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.

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 on 6/22/2012.


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

4 Days,GS38101091310222140621611742.
5 Days,GS226165734814223313331133.



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.

31 thoughts on “Knuckleballers, by days of rest

  1. 1
    mosc says:

    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 slowest in the league either. He needs more rest than a classic knuckleball pitcher because he throws harder. Especially since he’s been working later into games, he’s more a 5-man rotation knuckler than the old timers you listed.

    • 3
      brp says:

      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 hitters struggle coming out of the All-Star Break because it messes up the groove they were in. Maybe I’m way off base but that’s how I always looked at it.

  2. 2
    Gabriel says:

    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 can pitch more often.

    For example, they may just decide to make sure that he always pitches on 4-day rest (not 5). Or, they could pitch him every 4th day, for example Sabbathia pitched that way for the Brewers in the pennant race, if I remember correctly, but it is probably doubtful since Dickey’s track record is still pretty short.

    In any case, if I had to bet, they’ll just keep using him the way they have until now.

  3. 4
    Mike A. says:

    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.)

    • 7
      Richard Chester says:

      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.

  4. 5
    Jimbo says:

    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 pitch they’d never seen? Especially if such a pitcher was used as a LOOGY.

    The versatility of Knuckleballers is beyond that of any other pitcher. Most of them could start 40 games a season no problem if anybody would ask them to.

    I understand that part of what helps knuckeballers is that their pitch is so rare that batters don’t get a chance to see it much. But the NL went many years without having a regular Knuckler before Dickey came along. It’s almost not surprising at all the success he’s having.

    Another aspect of Knucklers I haven’t seen anyone explore yet statistically is whether or not they throw off the timing of opposing hitters? Do hitters bat poorly after Wakefield came out and a conventional reliever came in? One VERY unconventional use of a knuckler that I could see being very effective would be to use the knuckleball pitcher as a 3 inning starter. A team could have a regular 4-5 man rotation, but with a knuckler that starts 50 games a year, throws 2-3 innings, and then is replaced by the scheduled regular starter for the 3rd or 4th inning. That regular starter would simply prepare himself knowing he’d be coming into the game to start the 3rd or 4th inning, after the Knuckler had been in there messing with everyone’s timing.

    I learned to throw a knuckleball as a teenager. Another guy on my team was a lefty and could throw it better still. Never used it in games because my other pitches were quite good and I never practisd throwing it off the mound. But it just isn’t that hard to throw a ball 65 mph without any spin. A little bit more difficult to throw it 70 mph but again, I find it impossible to believe that from 2002-2010 the only guy that could throw an MLB level knuckleball was the aging Wakefield.

    Wakefield pitching entirely in the AL east, being old, having no regular fastball to mix in, and still being able to hang around and be a somewhat average pitcher just shows me even more that if a knuckler came along and pitched anywhere else he’d be effective. If Wakefield had gone to SF and pitched in the NL west where nobody was used to seeing knuckleballs he might just be having an all star year this year himself.

    It’s just not surprising at all to me that a guy throwing knuckleballs in the NL, where there hasn’t been a regular knuckler since Charlie Hough, would have great success.

    There’s just something weird about it. They mystify it as this magical pitch that’s impossible to learn, but it’s not.

    • 9
      John Autin says:

      Jimbo, the “unfamiliarity” explanation sounds reasonable, but I don’t think it fits the data.

      — Dickey is in his 3rd season with the Mets, and having his best results ever.
      — In another thread, I commented that the times in which Dickey has faced the same team within a short span of time do not show that team hitting him any better the 2nd time — if anything, those data point the other way.
      — Phil Niekro was consistently effective in the NL West, with an unbalanced schedule, from 1969-82. He had ups and downs like any pitcher, but no pattern to his years that suggests that teams hit him better the more they saw him.

      I think a good knuckleball like what Dickey has going now is just very hard to hit, period. I have seen some knuckleballs, especially knuckle-curves, that had somewhat predictable movement, but that’s not the case with Dickey’s. I think a batter could see it many times a year without getting significantly better at hitting it.

    • 12
      MatthewC says:

      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?

    • 13

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

      • 18
        bstar says:

        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 2 clinched a tie for the American League pennant with the Boston Red Sox.

