Sportsnet’s MLB analyst Gregg Zaun came up with the great line last year before the regular season started that the knuckleball is a fickle mistress. Yes, it is true that the pitch is unpredictable in that there are so many variables involved (e.g. wind speed and direction). Still, there are early signs that Toronto Blue Jays R.A. Dickey is pitching much better than last year.
Why? Well, for one thing he is not playing through neck and back injuries like he started off with last year. It could be that he is also not being distracted with the World Baseball Championship, a new team, 60 Minutes interviews, a book launching or his charity activities for sexually abused children in the developing world.
My guess that it could be that he made an alteration to his pitching style. It is a change that most likely will help him pitch in the Rogers Centre. What is it? If you compare Dickey’s ground out versus air out rate so far this spring to his work last year, you can see that he is making an effort on keeping the ball down.
There is a good reason for this. Dickey gave up 35 home runs last year. That was a lot. Still, if the ball hits the ground more; ergo, less the chances of hearing the phrase, “Good bye, Mr. Rawlings.”
Dickey’s GO/AO rate as it stands today is 16 to 7 or 2.29. Last year, during the regular season his GO/AO was 219 to 259 or 0.85. It’s early, but that is an appreciable difference. Dickey may also be putting more trust in the defence behind him this year.
I realize it is way too early to make inferences about a pitcher’s body of work after only 11 innings of spring training but it is an interesting trend. R.A. Dickey is an intelligent man. He knows that if he is to do better in a hitter’s park like the Rogers Centre then he must keep the number of home runs down. I believe his higher ground out rate reflects this awareness. Fickle mistress or not, Dickey seems to be keeping his knuckleball more grounded.