball pitcher indicated that he was considering retirement but might still play in the current season if the right opportunity came along. With just a little more than two months left in the regular season, it seems unlikely we’ll see him on the field in 2018.

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Another MLB knuckleballer we’re missing is Steven Wright of the Boston Red Sox, only intermittently able to play this year after missing much of last season. When on the mound, he was mostly fantastic. But his left knee is still giving him trouble. “He’s not close” to returning, Red Sox Manager Alex Cora told MassLive recently. Wright was last put on the disabled list on June 26. We’re keeping our fingers crossed.

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The Lincoln Saltdogs have traded infielder Nathaniel Maggio for versatile infielder and knuckleball pitcher Dan Johnson, who “brings ten years of MLB experience to the Saltdogs.”

According to Saltdogs.com (web site of a team that Johnson once “blanked for seven innings” as a knuckleballer):

The 38-year-old has spent most of the last three seasons in independent baseball.  He was hitting .158 with three RBIs and a double over nine games with the Saints this season.  Johnson has worked on retooling himself as a knuckleball pitcher.  He has pitched in 13 games over the past three seasons and owns a 5-6 record with a 5.54 ERA.  He logged his most innings with St. Paul in 2016 when tossed 40 innings and mustered a 4.50 ERA.  His best effort that season was a seven-inning shutout performance against the Saltdogs at Haymarket Park.

In a YouTube-archived  interview with Johnson, he discusses his career and, about halfway in, his decision to become a knuckleball pitcher.

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We should also mention the Brief Return of Erik Kratz, a position player currently with the Milwaukee Brewers who had displayed his knuckleball during a “27-pitch outing” in 2016. In late June of this year, he baffled “one of the best hitters in baseball this year,” Eugenio Suarez of the Cincinnati Reds. Chris Landers’s MLB.com post has video of Katz’s pitch.

To be fair, not every backup catcher has a knuckleball like this…

“We don’t want to wear anybody else’s arms out,” Kratz told MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy after the game. “So if it can get some guys fresh so we can use them tomorrow or the next day, I definitely take pride in that.”

That’s not even Kratz’s first Major League strikeout. He made two pitching appearances back in 2016, one with the Astros and one with the Pirates, and recorded a K with Pittsburgh. Does one of baseball’s best bullpens happen to have an opening?

Mr. Kratz, please don’t wait until 2020 to give the knuckleball another try from the mound.

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