I believe wind is a major factor with the knuckleball, and not just in how you described it. With a headwind, there is more air rushing at the ball, which will magnify the Bernoulli effect (the physics equations that describe the uneven pressure on the ball created by rotation. That pressure causes the movement). This effect is probably similar for each different kind of pitch, creating more movement on breaking balls, etc., as well as the knuckler.
As Charlie Hough once explained to me, the knuckleball actually benefits as well from seemingly still days. Air currents are not continuous, you see, so the “jumping” motion of the knuckler is actually caused by the asymmetries of the wind force on the travel to the plate. These mini air-eddies cause that sharp and unpredictable movement, which is more beneficial to the knuckleball cmp to other pitches (a rotating ball, e.g. any other pitch, has greater angular momentum and is thus less affected by these micro-eddies).
So yes, wind current does matter, but not just macro-conditions. The micro conditions are just as important. However, it’s nearly impossible to measure those. I also expect diminishing returns on the headwind, as I suspect a faster headwind will make the microeddies move in a more consistent general vector; that will increase the movement of the knuckleball, but it will also make the movement less random (no darting in different directions like the true knuckleball; instead, it may resemble more of a knuckle curve).
If my memory and a quick Google serve me properly, most knucklers prefer to pitch indoors as there is no air flow to speak of allowing the pitch to move on its own and in a more consistent fashion.
Without looking things up (mostly because I don’t know how); Wakefield has typically performed above his own average at Tropicana field and the Blue Jays have specifically opened their dome when Wakefield is scheduled to pitch and the weather permits. Both anecdotal, but I am sure someone smarter than I could put some numbers behind his performance at Tropicana compared to his norms.
At the Trop
505 PA / .651 OPS Against / .240 BABIP
At the Metrodome (RIP)
310 PA / .683 OPS Against / .258 BABIP
Against the Rays (home and away)
900 PA / .667 OPS / .251 BABIP
Against the Twins (home and away)
629 PA / .706 OPS / .280 BABIP
At Home (entire career)
6469 PA / .741 OPS / .278 BABIP
On the road (entire career)
6208 PA / .743 OPS / .271 BABIP
I’d say he does pitch better in doors.
For reference, Wakefield averages over 700 PA / season.
Dave, any thoughts on a measure of variation of movement? Could be both direction and magnitude, but I’m guessing direction would be more effective. If a knuckler always breaks the same way, a hitter could anticipate that. Maybe use the angle of the polar coordinates?
I love the knuckleball, but alas, I fear the best hope of the knuckleball surviving past the Wakefield-era would be Eddie Bonine. He isn’t even that impressive, however he does have a low-90’s fastball, and uses the knuckleball as his breaking pitch. It’s an interesting take on knuckleball, and I wish he went to it even more.
Using JUST the amount of movement at the end of the pitch can be misleading with a knuckleball — they are well known break TWICE on occasion: for example, breaking outward at first, then reversing to cross the middle of the plate… it would be interesting to look at the BABIP the knuckleballs with the least movement…
Surely if a knuckleball moves enough (had a number of ”breaks” in its flight) its most likely movement would most often be 0? If thats true should pitch movement not be a relatively poor measurement of the quality of such a pitch?
my answer to that question would have to do with how knuckleball is perceived by coaches et al. the knuckleball tends to be used when pitchers don’t seem to have enough “stuff” to make it to the bigs; along with that is the opinion that the knuckleball is most effetive when it is the primary pitch. i’m not claiming those beliefs are universal but i believe they are common… and because of this most pitchers with a fastball up around 90 usually are considered to not be desperate enough to learn the knuckler. anyway, this is off the top of my head so (other readers) please correct accordingly! and, finally, i would like to join the chorus of love for the knuckler!