        The season ended on Sunday, October 3, and a playoff to determine the pennant was scheduled for Monday. Boudreau went with Bearden as his pitcher, though Bearden had started just two days before, on Saturday. Lou was going with the horse that got them there. Bob Lemon had pitched on Friday and Feller on Sunday. The experts scoffed at Boudreau’s choice Bearden was being asked again to pitch again so soon, and with Fenway Park’s Green Monster looming in left field, was it wise to start a left hander against the Red Sox?

        Boudreau said years later that “Bearden was my best pitcher — better than Bob Feller, better than Bob Lemon, better than Steve Gromek. He’d come through in the tough games for us all season, and I had absolute confidence in him.”

        Bearden was cool and calm before the big game. He said later that he felt more nervous before his first-ever pitching assignment. He frustrated the Red Sox with his herky-jerky motion and his dead-fish-diving knuckleball, and the Indians came away with an 8-3 win and the American League pennant…”]

    • 14

      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”.

    • 20
      MikeD says:

      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.

    • 22
      Jim Bouldin says:

      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 once it finally gets there. Therefore it would seem a k-baller has to develop an A+ move to first to succeed. These statements are simply hypotheses on my part that make logical sense but seemingly could be tested with some wild pitch/passed ball/balk/stolen base data. I haven’t seen Dickey pitch–but his higher pitch speeds would seem to work in his favor on this issue. I’m also wondering if maybe his knuckler has a more predictable trajectory somehow, than is common? And what’s his move to first like?

      • 23
        no statistician but says:


        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.

      • 24
        Jim Bouldin says:

        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)

      • 26
        Richard Chester says:

        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.

      • 27
        John Autin says:

        Dickey’s move to 1st is very good. Last year, there were just 7 successful steals in 10 tries, out of 319 chances — and, separate from that, he picked off 5 runners.

        So this year, between that knowledge, the scarcity of baserunners against him, and the fact that he’s usually had a lead, there have been just 2 attempts, none successful.

  5. 6
    Mike A. says:

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

  6. 8
    John Autin says:

    Re: starting a knuckleballer (or any SP) more than once per 5 games:

    One thing I learned from playing Strat-O-Matic is how hard it can be to juggle a rotation of guys with different rest needs. In S-O-M, starters are rated on how often they can start — some can go every 4th game, some every 5th game, and some (who mostly relieved that year) just every 6th game. If you have a 5-man rotation with a mix of even 4-game and 5-game starters, and your schedule has no doubleheaders and few off days (like the modern MLB schedule), it’s a big challenge to get the most out of your 4-game starters, unless you use a swingman on a semi-regular basis. And the rest of the rotation won’t be on a consistent schedule — which doesn’t affect simulation games, but definitely goes against today’s prevailing policy.

    That’s why I think the only practical way to get more out of Dickey would be in short relief on his between-starts “throw” days.

    • 15

      I’ve been thinking of the three-inning starter concept lately.

      What I would like to see attempted is a pitching rotation where the batters never get that 3rd at bat against any pitcher.

      Or, most importantly, the Top of The Order never sees a pitcher 3 times.

      To do this, I would implement an “Opener”.
      A pitcher with the same mentality at a “Closer”.
      Except he pitches the first inning.

      First inning.
      You are always either protecting a lead or a tie.
      And you are always facing the other teams’ best hitters.

      With all the pitching specialization nowadays, this is a logical trajectory.

      After the Opener,
      a three inning pitcher
      then a knuckleballer for one inning just to screw with them
      then another three inning guy,
      throw in a Loogy,
      then your Closer.

      • 17
        John Autin says:

        I’d love to see it tried, Voomo. I would call the first pitcher the Satchel, in honor of “The Great Satchel Paige — Guaranteed to Strike Out the First Nine Men.”

      • 19
        Jimbo says:

        I too have thought about this. In other ways too. The 1st inning is a crucial inning.

        The opposite is how much it bothers me when a team has a low OBP guy batting leadoff. Giving the other team the 1st out of the game and letting him get his groove going.

