The extent to which Russell Martin has managed to conquer the knuckleball as a Blue Jays/Dickey catcher in 2015 is not the main topic of eeliott29’s post for BlueBirdBanter (“Russell Martin, worth every last penny”), but neither is it marginal.
In 2015, Martin brought the tools that summoned him his lucrative contract and in turn saved the Jays 11.6 runs by season’s end….
[One of the big questions during spring training] was whether Martin would be able to catch R.A Dickey’s unpredictable knuckleball or [the Jays would] have to rely on Thole, Dickey’s personal catcher, once again. Martin was adamant he could get the job done, and for the most part, he did, despite suffering offensively.
Catching a completely unpredictable pitch cannot be easy. We found that out in August when Martin complained of thumb problems after taking countless pitches outside the “sweet spot” of his enlarged catcher’s mitt. It is theoretically possible that Martin’s sore thumb had a negative effect on his other framing abilities while catching other pitchers in the time after his injury. Thus, Martin should be admired for his ability to remain a top-10 league-wide framer catching a pitch no other top catcher had to receive while maintaining above-average framing abilities with his conventional pitching brethren.
Kyle Matte of Capital Jays offers a more severe judgment:
Defensively, while Martin 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.
In any case, we trust that Martin’s thumb will have fully recovered by the start of 2016 spring training.
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In the free advice department, Dan Grant over at SamePageTeam has loads for Blue Jays manager John Gibbons. Figuring lastly but not leastly in the list of sage counsel is a proposal about R.A. Dickey: bring him out later. This, Grant says, will enhance the knuckleballer’s batter-confounding abilities.
R.A. Dickey should get a shot at closing [if the starting rotation is otherwise strengthened]….
Detractors, yes, I know you’re going to point at how effective Dickey was in the second half of last season, and that even an average starting pitcher is much more valuable than most elite relievers. After his disastrous April and May, Dickey was fantastic in June, July and September, with a middling August thrown in, though even that month featured four quality starts. He ate up 214.1 innings for Toronto last season, innings they won’t be able to replace easily. However, if the three things I listed above happen, things will work themselves out! And there are certain advantages to using Dickey in a late-inning role:
The change of pace. Dickey’s knuckleball, when it’s on, messes with hitters when they have all night and day to prep for it. Bring him into a game after Osuna, Storen or Cecil and how in the world will hitters react? Not favourably, methinks. Dickey’s career numbers show that he’s more effective in the first than in any other inning, in terms of both strikeouts and opponents average. This would help him maintain effectiveness, as his K/9 rate cratered to just 5.4 last season, after being over 7 in his first two seasons in Toronto.
You can use him for multiple innings! The knuckleball isn’t as physically taxing as other pitches, so Dickey would be able to pitch more innings than your typical reliever.
We don’t particularly expect the advice to be followed, in part because Grant himself doesn’t expect it to be, even though he claims destiny is on his side.
Hoyt Wilhelm was the first reliever to be used a ‘closer’ and the first relief pitcher elected to the Hall of Fame. He was also the first guy to almost exclusively throw knuckleballs. He taught the trade to Charlie Hough, who then taught it to…R.A. Dickey.
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Finally, courtesy of Florida Today, news of an honor for Tim Wakefield:
Retired knuckleball pitcher joined catcher Jason Varitek, his teammate for 15 years, into the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame this week. Wakefield, a Brevard County resident and former Florida Tech star, won two World Series titles with Boston, spent 17 seasons in a Red Sox uniform—four more than any other Boston pitcher—and is the team’s all-time leader in starts (430) and innings pitched (3,006). He ranks second in Red Sox history in strikeouts (2,046) and third in wins (186). He will be inducted May 19.