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  1. I thought he wanted a quarter turn because no spin moves too much. As he told Letterman, knuckleballs with a full turn get hit out of the park.

    Comment by Bryce — August 22, 2012 @ 11:19 am

  2. As you may know, John Walsh wrote a very nice article for Hardball Times in November 2007 ( in which he looked at how various batting statistics depends on the *movement* of the k-ball (as opposed to the location). The analysis was based on 1 yr of Wakefield data. Here are John’s results:

    Break | NP | Hit% | HR% | BABIP | OPS |
    | Small | 47 | 0.383 | 0.021 | 0.370 | 0.979 |
    | Medium | 71 | 0.338 | 0.028 | 0.319 | 0.873 |
    | Large | 79 | 0.253 | 0.025 | 0.234 | 0.684 |

    Note that HR% is not strongly correlated with movement (“Break”) but the other quantities are. With nearly 5 more years of Wake and RA data available, this analysis is ripe for a new investigation.

    Comment by Alan Nathan — August 22, 2012 @ 11:40 am

  3. Is true that he said that now that I think about it. Even linked to that clip I think. I think too much spin on the knuckler just means more predictable movement… maybe I applied regular pitch philosophy to the knuckler. Either way, not much of a link between these things and home runs.

    Comment by Eno Sarris — August 22, 2012 @ 11:46 am

  4. That article does need to be relooked at in terms of Dickey – for example, iirc when I looked at it 2 years ago, Dickey doesn’t get in the “Large” area that often, mostly in Medium. When Dickey does get in the large area, he often suffers because the ball is often out of the zone.

    Comment by garik16 — August 22, 2012 @ 12:04 pm

  5. After all, Dickey has said that he wants a quarter-turn from his knuckleball, so less would be bad. Less spin should mean less movement

    How much difference in movement could a quarter-turn cause? If my mental arithmetic is working that’s about 1/50 of the spin on a typical fastball, which “rises” about 8 inches. Is movement proportional to spin rate? If so then the movement from the quarter-turn would be about 0.2 inches, much less than the movement from other sources.

    Comment by Paul Clarke — August 22, 2012 @ 12:05 pm

  6. I’m fascinated to learn that Phil Neikro pitched in the late ’90′s. I had no idea that that was a thing that happened.

    Comment by JimNYC — August 22, 2012 @ 12:31 pm

  7. For “ordinary” pitches, movement is more or less proportional to spin rate, due to the so-called Magnus force. But the mechanism that causes the knuckleball to move is very different and it has to do with the character of the air flow changing as the air passes over the seams. The resulting forces on the ball depend on the seam pattern, which is not very symmetric for a baseball. Wind tunnel experiments have measured those forces. If you use the wind tunnel results to simulate a pitched ball, you can get big differences in the trajectory with a small change in the orientation of the seams upon release or in the amount of rotation. The effects get very small if the ball is rotating too rapidly (meaning, less movement). Of course, if rapidly rotating, then the Magnus force kicks in.

    Comment by Alan Nathan — August 22, 2012 @ 12:32 pm

  8. got that! thanks. yeah that would be some sort of record.

    Comment by Eno Sarris — August 22, 2012 @ 12:36 pm

  9. Trying to use RA Dickey to make conclusions overall about the knuckleball pitch is flawed because Dickey is an enigma. He’s pitching in the biggest K% era in history. Some people believe that is because pitchers are better (e.g. relievers specialized), but a just as plausible explanation is because hitters of this era are the worst in history at making contact (they swing for the fence or nothing, especially seen with the universal removal of the “two-strike approach” from baseball).

    So basically Dickey’s knuckleball appears better than any knuckleball in history because the batters trying to hit it are awful at trying to make contact. The flawed hitters of today are really exposed against movement, they whiff at stuff outside the zone. That is why if you look at all starters over the years since pitchFx data has been available, the percent that they throw fastballs has fallen from 62% down to 55% — why throw a fastball to today’s hitter when they go fishing for junk? This is hugely magnified against Dickey.

