Knuckleballer Dickey to Stay with Blue Jays; Wisdom of Using Martin to Catch Knuckleball Questioned

Last week we passed along the credible-sounding MLBTradeRumor that the Toronto Blue Jays, who almost made it to the World Series this year, planned to exercise their option to keep on R.A. Dickey for another season. The plan has been executed.

As reported by Keegan Matheson at JaysJournal.com, the Jays are “picking up the 2016 team options on R.A. Dickey, Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista. The club also declined their option with second baseman Maicer Izturis, opting to pay the $1 million buyout.”

Dickey’s option was the only uncertainty, but even then, it’s seemed 98% likely. The knuckler ate another 214.1 innings in 2015, dipping his ERA below 4.00 late in the season with a stretch of performances that helped to propel Toronto towards the playoffs. October wasn’t as kind to him, but given the lack of starting depth in the current rotation, his return is a no-brainer.

Although Dickey is turning 42 soon, that’s no big deal for a knuckleballer, says Matheson (see our post, “Your Knuckleball May Add Years to Your Career”). “If he’s able to deliver another 200+ innings in 2015 with some level of consistency and quality, he’ll be worth the dollars spent.”

Russell martinDiscussing “The Knuckleball Effect—on Russell Martin” at Capital Jays, Kyle Matte suggests that although Martin has “handled the knuckleball admirably, he’s also become exhibit A as to why having your starter catch a knuckleballer is a rather poor idea. The altered defensive posture, the copious balls in the dirt, the pitches so far off-target that he had to throw his glove across the plate and catch without his body bracing his arm, and perhaps most importantly, all the pitches that found his fingers and palm instead of the glove’s webbing really took their toll on the offensive elements of Russell Martin’s game.”

Matte crunches numbers:

In his 21 games catching Dickey, Martin totalled 85 plate appearances, and hit an abysmal .179/.224/.333, for a .557 OPS and .241 wOBA. On days Martin caught Dickey, he hit like Omar Infante (.238 wOBA) and Alexi Amarista (.236 wOBA). His walk rate plummeted to 4.7%, and his batted ball profile saw an equally disgusting GB/FB/LD split of 58.2%, 29.9%, and 11.9%, respectively. Russell played on the day after catching a Dickey start 15 times, and in those 63 plate appearances his batting line improved to a far more respectable .241/.339/.444, with a .783 OPS and .341 wOBA – both closely in line with his overall numbers for the season.

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GTed Lyons Pitcher Chicago White Soxuess which MLB knuckleball pitcher of the 1930s never played a game in the minor leagues? We’d be lyin’ if we said it wasn’t Ted Lyons. He started out as a pitcher right away, but not as a knuckleballer. According to the profile at BaseballHall.org:

As a young right-hander, Lyons primarily threw fastballs. He led the American League in wins in 1925 and 1927. His finest season was perhaps 1930, when he won 20 games for the third time (22-15), led the AL in complete games (29) and innings (297.7). Between 1929 and 1931, Lyons suffered a series of arm and back injuries, and began to throw more slow curves, even slower curves, and knuckleballs. His ability to reinvent his repertoire effectively made a new pitcher out of him….

In 1939, he ran up a streak of 42 consecutive innings without issuing a walk. That year, White Sox manager Jimmy Dykes decided to use Lyons as a Sunday-only pitcher, in part because as one of the few premier players on the Sox, he was an attendance drawing card. Lyons did well in his Sabbath role, going 14-6 that year and making the All-Star team for the first time. In 1942, at the age of 41, he completed each and every one of his 20 starts, going 14-6 and leading the AL in ERA.

We have much more about Ted Lyons in an August 2014 post.

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