Knuckleballers, by days of rest

With R.A. Dickey scheduled to start Sunday night on 5 days’ rest, let’s look at the “days of rest” splits of the most prominent recent knuckleballers (in starts only). I have included all splits that cover at least 10 starts, but my comparative statements are based only on those lines with at least 30 starts.

Even if you care nothing for this topic, I urge you to savor the line of Wilbur Wood on 2 days’ rest.

Tim Wakefield: Better with 4 days’ rest than with 5.

I Split G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR SB CS BB SO SO/BB BA OBP SLG OPS
3 Days,GS 19 503 450 71 115 19 3 22 9 7 40 76 1.90 .256 .321 .458 .778
4 Days,GS 225 6241 5557 793 1383 298 26 177 202 55 518 963 1.86 .249 .320 .407 .728
5 Days,GS 140 3787 3368 496 889 208 10 116 123 41 340 554 1.63 .264 .337 .435 .772
6+ Days,GS 62 1655 1461 214 375 70 5 47 59 17 154 241 1.56 .257 .334 .408 .742
All tables generated via Baseball-Reference.com on 6/22/2012.

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Tom Candiotti: Slightly better with 5 days’ rest than with 4 (the difference is all in SLG).

I Split G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR SB CS BB SO SO/BB BA OBP SLG OPS
3 Days,GS 17 468 414 55 97 22 4 8 9 2 41 63 1.54 .234 .306 .365 .671
4 Days,GS 216 5986 5414 676 1381 226 29 140 161 61 444 907 2.04 .255 .314 .385 .699
5 Days,GS 116 3194 2842 351 714 117 11 60 78 25 246 488 1.98 .251 .313 .363 .677
6+ Days,GS 55 1457 1307 165 358 66 6 33 37 10 118 196 1.66 .274 .338 .409 .747

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Charlie Hough: Best with 3 days’ rest; better with 4 than with 5.

I Split G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR SB CS BB SO SO/BB BA OBP SLG OPS
3 Days,GS 60 1838 1616 195 366 73 8 40 48 20 174 289 1.66 .226 .309 .356 .665
4 Days,GS 236 6827 5996 771 1415 263 31 170 156 78 664 971 1.46 .236 .316 .375 .691
5 Days,GS 96 2747 2426 350 604 92 20 77 70 26 258 373 1.45 .249 .325 .399 .724
6+ Days,GS 44 1214 1063 129 247 31 8 30 16 13 121 153 1.26 .232 .317 .361 .678

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Phil Niekro: An odd pattern — better with 3 or 5 days’ rest than with 4; worst with 6+.

I Split G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR SB CS BB SO SO/BB BA OBP SLG OPS
3 Days,GS 255 7995 7225 788 1752 259 46 174 165 81 599 1216 2.03 .242 .303 .363 .666
4 Days,GS 270 8006 7204 838 1801 246 42 174 149 92 639 1194 1.87 .250 .314 .368 .682
5 Days,GS 93 2767 2499 270 600 86 13 57 48 24 226 391 1.73 .240 .304 .353 .657
6+ Days,GS 58 1599 1427 193 386 78 13 37 37 10 153 205 1.34 .270 .342 .421 .763

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Joe Niekro: Better with 4 days’ rest than with 5; not good with either 3 or 6.

I Split G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR SB CS BB SO SO/BB BA OBP SLG OPS
3 Days,GS 126 3215 2875 414 791 113 16 73 80 34 277 341 1.23 .275 .338 .402 .740
4 Days,GS 233 6599 5953 629 1442 207 34 98 199 61 534 787 1.47 .242 .306 .338 .644
5 Days,GS 72 2012 1820 206 459 62 13 42 60 10 152 228 1.50 .252 .310 .370 .680
6+ Days,GS 52 1308 1157 192 341 59 10 32 43 6 121 141 1.17 .295 .362 .446 .808

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Wilbur Wood: Hee-hee-hee! Oh, sorry … Best with 2 days’ rest; better with 3 than with 4, but long rest also suited him.

