Haeger Fails To Knuckle Under

For whatever reason, statistical analysts have a strange fascination with guys who throw the knuckleball. Whenever anybody shows a remote amount of success throwing it, he immediately generates articles from around the world. So, despite the fact that he’s only made two starts in the big leagues this year, I’m guessing you’re aware of Charlie Haeger.

After turning back the clock to give starts to Eric Milton, Jason Schmidt, and Jeff Weaver, the Dodgers have decided to look forward and see what Haeger can offer. The early results have been outstanding, as he’s racked up 14 innings and allowed just three runs so far. His knuckler has been moving, but more importantly, he’s been able to throw it for strikes.

Saturday’s start was a bit different than his first one, however. In his season debut against St. Louis on the 17th, just two of his 80 pitches were fastballs. He went almost exclusively with the knuckler, and it worked. His second time out, he worked in 14 fastballs, mixing speeds a bit more and giving hitters a different look. Unlike most knuckleball specialists, Haeger’s fastball actually can be described as one without being ironic.

He throws it between 81 and 87, and I’ve seen him as high as 89 in the minor leagues. If Tim Wakefield ever threw a pitch at 89 MPH, Jerry Remy would fall out of his chair. Having a fastball that can be described as “just below average” in velocity sets Haeger apart from others who practice the knuckler.

Is he the next Wakefield? Probably not. But I think we’re all hoping he will be. His fastball will be a big key in seeing just how far he can go.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


26 Responses to “Haeger Fails To Knuckle Under”

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  1. Matt B. says:

    Gotta love the knuckleballers. That’s an impressive fastball velocity. If Wakefield’s pitch run value is that high with his fastball, this kid could be even more impressive if his knuckler has even half the success of Wake’s.

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  2. mike says:

    Is he the next Wakefield? Probably not.

    - Why not?

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    • joser says:

      When is any ballplayer “another X”? Less than half the time, surely. So the question “Is Y another X” (where X and Y are ballplayers) is always correctly answered by “probably not.” Which of course argues that the whole phrase is superfluous even as a rhetorical device, but now we’re getting into literary criticism.

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  3. Steve Nolan says:

    There’s gotta be a big difference in arm speed during his delivery between his fastball and knuckleball, right? I feel like that might make it less “effective” than Wakefield’s.

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  4. Judy says:

    Tim Wakefield’s pickoff attempts are thrown harder than his FB, but he doesn’t have to make those look like they could be 65 mph knuckleballs. If Haeger can really throw that hard a FB and that slow a knuckleball and not have hitters eventually be able to see which pitch he’s throwing when, he’d be doing something Wakefield has never been able to do.

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  5. Xeifrank says:

    I believe Haeger’s knuckleball is thrown at a much higher velocity than Wakefield’s too. He doesn’t just lob it in there like Wakefield does.
    vr, Xei

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    • Judy says:

      Looks like only about a 5 mph difference between his average knuckleball velocity and Wakefield’s, while the FB velocity differences being discussed could be up to a 15-17 mph difference. I don’t know what’s possible and what’s not possible or even all that much about knuckleball pitchers, I just know that Wakefield can throw harder than the FB he uses and that he’e explained that he can’t use a FB with more velocity for that reason.

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  6. mike says:

    Joser, we are leaning toward literary crticism, which was my point. It is a waste of time for a writer to write it, and I was merely pointing out the superflous of the statement.

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  7. Evan says:

    Even an 81 mph would be pretty special coming from Wakefield.

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  8. Judy says:

    Yes, I’ve always thought it would be fantastic if Wakefield just threw one FB to a batter as hard as he can without hurting himself before he retires.

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  9. Alireza says:

    Haeger’s knuckleball seems to sit firmly in slow curve velocity territory, somewhere between 68 and 74, so it is definitely faster than Wakefield. It is pretty hard to tell what he is throwing, because he takes a stride and leg kick on every pitch and his arm speed looks similar.

    As for being the next Wakefield, I would hope that he ends up being better, because Wakefield is mostly the beneficiary of a lot of Red Sox hype. As a Dodger fan, I would prefer he be more like the next Tom Candiotti, who was a much better pitcher than Wakefield and who started as a non-knuckleballer like Haeger.

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  10. aweb says:

    A knuckleball grip makes for one hell of a change-up actually, so it’s not implausible that he can keep the same arm speed and throw the knuckler. I use a knuckleball grip playing catch with a softball sometimes when I want to stretch out the arm a bit more than the other person will be able to handle. I can’t throw a knuckler worth a damn with a softball (so it’s not dangerous to the other person), but the grip does take most of the zip off a throw.

    Also, I fail to see how Candiotti ws significantly better than Wakefield. They are almost identical, both with a 108 ERA+, with 2700-2900 IP, WHIPs of 1.30 and 1.35…Candiotti just happened to have a more typical career arc, with a high value peak and a low value decline, whereas Wakefield continues his good/not great value seasons seemingly without end. This year makes 9 in a row at 100 ERA+ or better.

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  11. Matthew says:

    haegars knuckler is way better then wakefields…

    just cause wakefield is bigger and slower doesnt mean anythingg….

    haegar gets wayyyy more swings and misses then wakefield

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    • Matt B. says:

      SSS much?

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      • Matthew says:

        nope haegar just has a better knuckleball

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      • Joe R says:

        Wakefield (since 2002): 0.18 wKN/C
        Haegar (career): -0.38 wKN/C

        FWIW, but let’s not go crowning Haegar the new king of the knuckler just yet…

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      • Matthew says:

        hello… dont count anything from his career…. this man has went to the minor leagues and developed his knuckler into one of the best… he has put hard work and dedication to make his knukler better and better everyday. to count how his knuckler was 5 years ago is childish

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      • Joe R says:

        Great non-analysis, Matthew.

        “Don’t listen to the stats, listen to me, my word is infallable.”

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  12. MU789 says:

    Let’s not get too excited about Haeger yet. Just like Smoltz beat the Padres, Haeger beat the Cubs.

    Wait, I forgot that Soriano didn’t play against Haeger so that makes the Cubs lineup better than the Padres.

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  13. JonnyBS says:

    I guess everyone forget about a current knuckler (R.A. Dickey) who threw faster than Haeger.

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  14. Joe R says:

    I once threw 77 MPH with Tim Wakefield in a video game.

    I proceeded to do the same thing with Eric Hinske and Mark DeRosa.

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  15. Joe R says:

    http://www.baseballprojection.com/war/top500p.htm

    #207 on that list, ahead of guys like Derek Lowe? That’s not too bad for a guy who started his pro career by flaming out brutally in the Pittsburgh farm system as a 1B before realizing he can make his throws dance.

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  16. Joe R says:

    And also, let’s not talk about Jerry Remy falling out of anything right now, he’s had enough health problems. Last thing Red Sox Nation needs right now is more Frank Viola.

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