Unfair to So Soon Inflict a Knuckleballer on Batters? Plus: Knee Surgery for Dickey

We think it’s always very fair to have to go up against a knuckleballer! Agreed, it may also be very inconvenient.

But Roger Mooney at tbo.com wonders whether letting non-roster invitee Eddie Gamboa pitch “this early in camp” to Tampa Bay Rays batters is “a little unfair.” It’s not, says Rays manager Kevin Cash.

Batter“I think it’s very fair because we face one in our division quite a bit. It’s fine,” Cash said. “It gives them a different look. Right now the nice thing is he’s kind of interchangeable, the fact that he pitches and somebody comes in after him. So it’s not like you’re facing two and half hours of seven innings of knuckleballs. If the knuckleball alters their timing they can get their timing back pretty quick.”

Cash was referring to Blue Jays RHP R.A. Dickey, who faced the Rays five times last season and will face them again this year during the first series of the season.

Cash is pretty confident about how quickly hitters can recover from the knuckleball. Perhaps he’s right, if Gamboa is typically being switched out not long after he’s switched in. Though Cash himself points out that this would not fully prepare hitters for games in which a knuckleballer will be pitching for a sustained stretch.

And as we’ve reported in posts about the “knuckleball hangover“ or “knuckleball effect,” observers of the game have cogently argued that hitters, at least some hitters, do have trouble realigning themselves after facing a knuckleballer, even if the extent to which they’re thrown off is not quite quantifiable. See, for example, Shi Davidi’s discussion at SportsNet.ca:

[T]o expect the effect to be all-encompassing is unfair, as it’s near impossible to disrupt nine big-league hitters for days on end. Still, simply disrupting a couple of hitters may be enough to make an impact, and Dickey has seen hitters alter their approaches against him.

“I know people on other teams that do not like to face the pitch, whether it’s coming from me or someone else,” says Dickey. “If I know that ahead of time and they’re in the game, well, chances are it’s going to affect them in some way. Now, let’s pretend for a moment that seven of the nine hitters couldn’t care less who’s on the mound, knuckleball or not. Well, if you’re just talking about two, that’s still a significant part of the lineup and that may be what equals the difference. If it impacts even one guy in the lineup for multiple games, then it’s a significant difference.”

Speaking of R.A. Dickey—the 41-year-old has been recovering from knee surgery. MLB.com reports:

The veteran right-hander said the knee had become a lingering issue last year and that he wanted to get the area cleaned up during the offseason. That delayed his workouts, but Dickey said everything feels great and he doesn’t anticipate any problems this spring.

“I had a knee issue that I tried to work through all year and ended up getting fixed at the end of the season,” said Dickey, who went 11-11 with a 3.91 ERA in 2015. “My offseason was much more about trying to get to a bit of a lighter weight, get my knee strong, things like that, to be able to endure another 200-plus inning season”…

“It was basically a four-to-six week recovery,” said Dickey, who is scheduled to throw a bullpen session Monday morning. “That’s what they always tell you, but for me, it turned out to be a real blessing because I had to focus on getting my body right in a way that I really haven’t had to do in a long time because I’ve always been pretty healthy. Watching what I eat and really working on some big muscle things around my injury has helped. I feel great.”

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