Suck it, Jayson Stark (All praise the wobbley knuckler)

May 11th, 2007 → 9:53 am @ // 16 Comments

I, kid, I kid…but on a morning like this one, this story on “Pitchers You’d Pay to Watch” raises my hackles. (To be fair, Stark’s story isn’t supposed to be representative of his thinking; he queried 20 GMs, assistant GMs, and scouts. But that’s a group that’s been known to be fairly ignorant when it comes to baseball…)

You could probably more or less guess the makeup of this list after downing a half-case of Sam Adams: Santana, King Felix, Dice-K, Clemens, Oswalt, Wagner, Zumaya. Pedro and Peavy got votes, as did Beckett and Bedard. And — here I’ll quote Stark — “(believe it or not) Tim Wakefield.” Jamie Moyer did not get a “believe it or not.” Tim Lincecum did not get a “believe it or not.” But Wake did.

Which is odd: the knuckleball is a dying art, and when a knuckleballer is on his game, there’s little that’s more fun to watch. I know Zumaya can throw 100 mph gas; I also know I can’t distinguish between a three-digit heater and a 92-mph heater, and if you say you can with your naked eye, you’re a stone-cold liar. Felix’s slider is a nasty, nasty weapon; Oswalt is fun just because he’s a fucking tiger, and Dice-K is, well, Dice-K. But watching a dumpy 40-something toss up paper airplanes that make professional ballplayers’ eyes bug out like Wile E. Coyote’s (and make them swing with such ferocity as to risk throwing out their backs)…now that I’d pay to watch. Especially because you’re likely to see it less and less as time goes on.

There’s also the fact that, at the moment, Wake is, hands down, the best starter in the league. He leads the AL in ERA (1.79.) He leads the league in BAA (.189). He’s put up six quality starts in seven games, compared to five each for Beckett and Schill. After last night’s absolute beauty of a game, he has a May ERA of 0.00, a May WHIP of .714, and lefties are hitting .132 off him for the month. On the season, he’s given up about 20 percent fewer hits than Beckett (38 vs. 31) and a little more than 30 percent fewer than Schilling (45 vs. 31). Even taking into account the fact that he obviously won’t keep this up all year, I’m still willing to bet he’ll have been year-end stats than Roger “Give me $8,000-per-pitch or I’ll stay in Texas” Clemens.

The lack of respect for Wake has been a bit of a bete noire for me as of late, and when I get something stuck in my craw, I’m likely to keep on gnawing on it until I can force it down. I’m thrilled that Beckett seems to have given up the bullheaded ways of his (recent) past. I’m also excited that Schilling appears to be closer to the ’04 model than the ’05 model; the Sox need both of these guys to play deep into October. But it would be nice if, instead of another SportsCenter or Baseball Tonight segment on one of these two, or instead of another full-length feature about Dice-K, someone, somewhere (besides here, I mean) decided to highlight a 40-year old pitcher who’s demonstrated the beauty of a skill that looks to be in its twilight years. After all, if you were a kid, wouldn’t you want to get noticed (and paid) for bringing the high heat (even if it resulted in a mediocre record) instead of getting looked over (and underpaid) for quietly making the best hitters in the world look like fools?

***

There’s no better time to read about your favorite team than when they’re doing well; it’s a truth that I quite well growing up in Boston. Which is why this is an absolutely perfect time to read Feeding the Monster, which is available from Amazon for only $17.16 (cheap!). And, of course, free signed and personalized bookplates are here for the asking. They’re really nice. Seriously: ask anyone you know who has one. Or just write in. But whatever you do, act today. There’s no better way to add to the glow of this springtime dominance than to revel in the victories and triumphs of the last several years.


Post Categories: Sports Reporters & Tim Wakefield

16 Comments → “Suck it, Jayson Stark (All praise the wobbley knuckler)”


  1. jcelephant

    10 years ago

    What you need to talk about is why ESPN is devoting so much space on their website and on their broadcasts to the Yankees. There are two hot teams in baseball right now: the Brewers and the Red Sox. Does ESPN even have stories on their website about this? No.

