R.A. Dickey’s Encouraging Velocity Spike

R.A. Dickey‘s first half hasn’t gone that well, as both he and the team struggled early. Lately, though, the Blue Jays are baseball’s most interesting turnaround, with the other players on the roster carrying the team while the Blue Jays knuckleballer tries to get things straightened out. As Eno Sarris noted back in May, Dickey’s velocity has been noticeably down this year, and while that might not seem like a big deal for a knuckleball pitcher, Dickey’s velocity with the floater is what has set him apart from previous hurlers who threw the pitch.

In an interview with Sarris a few weeks back, Dickey noted that health issues have contributed to the problem, but he was hopeful that he’d be able to bounce back soon. Last week, Drew Sheppard created a series of images showing the movement on Dickey’s various knuckleballers, including these two showing the difference in arm speeds from 2012 to 2013.

RA compare

RA compareslow

Well, R.A. Dickey just finished throwing a complete game shutout against the Tampa Bay Rays, getting through the entire game on just 93 pitches while facing just two batters more than the minimum. So, is this a sign that Dickey might be getting back to what he was in New York?

Well, it’s just one start, and it’s one start in a getaway day game. Back on June 5th, Dickey threw 8.1 scoreless innings, allowing just two hits and no runs while facing 29 batters; he followed that by giving up seven runs in his next start. One good outing does not mean that Dickey is “fixed”, and that he’s going to go back to dominating opposing hitters starting now.

However, if there’s something to the idea that Dickey’s effectiveness is related to his ability to throw a hard knuckleball, then PITCHF/x offers an even more encouraging data point from today’s game than the nine shutout innings. While PITCHF/x has Dickey’s average knuckleball velocity at 75.0 mph this year, today it recorded his average velo at 76.7 mph, his highest average velocity since Opening Day. Here is a game by game recording of his PITCHF/x knuckleball velocities for 2013, first visually, than in table form.


Date Opp vKN
6/26/13 @TBR 76.7
6/21/13 BAL 75.8
6/15/13 @TEX 75.9
6/10/13 @CHW 74.7
6/5/13 @SFG 74.3
5/30/13 @ATL 75.6
5/25/13 BAL 74.4
5/20/13 TBR 74.2
5/14/13 SFG 74.8
5/9/13 @TBR 75.3
5/4/13 SEA 75.2
4/28/13 @NYY 73.8
4/23/13 @BAL 74.3
4/18/13 CHW 74.9
4/13/13 @KCR 76.1
4/7/13 BOS 76.4
4/2/13 CLE 76.7

Now, if there’s one type of pitcher that makes it clear that there’s more to pitching than velocity, it’s knuckleball pitchers. Nothing is ever as simple as throw harder = pitch better. However, Dickey’s hard knuckleball is one of his distinguishing features as a pitcher, and he hasn’t really had it for most of 2013. Today, he had it, and he threw a complete game shutout. His first few starts of the year, he had it, and he was awful. This is not to say that Dickey is going to pitch like 2012 Dickey going forward.

But, at the same time, there’s no reason to expect him to keep pitching like first half 2013 Dickey either. While people like to cite the fact that Dickey just had “one fluke season”, that is a total myth, as even the pre-Cy Young version of Dickey was a pretty good pitcher. The Blue Jays would happily take 2010-2011 Dickey as they try to get back in the playoff race.

Predicting the future of any pitcher is hard. Predicting the future of an aging knuckleballer dealing with injury issues is a fool’s errand. I have no idea how Dickey will pitch the rest of the year, but the Blue Jays should be pretty encouraged by today’s outing. Not only did he dominate the Rays, he did it while demonstrating the kind of knuckleball velocity he showed in winning the Cy Young award last year. He’s not going to repeat, but an effective, healthy R.A. Dickey would be a big boost to Toronto’s chances of completing a pretty amazing comeback.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

19 Responses to “R.A. Dickey’s Encouraging Velocity Spike”

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  1. FeslenR says:

    Love R.A. Dickey, hope he bounces back….even if he’s no longer a Met.

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  2. Alan Nathan says:

    I have thought that one of the reasons for Dickey’s effectiveness is the ability to throw the knuckleball at different speeds. The ability to change speeds, when combined with the unpredictability of the movement, gives him a decided edge over the batter. In particular, I am suggesting that if he threw the higher speed knuckleball all the time rather than mixing the speeds, he would be less effective. Although I have not done the analysis myself, I suggest one way to test this theory is to look at the standard deviation of his knuckleball velocities rather than the average value.

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    • Darren says:

      Well he did that today. Look at one of the Luke Scott ABs. He threw a 77mph and a 62-63 knuckler back to back, to strike him out.

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    • FamousAmazingGuy says:

      Alan Nathan is right.

      It comes down to the range of velocity in my opinion. Kinda like when Shaun Marcum was dealing in 2011, he was showing 3 different speeds on his change up that year. Hitters were guessing on both velocity and fighting the movement of the pitch.

