Coming off the best season of his long career, 38-year-old pitcher R.A. Dickey is set to make his debut in Toronto on April 2. His signature knuckleball pitch will be crucial to the Blue Jays’ season. But just how does he do it?
The Globe analyzed every pitch he made last season — nearly 3,500 in all — to explain his methodology.
Explore R.A. Dickey's 2012 campaign by searching through every pitch he made last year. You can see what he threw to specific batters or on specific dates. You can also refine your results to see how many he threw for strikes, balls or hits.
Dickey throws a lot of knuckleballs — nearly 85 per cent of all pitches last season, or just more than 2,800. His other weapon is the four-seam fastball, which he deploys selectively, only 14 per cent of the time. He relies on it most often for the first or fifth pitch in the count and reaches maximum velocity in the seventh inning. Three out of four times, his previous pitch is a slow knuckleball that averages 70 mph. And he’s more than twice as likely to throw his fastball against a right-hander as opposed to a lefty. By comparison, he throws his knuckleball evenly against hitters on either side of the plate.
The knuckleball's lack of spin makes it very difficult to hit. A fastball will rotate 16 to 17 times before reaching the plate. But the knuckleball typically rotates just once or twice. This allows wind and drag to have a larger effect on its overall movement, which is believed to cause the ball to wobble on its way to the plate. Speed is also a factor. While Dickey's knuckleball is unusually fast, it still crosses the plate at an average speed of 70 mph, with the slowest being 51 mph and the fastest being 76 mph. By comparison, his four-seam fastball is clocked between 79 and 86 mph.
Dickey’s best performances to date were his back-to-back complete game one-hitters in June of last year (both coming against American League East teams, no less). On June 13, he defeated the Tampa Bay Rays 9-1, striking out 12 and walking none. A week later he threw 114 pitches against the Baltimore Orioles, striking out 13 in a 5-0 complete-game shutout. Dickey became the first major leaguer in 24 years to throw consecutive one-hitters (and get this – the last guy to do that was Toronto’s Dave Stieb in 1988) and the 10th since 1900. Below, find a breakdown of each inning of the Baltimore game, with each pitch colour-coded to identify whether it was a ball, strike or hit.