    It is driving me crazy the way ESPN is openly rooting for the Yankees. The best pitcher in baseball right now is Wake, that is a story. He is lights out right now and yet ESPN has not even written one word on it nor reported it on their broadcasts. Any bets on what would happen if Wake was a Yankee?

    Reply

  2. Mr. Furious

    10 years ago

    You watch the highlights of that game on ESPN and they never even acknowledge who started for the Sox, never mind that he took over and ran away with the ERA lead….

    I had the game on online (GameCast) last night and every time Wake got a batter out his ERA dropped a point. Kind of cool to watch the stat update instantly through the game.

    Reply

  3. tinisoli

    10 years ago

    A few things about knuckleballers that tends to keep them out of the limelight:

    – Some of them (Wake) aren’t even pitchers until they are in professional baseball. I think this fuels the perception that these guys simply got lucky, and that they may not be all that talented. It’s as if they only became knuckleballers because they couldn’t hack being “real” pitchers or position players. This is nonsense, yes, but I think it’s a factor.

    – They throw a pitch that is so unpredictable that their “control” of it can seem more a matter of luck or environmental conditions than true athleticism or precision. A power pitcher like Zumuya has to throw hard and accurately, whereas with Wakefield it appears that he’s lobbing a magic ball toward the plate and counting on properties of the local atmosphere to help it work its magic. Again, we know this is not true, but it’s hard to keep in mind just how much control and precision Wakefield actually does need. It seems that there’s more luck involved in a knuckleball pitcher’s success, whereas a power guy is either succeeding or failing because of his arm and his control. In a way, Wakefield is counting on things other than his own actions, but he also has to be much more aware of those other conditions than most pitchers do.

    – The velocity factor. It’s more dramatic for a guy to swing-and-miss on a 100-mph heater than to watch someone get fooled by a magic pitch. The power pitcher is throwing as hard as he can and the batter has to swing as fast as he can just to hit it, let alone make good contact. It’s power versus power, like some kind of clash of the titans. A good knuckler is almost like a magic trick being played on some chump from the audience. It’s like we give Wakefield credit for knowing how to play this trick on batters, rather than giving him props for besting them through brawn or “drive” or ferocity.

    Reply

  4. sonomasox

    10 years ago

    All aboard the Wake wagon. He’s been shaky but always there and now ridicuoulsy befuddling. Outside of Tek and until ’06 Nixon – you couldn’t ask for a better, more unassuming work horse that got the job done.

    Check out http://www.soxaholix.com/tp/2007/05/i_hear_a_sympho.html#comment-69212970
    This is the 2nd or 3rd recent inclusion of Wake and the sad state of Timmy paraphenalia.

    And for signed Mnook books – count me in as one of those that think they’re “really nice.”

    Reply

  5. anonymouseducator

    10 years ago

    You forgot to mention that the knuckleball also gives Joe Morgan the chance to correctly identify a pitch every once in a while. Also it is kind of amusing to listen to him talk about a slider at the knees while the replay shows a fastball at the letters.

    Reply

  6. anonymouseducator

    10 years ago

    You forgot to mention that the knuckleball also gives Joe Morgan the chance to correctly identify a pitch every once in a while. Although it is kind of amusing to listen to him talk about a slider at the knees while the replay shows a fastball at the letters.

    Reply
  7. […] • Here’s how LeBron was left off the first-team All-Stars. [Cavaliers Blog] • It’s kind of crazy how good Tim Wakefield has been so far this year. [SethMnookin.com] • “Scouting Reports For Your Excessive Keeper League.” [McSweeney’s] • A clip-heavy look at what makes an MVP. [The Starting Five] • Ricky Williams, stoned again. [ESPN] • And excellent proposal for the Cardinals, in the wake of Josh Hancock. [Viva El Birdos] […]

    Reply

  8. kinshane

    10 years ago

    Mnookage, Timmuh actually has an official site that is severely underused (again, thank the Soxaholix for pointing it out). I think it is offline right now, but I contacted the webmaster yesterday to see about fixing it. If we want to support our main man, let’s make that buggah live again. I think I have the last two forum posts and they’re a month old.

