Wednesday, April 20, 2005


Knuckleballers Part Deux

In honor of Tim Wakefield's new contract, the subject today is knuckleballers. I do not plan on bringing any new information together regarding knuckleballers, but I want to try and tie some loose ends up of other writers who are much smarter than I.

Voros McCracken told us in 2001 that "There is little if any difference among major-league pitchers in their ability to prevent hits on balls hit in the field of play." Tom Tippett argued that point, saying certain pitchers do have a greater ability to reduce the rate of hits on balls in play than others, most notably many knuckleballers. Clay Davenport told us a few days back, on his excellent article (sorry everyone, premium content)that asked whether or not McCracken's theory applied to the minor leagues as well as the majors, that McCracken later refined his theory to state: "the differences between major league pitchers is small, much smaller than commonly believed, and small enough to be insignificant information." He also states that Tippett's article contradicts McCracken while also proving him to be on to something, because Tippett's list shows that most pitchers do not have an effect. Does this research show that knuckleballers are a special breed, better able to control the rate of hits on balls in play? Granted, Tippett shows us that there are pitchers (Pedro Martinez, Jamie Moyer, etc.) that prevent hits on balls in play, which is probably what makes them special pitchers over a long period of time, but what about all of the other guys? The league average pitchers, the #2 and #3 starters...and the knuckleballers.

It seems as if the knuckleballers are a step above the aforementioned pitchers as pitchers who do in fact control the rate of hits on balls in play, which obviously would be a credit to the knuckler. Is this because knuckleballers give up a considerable number of homeruns, or do I just think that is the case due to my experience with Tim Wakefield's career? I say this, because the formula for BABIP is (H-HR)/(2.75*IP+H-HR-SO) The formula takes homeruns out, a large source of the run production against Wakefield. Wakefield does not always have a problem with homeruns, but I see a few high 20's and 30's numbers in homeruns allowed per season when you glance at his career stats. HR/9 IP for his career is 1.135, or slightly over one per game. For a guy who makes 30+ starts a year, that is a very good total. So what is Wake's career BABIP, since homeruns are taken out of the equation? Wake's career BAPIP is .291...the major league average from 1994-2004 (read, the bulk of Wake's career) is .309. A difference of .018 points in batting average, when discussed in a 10-year sample size, is pretty substantial. That difference, of .018 seems substantial compared to McCracken's theory that the difference is basically insignificant. Then again, it takes a certain kind of pitcher to prove the contrary of McCracken's theory, and that pitcher just might be the knuckleballer. I for one agree with what McCracken has come up with so far, as far as the difference being insignificant, but I also agree that Tippett has a point that certain pitchers do in fact have an ability to reduce the rate of hits on balls in play. Sometime in the future I'm sure someone much, much smarter than I will devise a way to reconcile the findings of those two sabermeticians and tell us exactly why Jamie Moyer, Pedro Martinez, and Tim Wakefield of all people have a special ability to reduce the rate of hits on balls in play that your poor Jon Garlands and Paul Wilson's just cannot seem to figure out.

NOTE: Looking through some more articles, I completely forgot that McCracken stated that knuckleballers were an exception to this rule at one point, after some more refining. But it is interesting to see how much of an exception to the rule they are.

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