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:
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.