Will Gamboa Be the Next Major League Knuckleballer?

Eddie Gamboa - Knuckleball

Eddie Gamboa of the Baltimore Orioles’ Bowie Baysox AA club has been thrilling baseball fans and baffling hitters all season with displays of masterful knuckleballing.

On Sunday, Gamboa was at his best, tossing a no-hitter over seven innings in the first game of a doubleheader against the Harrisburg Senators. The Merced, California native carried a perfect game into the top of the fifth inning before surrendering a walk to the Senators’ Jason Martinson. Gamboa’s knuckleball was on point as he racked up five strikeouts and allowed only one runner to reach second via a sixth-inning 3-1 fielder’s choice following a walk.

The seven-inning no-hitter marks the second brilliant start in a row for Gamboa, who has not allowed a single run in his last 14 1/3 innings of pitching even as he compelled 12 strikeouts and surrendered only one hit. His recent scoreless streak and impressive body of work in the 2013 season have some in baseball wondering whether this recent convert to the floater could be the next to join the exclusive fraternity of Major League knuckleball pitchers.

With a 19.9% strikeout rate and a manageable 7.3% walk rate, Gamboa’s Fielding Independent Pitching stats suggest that his strong 3.48 earned run average in 2013 is for real. His performance has been especially impressive considering the fact that the 28-year-old began throwing the knuckleball consistently just this season. He still uses other pitches; but the Orioles clearly expect him to become a full-time, full-fledged knuckleball pitcher.

Developing knuckleballers seems to be a significant organizational goal of the Baltimore Orioles. They currently boast three in their minor league system: Gamboa, Zach Clark, and Zach Staniewicz. The Orioles join the Boston Red Sox as yet another team emphasizing knuckleball talent, raising questions about the future of the knuckleball and its place in Major League Baseball.

It’s doubtless no coincidence that the architect of the Orioles’ recent stockpiling of knuckleballers is none other than Dan Duquette, the team’s current Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations and the former General Manager of the Boston Red Sox. As GM for the Sox, Duquette witnessed firsthand the value that knuckleball mainstay Tim Wakefield has brought to the club. On any given day, Wakefield can start, pitch in long relief, work as a setup man or closer─then, after a brief rest, pitch again just a few days later. Wakefield’s durability and flexibility have helped the Red Sox club in ways only partly reflected in win-loss records or ERA and BAA stats.

The jury is still out on knuckleballing up-and-comers like Gamboa, Clark and Staniewicz of the Orioles organization and Steven Wright and Charlie Haeger of the Red Sox organization. But one thing is for sure: Major League clubs are starting once again to believe in the knuckleball.

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