      I think it’s kinda the same thing with Dickey. If he’s showing slow, medium, and fast, that’s just overwhelming to most hitters (not to mention that the sneakiness of the fastball becomes more of a factor).

      If it’s just slow to medium, hitters have less to worry about as far as timing, and can concentrate on the movement.

      If Dave Cameron charted the velocity in groupings, I think that would give a clearer picture.

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      • jsolid says:

        “Alan Nathan is right.”

        Now there’s a statement which guarantees that you are correct.

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        • FamousAmazingGuy says:

          Did you just hold a blog comment to a standard higher than that of the common tongue?

          Silly goose.

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  3. Blastings! says:

    Hmm, I watched part of this game and didn’t really see the fast knuckleball of 2012. I did notice he didn’t throw the super-slow knuckleball very much, so that might account for the higher overall average velocity. But I didn’t see the 81-83 MPH knuckler. When he has the knuckler going at that speed, his fastball sits at 84-86, but today it was still 81-82. I want to believe, but…

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    • Blastings! says:

      As you can see in this image, there are six spikes to ~82, all fastballs. There are also six pitches of ~70 and below– has he thrown more of those in past outings this year? I don’t know. It does seem, from looking at past games, that he’s throwing his middle-speed knuckler faster, but the fastest one still eludes him.

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  4. ALEastbound says:

    The knuckler was dancing but I didn’t see a huge increase in velocity (at least according to the Rogers feed/gun). Still, what a dominant performance. He made everyone look very uncomfortable, including Longoria who has worn out Jays pitching.

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    • Will the Circle Change be Unbroken says:

      He made me uncomfortable too. Those pants were way too tight.

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  5. Matty Brown says:

    I was actually hoping for this very topic to be addressed here today. However, I felt I was being greedy, yet you have rewarded my egocentric wishes. Thank you.

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  6. Matt says:

    Well if we are to take him at face value (and he has been remarkably up front about this), he says his back is feeling much better and that it should allow him to pitch more effectively going forward. He came out and said he’d have a good outing today in his ESPN Sportsnation chat he held yesterday, and has now backed it up on the field. I think that means that Dickey will be back to pitching effectively, and hopefully the results will continue to follow.

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  7. everdiso says:

    Using Gameday, I get these general groupings (let’s label his supposed three speeds of knucklers as K1 K2 and K3):


    82: 3
    81: 3


    79: 6
    78: 16
    77: 19
    76: 11
    75: 10
    74: 9
    73: 7
    72: 1
    71: 1
    70: 1
    67: 1
    66: 2
    64: 1
    61: 1

    Not sure if this matches his profile from last year, or is any different than his earlier starts this year, but it does seem to show three speeds…though the separation between the “hard” knuckler and the “medium” knuckler isn’t so clear (though if you look at many individual at bats you can see it more clearly, with him varying between 73mph and 78mph knucklers in many at bats). The majority of knucklers came in around 77-78, and then he consistently mixed in one in the low to mid 70s, and then tossed some of those eephus-like knucklers in the 60s.

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  8. grant says:

    Are the gameday fastballs actually fastballs, or does the program have trouble picking up angry knucklers?

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  9. Kimbal Binder says:

    I wonder if the difference in catcher makes a difference? Did Dickey lack confidence early in the year that Arencibia could catch his best knuckler? His velocity was definitely down earlier in the year. I have not looked into it, but starting out with less confidence in his best pitch may have led to his having lost the touch on what was arguably the best knuckleball since Wilhelm. I wouldn’t trust him to right the ship immediately. Maybe he figures it out by the end of the year and maybe he has three plus seasons for the Jays in 2014-16 and all will be well. But right now? He is a 5.x ERA guy and it looks like he isn’t changing that anytime soon.

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    • Paul says:

      Arencibia was his catcher for only that first start. Then the Jays switched to Blanco and now Thole.

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    • chief00 says:

      Arencibia only caught Dickey on Opening Day. Henry Blanco was his regular catcher for most of the early going, then Josh Thole was re-called (4 starts ago now, I think). Today was easily his best game with Thole.

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  10. Dingbat says:

    Hmm, today the PITCHf/x page for Dickey is showing that his average velocity on his knuckler was just 76.0 yesterday. Did something change since this post was written?

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  11. everdiso says:

    Another tick up in his velocity today. Had his Knuckler topping out regularly at 80-81, and fastball at 84-85. Also seems to have better separation on his 3 knucklers (one sitting 77-80, one 73-74, and then the one in the mid-60s).

    According to gameday:


    85: 2
    84: 5
    83: 2
    82: 3
    81: 2
    80: 7
    79: 3


    81: 1
    80: 7
    79: 15
    78: 5
    77: 12
    76: 8
    75: 6
    74: 7
    73: 8
    72: 4
    71: 2
    70: 1
    67: 1
    66: 1
    63: 2
    62: 1

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