I Split G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR SB CS BB SO SO/BB BA OBP SLG OPS
2 Days,GS 71 2262 2088 199 490 67 16 36 51 22 125 333 2.66 .235 .281 .334 .615
3 Days,GS 153 4536 4170 496 1132 173 20 90 82 48 270 535 1.98 .271 .317 .387 .704
4 Days,GS 37 1011 903 135 253 39 6 28 26 16 77 106 1.38 .280 .341 .430 .770
5 Days,GS 10 285 255 28 55 11 2 6 5 3 22 38 1.73 .216 .276 .345 .621
6+ Days,GS 22 632 561 52 132 16 2 10 10 11 53 69 1.30 .235 .307 .324 .631

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R.A. Dickey (2010-12 only): No significant difference, but better SO/BB with 4 days’ rest.

[table id=59 /]

 

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I don’t think there’s enough here to draw strong conclusions, and of course Dickey’s own tendencies would have the most predictive value for him. But I think there is some evidence that a knuckleballer is better off pitching with the least rest that he can regularly accommodate.

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31 Comments on "Knuckleballers, by days of rest"

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mosc
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The sample size is too small to really draw a conclusion. You’re pulling players from different eras with different arsenals. Dickey is very unusual in his Knuckleballing in that he throws a comparably zippy knuckler quite frequently and also mixes in more than a few fastballs (he calls it a sinker despite often choosing to work up and in with it as a change of pace). Wakefield threw about 85% knuckleballs and they were all 65-70mph. He’s also mix in a 70mph or so curve and very rarely a 80-85 mph straight as an arrow 4SFB. Dickey’s fastball isn’t the… Read more »
brp
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Re: Dickey being an outlier because of his “fast” knuckler, he probably needs more rest than a Niekro or Wakefield-type. However for a more typical knuckleballer, if such a beast exists, I can see how less rest would make sense. It seems throwing the knuckler is all about being on or off, or in a groove. If the knuckler was humming 3 days ago, why not pitch the guy again? There’s a better chance the pitcher will still have “it” than if waiting another few days. I look at it similar to a streaky hitter and how a lot of… Read more »
Gabriel
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How does this compare with pitchers as a whole? Anyway, we see that the amount of rest doesn’t seem to hurt knuckleballer performance. The real question is what’s the downside? Obviously, you have to balance the desire of having your best pitcher throw as often as possible (which doesn’t seem to particularly hurt the performance of these knuckleballers) with the risk of injury. If the Mets continue to be in the pennant race in mid-August or so, I would certainly imagine that they’ll talk to their doctors, review Dickey’s injury history, examine his mechanics, and try to see if he… Read more »
Mike A.
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Did you miss Wood’s performance with zero days rest? 😉

(I seem to recall that he once started — and lost — both games of a doubleheader against the Yankees. He was knocked out early in Game One, so they brought him back for Game Two.)

Richard Chester
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I posted about that doubleheader a while back. It occurred on July 20, 1973. He was removed from the first game without retiring a batter (although he struck out one guy who then reached first on a passed ball). He did a little better in the second game going 4.1 innings but still lost.

Jimbo
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I think there is an MLB conspiracy of some sorts to keep knuckleballers out. I simply find it impossible to believe that in the last 10 years the only guys able to throw MLB level knuckleballs were the aging Wakefield, and a reborn ex-washed up player in Dickey. It simply doesn’t make any sense. It truly isn’t THAT hard to learn. Difficult yes, but something is wrong with this. When was the last time we saw a lefty throwing knuckleballs? I don’t think I’ve ever seen it. Can you imagine how difficult it would be for batters to his a… Read more »
MatthewC
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I’ve got to agree. It is slightly bizarre that given the resources teams expend developing players all over the world that there isn’t a single team with a Knuckleball Factory, at least trying to turn some of its failed 4A pitchers into knuckleballers. Why, just on my Twins alone … Oh, wait, we did have Dickey?