        I generally think the highest OBP player on a team should always bat leadoff, unless he’s your best slugger. In that case he should bat 2nd or 3rd, with the player (s) in front of him being the other highest OBP’s on the team. Speed at the top of the order is almost completely meaningless. Sluggers tend to drive runners in from wherever they are, that’s why they are sluggers and bat in the heart of the order. Speedy players should bat 6th-9th, where their speed will actually be worth more, because the batters behind them hit weak balls and singles.

        For the same reason, having a 1st inning starter be a gret pitcher that goes every 2nd game and pitches 81 innings a year seems a great idea. Or 2 innings every 3rd game for a total of about 110 innings. Then you’re closer…I mean starter now, would at least know which games he’s pitching and be able to prepare a routine accordingly. Having your best reliever always be uncertain of which games he will pitch in seems silly.

  7. 10
    John Autin says:

    One more observation about knuckleballers: They tend to have much smaller platoon splits than a conventional pitcher.

    Wakefield, Candiotti, P.Niekro, Hough, Wood and Wilhelm had no significant difference vs. lefties and righties. J.Niekro had a more conventional split, but I think he didn’t throw the knuckler as often as his brother. Dickey had a pronounced reverse split in 2010, shifting towards conventional in 2011-12; probably close to neutral if you combine them.

  8. 11
    MatthewC says:

    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 other hand, is the potential reward of doing so worth the risk that trying to have him do something new would impact his starts? There is no manager, no team, and probably no individual pitcher who would take that bet while on the ride Dickey is on now.

    However, if it should happen that next season Dickey is only pitching with slightly above average effectiveness, then maybe he, the manager, the team would be open to the idea. I remember watching Oakland games in the late 80s when Eck came over from the Cubs as a starter. If he had been moderately effective he would never have become the greatest relief pitcher I ever had the opportunity to see throw. And he was used the way he was because it worked for him and the team. It is adversity that makes us change, never success. The way things are now the Mets and Dickey will all leave well enough alone, no matter what the stats show.

    • 16
      John Autin says:

      Matthew, I agree that that is the way things stand. I would just add that, as much as what you describe is a bias for “don’t mess with what’s working,” it’s also a simpler bias towards the conventional.

      But necessity can be the mother of the unconventional. If the Mets should remain in contention past the All-Star break, but continue to have poor performance from the bullpen, the incentive to do something unconventional with Dickey will grow stronger.

  9. 21
    RJ says:

    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?

    • 29
      Lawrence Azrin says:

      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.

    • 30
      John Autin says:

      Lawrence gave you the gist of it, RJ. It’s a simulation of an actual baseball game, based on the past performance of actual players, via cards and dice. It’s not the least bit like fantasy anything. Victory conditions are when one team is ahead at the end of 9 full innings or any full inning thereafter.

      Experienced players can play a game in 20-30 minutes.

      The “board game” version, which is all I’ve ever played, has individual player cards that reproduce, along probability lines, the player’s actual performance in a given season.

      The game is transacted on a “play by play” basis; there are no individual pitches. A basic at-bat consists of rolling 3 standard dice, one of which is a separate color. Both the batter’s card and the pitcher’s card contain lists of outcomes, divided into 3 columns; the batter’s columns are headed “1”, “2” and “3”, the pitcher’s columns are “4”, “5” and “6”. The one colored die determines which column you look in. Each column has 11 possible outcomes, numbered 2 through 12, corresponding to the total of the other two dice.

      Most ABs are settled right there, but there are some other variable outcomes where you have to refer to fielding rating of a particular position and do another dice roll.

      Most strategic elements of the real game are present in S-O-M: you can choose to steal, hit-and-run, bunt, hold a runner on base, bring the infield in (or the outfield), give an intentional walk, bring in substitutes. When I played, they didn’t have any “shift” or individual fielder positioning options. There are times when you can decide whether a baserunner will try to stretch for an extra base, and the defense then chooses to throw through or cut the throw to prevent trail runner advancement.

      All outcomes are determined by dice and charts. There’s a basic version of the game for beginners, an advanced version (with platoon differentials and more complex fielder ratings), and I think even a super-advanced version. Individual fielders are rated for range and error frequency, and throwing arms for outfielders and catchers.

      The company started introducing even more complexity right when my heavy playing days ended, including park factors, but I never did much with those.

      Here’s a link to one of the video blogs on the company’s site:

  10. 28
    Richard Chester says:

    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

  11. 31
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