With R.A. Dickey not yet in the game this season—but also stressing that he has not yet officially retired—one may speculate about where the knuckleballer will wind up if he does join sign this year. Over at PressBox, an Orioles fan says let it be the Baltimore Orioles. Signing Dickey would be one of “three smart moves” that the team needs to make, says Stan Charles.
Dickey made 31 starts in 2017 [with the Atlanta Braves], recording a 4.26 ERA and 1.36 WHIP in 190 innings. Now, those numbers aren’t quite on the level of his 2012 Cy Young season with the New York Mets. That year, he went 20-6 with a 2.73 ERA 1.05 WHIP.
But when compared to previous Orioles starters Wade Miley, Ubaldo Jimenez and Chris Tillman, Dickey’s numbers look pretty darn good in the middle of the Orioles’ rotation.
Despite being a knuckleballer, Dickey would actually give the Orioles some predictability.
Yes, he is 43 years old, and throughout his last eight seasons, he has averaged 203 innings. Of more importance to Orioles manager Buck Showalter, though, would be the fact that Dickey threw at least six innings 22 out of the 31 times he took the mound in 2017….
In today’s game, you win with a starting rotation that has a track record of stability….
Further adding to his case, Dickey already has a relationship with Showalter, whom Dickey credits with giving him the nudge to fully commit to embracing the knuckleball….
Alone, he doesn’t change the game. But at this point, is any one starter that the Orioles manage to sign going to do that? What they need to do is to make three smart moves.
Signing R.A. Dickey would be smart move No. 1.
The Orioles is probably not on Dickey’s short list, though. He’s said more than once over the last couple of years that he much prefers to play with a team based near his home in Nashville. Baltimore is about 700 miles from Nashville.
Speaking of the Orioles, MASN Sports man Roch Kubatko reports that the Orioles’ own Eddie Gamboa “has conceded after much prodding from the Orioles that he needs to go exclusively with his knuckleball. No more mixing it in 50 percent of the time.”
If Gamboa is going to get back to the majors after appearing in seven games with the Rays in 2016, his only exposure to the highest level, he’s going to do it strictly as a knuckleball pitcher.
“Absolutely, yeah,” he said. “I threw a bullpen yesterday and I would say 100 percent of the pitches were knuckleballs. I know that’s the future for me and I feel a lot better with it than I first started throwing the knuckleball. Now we show it and do the best we can with it.”
Manager Buck Showalter kept pushing for Gamboa to surrender to it and noted the resistance. Gamboa wasn’t ready. It’s that simple.
“He had a really good point back in 2014 when I was throwing the knuckleball not enough,” Gamboa said. “For me, it was more of a competitive thing. I knew I could get outs and you do what you naturally know what to do. Throw a fastball. When you’re young that’s the first pitch you know how to throw….
“R.A. Dickey, Tim Wakefield, Steven Wright, they’re successful because they bought into it and that was their main priority, their pitch No. 1. I’m at that point in my career where I feel better throwing it now. I think that’s the biggest thing, just having the confidence in it.
“I always wanted to commit to it, but it’s like if somebody were to come to you and go, ‘Hey, you’ve got to throw left-handed,’ you don’t feel too confident in it. It’s tough. And to do it on the biggest stage in baseball. But for me, it’s just a confidence thing and I’m throwing it a lot. Now I can pick up a ball and throw it and kill the spin. That’s where I’m at now and I feel a lot better coming back to a coaching staff that believes in you and likes the knuckleball. Because not everybody likes the knuckleball. But I feel good about it, very happy and excited to move forward.”
The knuckleball is such a tricky thing to get right that killing with it in the big leagues probably does require a near-exclusivity not needed to excel with the usual pitches.
Some good pitchers do use the knuckleball—a knuckleball that may be very good—as just one-among-many in their pitching repertoire. Such pitchers may or may not one day conclude that the knuckleball can do for them what other pitches can’t. But if and when a pitcher does specialize in the knuckleball because of its potential to elevate performance and extend career, the corollary is making the knuckleball by far the dominant pitch.