    The Dickey fans try to just conclude he’s great, but any explanation of why Dickey should be better than any other knuckleballer in history doesn’t make sense. The argument he “throws it faster” makes no sense because faster means less movement which means it should be crushed, and other knuckleballers have thrown it as fast. The argument that he has better control with it doesn’t make sense either, as everything great about the knuckle comes from its unpredictability, so if he’s “controlling” it, it’s removing the unpredictability, and therefore it’s just a pitch with movement, not the special gimmick that defines a knuckle.

    Basically everyone should just throw knuckleballs now, because it works! Eri Yoshida has only given up 6 HR in 73 IP!

    Comment by Fatbot — August 22, 2012 @ 12:53 pm

  10. Thanks, that’s pretty much what I thought.

    Comment by Paul Clarke — August 22, 2012 @ 1:11 pm

  11. Yeah! That’s what I’m talkin’ about.
    Great hard data post with great hard data comments!
    Another “common sense” notion kicked into the trash.
    Keep ‘em comin’, FanGraphs.

    Comment by Baltar — August 22, 2012 @ 2:15 pm

  12. The less movement on the higher speed knuckleball is true. However, the batter also has less time to respond to the movement at higher speed. So, which effect “wins” as far as the batter is concerned? The answer is not obvious to me.

    Comment by Alan Nathan — August 22, 2012 @ 2:52 pm

  13. “but a just as plausible explanation is because hitters of this era are the worst in history at making contact (they swing for the fence or nothing, especially seen with the universal removal of the “two-strike approach” from baseball).”

    No? This is a gross oversimplification of the current era. This is far from a deadball era. Yes, Ks have gone up, because hitters have realized that effective contact more than can make up for increased strike out rates. That doesn’t make hitters the “worst at making contact” – it means they’re trading pure contact ability for the ability to make BETTER contact.

    ” The argument he “throws it faster” makes no sense because faster means less movement which means it should be crushed, and other knuckleballers have thrown it as fast.”

    Again, an oversimplification. Less movement doesn’t necessarily mean the pitch should be crushed as long as the movement is unpredictable, and higher velocity more than makes up for this by reducing batter reaction time. In addition, higher velocity has been shown to increase GB rates on EVERY type of pitch, thus reducing “crushing”.

    Comment by garik16 — August 22, 2012 @ 3:01 pm

  14. I’m seeing a lot of research as to why Dickey is having one of the most successful seasons by a knuckleballer in history and very little done on how hitters are the worst in history on making contact.

    There isn’t much data here. Yes, batters are swinging outside the zone more, but are making as much contact as they did ten years ago.,ss&rost=0&age=0&filter=&players=0

    And to add to garik’s point about higher velocity inducing more ground balls, fastball velocity has gone up or stayed the same every year but one since 2002 (89.9 in 2002, 91.5 in 2012.) Despite batters making the necessary adjustments, league-wide GB% is still at its highest rate ever, by almost a percentage point. Another statistic showing that batters aren’t simply worse at making contact but making more selective contact is the fact that HR/FB% is the highest it’s ever been.

    Again, only ten years of data, but it would be disingenuous to compare this era to any other. The information we have now is changing the way the game is played quickly.

    Comment by BlackOps — August 22, 2012 @ 3:49 pm

  15. A problem for the knuckleball is that a poorly executed knuckler is pretty defenseless because it (arguably other than R.A. Dickey’s “fast” knuckler) just floats across the plate. Or, as Jim Bouton observed in his book Ball Four about one such knuckler: “float like a watermelon, fly like a rocket.”

    Comment by John C. — August 23, 2012 @ 5:01 pm

  16. Presumably poorly executed means not much movement. See my earlier post about John Walsh’s investigation of this point back in 2007:

    Comment by Alan Nathan — August 24, 2012 @ 2:36 pm

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