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Monday
Feb202012

Tim Wakefield Tidbits

So long, Tim Wakefield. The 45-year-old has lobbed his last flutterball toward home plate, retiring after a 19-year career made possible by the knuckler. While he finished third in Rookie of the Year voting with the Pirates in 1992, Wake was left for dead after a disastrous 1993 during which he was demoted to the minors. Instead, he latched on with the Red Sox and went on to throw more innings (3,006) than any other pitcher in club history while placing third in wins (186), behind Roger Clemens and Cy Young.

Wakefield was rarely an ace-caliber arm, making just one All-Star team and finishing with a 105 ERA+, but he'll go down as one of the most beloved pitchers in Sox history. In honor of the knuckleballer, here are some Tim Wakefield tidbits:

- Some guys are likely hooting and hollering that no hitter will ever have the misfortune of facing Wakefield and his knuckler again. Here are the batters who had the lowest career OPS versus Wakefield (minimum 20 plate appearances):

PlayerPAOPS
Reed Johnson 23 .367
Cecil Fielder 30 .348
Jay Buhner 28 .334
David Newhan 22 .332
Denny Hocking 20 .300
Jeromy Burnitz 21 .297
Rocco Baldelli 28 .294
Jerry Hairston 28 .263
Doug Mientkiewicz 20 .205
Adrian Beltre 21 .095

 

- Other guys, meanwhile, are sad to see him go. Aaron Rowand and Vlad's chances of reviving their respective careers just got a little harder, and Kevin Millar certainly "Got Eeeeem!" when he faced his erstwhile teammate. Here are the hitters with the highest career OPS against Wake:

PlayerPAOPS
Aaron Rowand 25 1.782
Vladimir Guerrero 35 1.749
Dave Nilsson 32 1.679
Juan Encarnacion 20 1.676
Olmedo Saenz 20 1.538
Jose Lopez 20 1.45
Phil Nevin 23 1.378
Evan Longoria 25 1.362
Kevin Millar 37 1.361
Jose Canseco 27 1.36

 

 - Wakefield's knuckleball didn't just fool hitters. Since 2008 (the first year for which we have Pitch F/X data) to 2011, Wakefield's knuckler got called strikes on pitches thrown out of the strike zone 14% of the time. The league average for all pitches over that time is 10.5%. He got those extra calls on pitches thrown in the upper half of the zone:

Wakefield's called strike rate on out-of-zone pitches taken by batters, 2008-11 

- Wake's threw his knuckler at a bunch of different speeds, ranging from 54 mph up to 76 mph. Check out his distribution of knuckleballs by velocity:

VelocityPct. Thrown
60 mph or less 5
61-65 mph 35.4
66-70 mph 51.6
70+ mph 8

 

His really slow knucklers were most effective, while his "power" knuckleballs were hit the hardest:

VelocitySlugging Pct.
60 mph or less .358
61-65 mph .456
66-70 mph .392
70+ mph .472

 

- The element of surprise is key to the knuckleball. Hitters, Wakefield and his catcher had next to no idea where the knuckler would end up, and that's reflected in his percentage of pitches thrown to each region of the strike zone:

LocationPct. Of Knuckleballs thrown to location
Up and In 9.2
Up and Middle 14.5
Up and away 10.8
Middle and In 11.7
Middle and Middle 18.2
Middle and Away 13.6
Down and In 6
Down and Middle 9
Down and Away 7

 

- Wakefield's knuckleball and the element of surprise made his low-70s "fastball" -- which would be smacked into orbit under normal circumstances -- a decent pitch in small doses. Wakefield threw his fastball about 5% of the time from 2008-11, with hitters slugging .427 against the pitch. That's actually below the .441 MLB average over the past four seasons.

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