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Entries in New York Mets (15)

Friday
May102013

Hitters Laying Off Dickey's Knuckler

For three years in Queens, R.A. Dickey disproved the notion that knuckleball pitchers are mercurial creatures whose control goes through jarring spells of precision and wildness. Dickey issued just 2.2 walks per nine innings with the Mets from 2010-12, compared to the average of 2.9 BB/9 for starting pitchers over that time frame. Flutterball pitcher or not, Dickey didn't hurt himself with free passes.

In 2013, though, the reigning Cy Young Award winner has walked 4.1 batters per nine frames with the Blue Jays. That's his highest walk rate since he was but a knuckleball neophyte getting lit up in Minnesota. You might think that Dickey hasn't been as sharp with his knuckler this season, and that's part of the problem (his percentage of knuckleballs thrown in the strike zone has decreased from 54% in 2012 to 51% in 2013). But the bigger issue is that hitters haven't been nearly as tempted to take a cut at Dickey's signature pitch as it dances off the plate.

Check out opponents' swing rate by pitch location against Dickey's knuckleball during his Cy Young season in 2012, and his Cy Yuk year so far in 2013. Pay particularly close attention to knucklers thrown around hitters' knees:

2012

 

2013

Dickey got hitters to chase 34% of his knuckleballs out of the strike zone last season. This year? Just 23%. The decline in chases is most acute on low knucklers -- 31% in 2012, and 13% in 2013. Compounding matters, Dickey is throwing more out-of-the-zone knuckleballs low this season (41%) than last (32%).

Without all of those chases, Dickey is falling behind in the count nearly twice as often as he did last season (14.5% of hitters' plate appearances last year, 27.4% in 2013). That's a recipe for not just walks, but also extra-base knocks from so many unfavorable counts. It's hard to say why hitters are suddenly laying of Dickey's low knucklers. But it might be time for a meeting of the Jedi Council of Knuckleballers.

Saturday
Apr132013

Matt Harvey's High Heat

The Mets are off to a 6-4 start this year, and Matt Harvey is a major reason why. Harvey has surrendered just one run while winning his first two starts, punching out 19 batters in 14 innings pitched. The 24-year-old right-hander with a blistering fastball is challenging hitters with high heat -- and he's winning.

Here is Harvey's fastball location so far in 2013:

Overall, major league starting pitchers have thrown about 35% of their fastballs to the upper third of the strike zone this season. But Harvey? He's going upstairs 53% of the time, highest among National League starters throwing at least 100 pitches. Harvey's high heat is getting results, too. He's getting hitters to swing and miss at his fastball nearly half of the time, putting him in a class all his own among MLB starters:

Highest fastball miss rate among MLB starters (min. 100 thrown)

 

Harvey has thrown his fastball, which screams towards home plate at an average of 94 MPH and has topped out at 98 MPH, about two-thirds of the time. Opponents are hitting .154 (4-for-26) against his heater, with a lone extra-base knock (congrats, Jimmy Rollins!) Eat your heart out, Verlander and Strasburg.

Thursday
Nov152012

The Faster the Knuckler, The Better for Dickey

Robert Allen Dickey is 38 years old, has no ulnar collateral ligament and tops out at 86 miles per hour on the radar gun. Based on those facts, Dickey sounds like a third starter in the Frontier League. Yet the man who scaled Mt. Kilimanjaro has now reached the apex of the pitching profession, winning the 2012 NL Cy Young Award. The genesis of Dickey's dancing knuckleball has been well-documented, but here's something you might not know: The faster Dickey throws his knuckler, the better.

Dickey threw his knuckleball between 66 MPH and 83 MPH during the 2012 season, though he almost always hit at least 70 MPH on the gun. His slower knuckleballs actually got crushed. As he increased the knuckler's speed, however, his strike rate soared and his opponent slugging percentage plummeted:

Dickey's knuckleball by pitch velocity

VelocityPct. ThrownOpponent Slugging Pct.Strike Pct.
70-74 MPH 13 .712 63.7
75-79 MPH 71.1 .345 67.1
80+ MPH 15.9 .251 73.5

 

Dickey got such fantastic results with his faster knuckleballs in part because hitters chased those pitches far off the plate. Check out hitters' swing rate by pitch location against Dickey's knuckleball, broken down by velocity. They couldn't help themselves against faster flutterballs, particularly those thrown high out of the strike zone:

Hitters' swing rate by pitch location against Dickey's 70-74 MPH knuckleballs

 

Hitters' swing rate by pitch location against Dickey's 75-79 MPH knuckleballs

 

Hitters' swing rate by pitch location against Dickey's 80+ MPH knuckleballs

When Dickey tossed a knuckleball between 70-74 MPH, hitters chased out of the zone about 19 percent of the time. That chase rate climbed to 32% on knuckleballs thrown between 75-79 MPH, and shot up to 48% on knucklers thrown at 80+ MPH. Holy Niekro!