Voomo Zanzibar
Guest

Here’s Gene Bearden, lefty.
Ted Williams is quoted here as saying he was knuckleballer.

bstar
Guest
I assume you were trying to link to Bearden’s Sabr Bio Page, Voomo. That’s where the quote from Ted Williams came. Here’s an excerpt from his bio, describing his breakout rookie season and detailing how much he pitched the last few weeks of the season on limited rest, to great success: [“….On September 16, the Indians and the Red Sox each had 87 wins. Boudreau relied heavily on Bearden. He started him in five of the remaining 15 games and Bearden won them all, despite pitching with limited rest between starts. Bearden’s 8-0 shutout of the Detroit Tigers on October… Read more »
Voomo Zanzibar
Guest

Richard Daniel Sauveur

Position: Pitcher
Bats: Left, Throws: Left
Height: 6′ 4″, Weight: 163 lb.

He holds the record for “most clubs pitched for, without a win”.

http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/s/sauveri01.shtml

http://fullcount.weei.com/sports/boston/baseball/red-sox/2009/03/08/red-sox-terry-francona-rich-sauveur-tim-wakefield-the-left-handed-knuckleballers/

MikeD
Guest

I think the “conspiracy” is on trying to throw the knuckleball. Most of these guys spend years trying to perfect it. If it was easy, plenty of fringy prospects would be trying to throw it just on the hopes they might stick.

Jim Bouldin
Guest
I think an important issue in the question Jimbo raises is the whole catcher/base-stealer issue. Obviously, a big drawback to the floater is it’s almost as hard to catch as it is to hit. There’s a real important (potential) non-linearity here, in that, if you keep people off base then you’re fine. But because the k-ball is so hard to control, there should tend to be a lot of walks, and once you have guys on base you enter a whole ‘nother realm of troubles, given how slow it is to the plate, and hard for the catcher to handle… Read more »
no statistician but
Guest

Jimbo:

Since I’m an old-timer, the knuckleballer I think of first is Hoyt Wilhelm, and my recollection is this: lots of passed balls and wild pitches, lots of athleticism on the parts of catchers. At Baseball-Ref I can’t find any data on passed balls by pitcher, but I’d suspect the rate is higher for knuckleballers generally, as it is for wild pitches.

My brother, not a pitcher, threw a knuckler for fun when we were both players, and that thing was a devil to catch.

Jim Bouldin
Guest

Here are some career numbers for the all time best k-ballers:

Pitcher K/BB CS/SB %R/BR
P Niekro 1.85 216/446 33.1
Wood 1.99 118/206 32.8
Hough 1.42 170/398 35.0
Candiotti 1.97 101/293 35.5
Wakefield 1.79 137/448 43.1
Dickey(2012) 9.40 2/0 26.7

CS/SB = caught stealing/stolen bases
%R/BR = percentage of baserunners who score (includes HRs and non-earned runs)

Jim Bouldin
Guest

correction, Dickey’s K/BB ratio is 4.90, not 9.40
dyslexics of the world untie!

Richard Chester
Guest

A college classmate of mine has done research on the physics of the knuckleball. His name is Joel Hollenberg and if you Google his name you can retrieve his writings on the subject.

Mike A.
Guest

Actually, re my last comment, BR shows that as -1 days of rest! (It would be zero if he pitched the next day.)

MatthewC
Guest
I think the reason we won’t see Dickey throwing in the bullpen between starts is that he is so successful with things just as they are. There is a HUGE bias in baseball not to mess around with things that are working. (Just think of the team not talking to a pitcher during a no-hitter, or players not wanting to talk about a hitting streak, players who wear the same underwear during a winning streak.) Sure, it might turn out that pitching Dickey an extra 5-10 innings of relief a month would maximize his usefulness to the team. On the… Read more »
RJ
Guest

Can somebody explain Strat-O-Matic to this humble foreigner? It’s like a mix between fantasy football and top trumps? How long does a game take? What are the victory conditions?

Lawrence Azrin
Guest

You roll special dice, and the combinations of the die represent certain on-field events, based on their probability of happening. The more sophisticated versions of the game are adjusted for fielding ability and park effects. That’s a start.

Richard Chester
Guest

During the WWII years the Senators had 5 pitchers on their staff who were knuckleballers: Dutch Leonard, Roger Wolff, Mickey Haefner, John Niggeling and Bil Lefebvre. Catchers Rick Ferrell and Mike Guerra had their work cut out for themselves

Hellen
Guest

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