    Like you, the lack of love for the Knucklah has gotten under my craw.

    Reply

  9. kinshane

    10 years ago

    I meant to say the forum part is offline. The website is working fine, but I can’t post new stuff in the forum.

    Reply

  10. schiraldi

    10 years ago

    I’m guessing one of the reasons Wakefield wasn’t on the list is because he’s been 39-36 over the past four seasons. Or maybe it’s the fact that he has a playoff ERA of 6.12, which is well over seven once his starts for Pittsburgh are subtracted. He’s a great guy and an innings eater, but man, if he’s starting one of your first three playoff games, you are in trouble. I guess if the question is which pitcher would be most like watching Oasis in concert–could be good, could be 90 minutes of Liam spitting into the audience–than Tim Wakefield is your man. He has three speeds; great–like right now, mediocre–which is why the Red Sox keep re-signing him on the cheap, or crappy, one of his 142 pitch 13 hits in six innings outings that makes you ponder whether you will ever watch another American league game again.

    Reply

  11. wired1

    10 years ago

    I have noticed the lack of respect Wake gets. For some reason, there seems to be an assumption that all knucklers are equal; at least five times I have heard Michael Kay ask one of his broadcast mates ‘would you want a knuckleballer on your staff, because they’ll either be great or terrible, but will ultimately be 500’.

    Well, a good knuckleballer is better than a bad pitcher obviously, and because Tim Wakefield and Charlie Zink both throw the same pitch it does not make them the same pitcher.

    Finally Wakefield has become very consistent, particularly since ’02. The pundits would have one believe that for every excellent outing, a knuckleballer will have an equally terrible showing. Wake should have stood apart from the stereotype by now.

    Reply

  12. schiraldi

    10 years ago

    Well, the only problem is that Wakefield’s 82-78 since 1999. Let’s give him one more win and one more loss to get him to 83-79 for a 162 game comparison. In that time, the Red Sox have averaged 91-71. So, for the last seven years his winning percentage is significantly lower than the team’s. Perhaps you can chalk one season of win deficiency up to poor run support, but over eight plus seasons the numbers don’t lie: Wakefield is a solidly durable #4 starter and a good clubhouse guy, but not someone anyone is going to put on a ‘must see’ list. Unless you’re a Red Sox fan. He’s like the ‘King of Queens’ of baseball. Nothing special, but all of sudden you’re like ‘holy crap this show has been on forever; Kevin James must be making good coin from syndication.’ And you say ‘That’s nice, he seems like a good guy.’ But are you ever clicking over from Larry Sanders or Jerry Seinfeld? Nope.

    Reply

  13. the_cutty_sark

    10 years ago

    Expanding a bit on the knuckler theme…

    The Sox need a spot starter while Beckett heals. Could it be Charlie Zink time?

    Reply

  14. MSGiro

    10 years ago

    I put this totally unscientific theory together 4 years ago after attending so many games started by Wakefield the previous 5 or so seasons when I would be in Fenway 20 or more times a season. Has anybody noticed that during the part of the season, Spring and Fall, where the air is crisp and cool he is a lights out pitcher? Have you also noticed that when Summer rolls in and we get our first humid day/night that Wakefield gets absolutely shelled? This continues until we get a decent and dry day out of Mother Nature. I believe the knuckler dances and dives quite well when there is little resistance in the air, but factor in some serious water vapor and the dance looks more like the white guy wedding two-step. It’s useless.

    Every season we get all hopped up on Waker’s April/May then forget about him by mid-June/July/August and then fall back in love with him in September and October. I’d really like to see if he can put one more full season together where he gets himself 14-16 wins before he goes all Charlie Hough on us and turns into batting practice for two years too many.

    Reply
  15. […] 1. I moved this weekend. 2. The place I moved into came with all of the previous owner’s crap. 3. I can be superstitious. (Look what happened to Wake in his next two starts after I posted this piece.) […]

    Reply
  16. […] « Suck it, Jayson Stark (All praise the wobbley knuckler) Mathematical proof of what we’ve always known: the Sox really are the nicer team » […]

    Reply

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: