Ups and Downs for Dickey: Batters’ Bashing versus Knuckleball’s “Dancing” in Season’s “Top Effort”

Blue Jay R.A. Dickey has always said that the life of the knuckleballer is one of ups and downs. The disparity between Sunday’s game and the game six days earlier bears him out.

R_A_DickeyBlueJaysIn the Mother’s Day game against the Red Sox, the Jays lost 3-6. Dickey displayed good pitching that was noted by Jays manager John Gibbons, but homers by the Sox enabled them to avoid their third loss in a row to the Jays. Says Gibbons: “The two home runs got him, there’s no doubt about it. Other than that, he was pretty good, but the ball was flying.”

Rewind a week to Monday’s game against the New York Yankees. No strikeouts, lots of ground outs, was what Toronto Blue Jay R.A. Dickey produced in that contest. According to the Toronto Sun’s Craig Robertson, on that day Dickey was in fact the first Blue Jay since 1995 to pitch eight innings without a strikeout.

But Dickey’s knuckleball did what it had to do, resulting in his

top effort of the season, eight innings, three hits and just the one run. He also didn’t strike out a batter. Dickey’s ego can withstand a zero-strikeout performance if he can induce as many groundball outs (13) as he did, but it’s always nice to have the ability to get swings and misses when you need them.

“The knuckleball I’ve had in the last couple of starts have been like that,” Dickey said Tuesday. “But I prefer when I’m like 80-20—80% of the time I can do what I did last night. But the other 20% I can have bigger movement, so I can get a strikeout with a runner at third base with less than two outs. I need to be able to punch a guy out with a guy on third base and normally I can do that.

“But that’s just the nature of the pitch. It is fickle when it comes to the movement…. I went back and looked at tape…. It was moving, but it was moving late and really small.”

Pitching is always about trade-offs, even with a guy who throws a knuckleball. The big movement wasn’t there, but the control was; and as he said, he had enough movement to miss the fat of the bat.

Outs are still outs, of course, even when not extracted in the most spectacular possible way. As we noted in a previous IKA post, Dickey has been striving this season for greater control at the expense of some of his trademark speed (“swapping velocity for command”)…a higher ratio of ups to downs.

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Whatever happened to Eri Yoshida, the wunderkind Japanese knuckleballer who turned pro in 2008, at age 16? By 2010, the “knuckle princess” had become “the first woman to pitch professionally in two countries,” by also wielding her knuckleball in the United States. There has been scant English-language coverage of her career in years since. But a February 2015 story about a new player-manager for the Ishikawa Million Stars notes that Yoshida is still on the Stars’ roster, which she had joined in 2013 after returning to Japan.

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