They say people like us need to "actually watch baseball". While it will be eminently disappointing to lose R.A. Dickey’s statistical presence in the Mets' rotation in 2013 and beyond — he had a 2.95 ERA, 129 ERA+, 3.12 K/BB ratio, 12.1 rWAR in three season with the team — it is going to sting even more not to see him on the mound, dazzling us with his nasty array of pitches. And by nasty array of pitches, I mean his one pitch.
I’ve always been a fan of pitches that, regardless of outcome, make your draw drop: The knee-buckling 12-to-6 curveball, the razor-sharp slider, the frisbee slider, the splitter that falls off the table at the last second. To say that R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball was impressive is an understatement. The pitch was a work of art, and Dickey was the mad genius.
If there is any one pitch that perfectly encapsulates the grandeur of Dickey’s knuckleball, it was one he threw to Giancarlo Stanton in the fourth inning of the his final start of the season on October 2, 2012 game. With a man on second and a 2-2 count, Dickey threw Stanton a knuckleball that had 5.9 inches of glove-side movement and 10.8 inches of vertical movement. Seeing that in writing sounds impressive, but words do the pitch no justice. In order to fully appreciate the pitch, it must be seen. Via Fangraphs:
While this was one of Dickey’s most impressive knuckleballs, they are by no means rare things. With some regularity, Dickey throws knuckleballs that seem to violate the laws of physics. Now that Dickey's been traded to the Blue Jays, we are very rarely going to be able to see them unless we buy MLB.tv. While we can cry about this for days and days — and, trust me, I intend to — the purpose of this is to celebrate the great times we had with that knuckleball, not to mourn its loss. To do that, here are the greatest Dickey-like pitches from 2012:
They call these kinds of curveballs "knee-buckling" for a reason, and here it is played out in front of our eyes. Not only did Ramirez bail out on the pitch and almost fall on his ass, but the pitch landed in the zone for a strike.
Clayton Kershaw throws the gold-standard of curveballs. When Vin Scully, who has seen some good pitchers and curveballs in his decades as broadcaster — deems your curve "public enemy number one," you know you’ve got something special. Gregor Blanco isn’t that great of a hitter to begin with, and he already doesn’t hit as well against lefties as he does right-hand pitchers, but this is just not fair. In the bottom of the fourth, the bases were loaded, and Blanco had the chance to pile on more runs against the hated Dodgers. Instead, he ran into that.
Bases loaded, one out, and Mike Napoli at the plate. Not a situation you want to be in. No sweat, A.J. Griffin says. When the ball was coming out of his hand, it looked like Griffin was going to airmail the pitch and a run was going to come home. Instead, the ball winds up near the middle of the strike zone, and Mike Napoli is punched out looking.
Christian Garcia looked like something of a revelation for the pitching-rich Nationals when he was called up at the end of the season. Pitching like this, it’s no wonder he logged a 191 ERA+ in 13 appearances. He actually missed with the pitch — Kurt Suzuki was set up down and away — but with that much break and a Daniel Murphy who was swinging away, it didn't matter. Within nanoseconds, the slider seems to go from the letters to the dirt.
In an age where some pitchers throw in the high 90s and touch 100 mph with ease, we sometimes forget that catching up to a 91-mph fastball can be difficult as well. If this pitch was a mathematical equation, the amount of drop that this splitter has would make it exponentially that much harder to hit by what? We’ll have to ask original Met Jay Hook, who has a master’s in thermodynamics.
Yu Davish’s slider to Matt Joyce via Fangraphs
Poor Matt Joyce. It’s like Yu Darvish is picking on him. I mean, a pitch like that just really isn’t fair, especially to start out an at-bat. What kind of pitcher (a) has the ability to throw a slider like that, (b) has the ability to throw a slider like that for a strike, and (c) has the ability to throw a slider like that for a strike against a live batter in a game and actually does it?
I’m not really even sure what to call this pitch. A shuuto, maybe, since in effect that is what the shuuto is? I’m just going to call it a "badass pitch" and leave it at that. And it was a swinging strike, to boot!
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In closing, I’ll leave us with another Dickey knuckleball, perhaps my favorite one of all time, even more than aforementioned pitch to Stanton. It’s one of his Dickeyphus pitches, one of his slow knuckleballs that crossed home plate at 55.5 mph.
What draws me to this pitch is the way it mesmerizes everybody in the frame: catcher, batter, and umpire. As it nears the plate, all three seem to be so spellbound by the pitch that, unconsciously, they all start leaning in towards it as it arrives.
Farewell, R.A. We will all miss you and your incredible knuckleball.