Tuesday, December 11, 2012

R.A. at 42: a look at knuckleball pitchers from age 38 to 42.


Right now people are negotiating over R.A Dickey's contract and doing a very bad job of it. Somewhere in an office at Citi Field an offer was made of 2 years, 20 million dollars to resign the man who just won the Cy Young. 10 million dollars a season is less money then Dice-K and Joe Blanton made last year, Derek Lowe made about 5 million more. According to 2012 salaries Dickey would be the 36th highest paid pitcher in baseball, just ahead of Matt Garza. The sad part? Dickey isn't far off from accepting. He is asking for 26 million dollars over two years, having lowered his previous request of 40 million over four years. They say that Dickey worries he will be seen as a fluke (discounting the fact that this is his third year in a row of elite pitching) and other teams aren't willing to pay what he deserves because of his age. I thought it would be interesting to see how other knuckleballers fared in their age 38-42 seasons, the period Dickey is entering now.

I decided to take a look at the knuckle ball mafia that helped Dickey get where he is, Charlie Hough, Phil Niekro and Tim Wakefield. Three knucklers who all pitched well into their 40's and represent a good mix of eras. First up, let's look at Niekro:

Niekro age
WAR
ERA
IP
k/9
bb/9
38
6.4
4.03
330.1
7.14
4.47
39
9.4
3.88
334.1
6.88
2.75
40
4
3.39
342
5.47
2.97
41
3.5
3.63
275
5.76
2.78
42
2.1
3.1
139.1
4
3.62

The first thing you should notice here is that 9.4 WAR. Niekro had the best season he ever pitched at age 39, for some context a 9.4 WAR would have beat every pitcher in 2012 by about three wins. Niekro pulled ERA's under three for every year but one and actually improved as time went on, posting his lowest ERA in this group at his age 42 season. The amount of innings he pitched went down through the years but it pretty much doesn't matter when we are talking about a drop of 330 IP to 275 four years later, all of those numbers would have led the league in the current day. We can see here that Niekro showed no deterioration as he got older and remained an elite pitcher through age 42. Next up is Charlie Hough:

Hough age
WAR
ERA
IP
k/9
bb/9
38
2.3
3.79
285.1
7.03
3.91
39
4.2
3.79
252
6.21
4.5
40
3.3
3.32
182
4.65
4.7
41
-0.3
4.35
218
4.69
4.9
42
0.4
4.07
199
4.83
4.24

Charlie also continued to play well into his 40's. He had a poor age 41 season where he battled some injuries but came back and was positive again at age 42. For those wondering if that was the beginning of the end for him should take note of his age 45 season in 1993 when he put up a 2.4 WAR for the Marlins. One thing you will notice with Charlie is his relatively poor strike out and walk numbers. In his age 41 season he has a less than .5 and even in his best years he had a lot of trouble. This is typical of most knuckleballers as the ball tends to move all over the place and produce more outs from weakly hit balls than by K's. Dickey is all by account the first knuckleball pitcher to overcome this. He has never issues many walks, frequently being a league leader in strikes thrown. In addition he led the league this year on strikeouts with 230.

Finally let's take a look at Tim Wakefield:

Wakefield
WAR
ERA
IP
k/9
bb/9
38
2.7
4.15
225.1
6.03
2.72
39
1.7
4.63
140
5.79
3.28
40
2.7
4.76
189
5.24
3.05
41
2
4.13
181
5.82
2.98
42
2
4.58
129.2
5
3.47

Wakefield was not as good but the important note here is that he was consistent. From ages 38-42 he never put up an ERA under four but his career ERA was 4.41, a number he beat twice in those years. While Wakefield was never great he remained about as good as he always was. He also continued to be an innings eater, posting pretty good numbers of IP throughout this five year stretch. I always heard from Pelfrey apologists how important his ability to pitch so many innings is, why don't we value this as highly for the Dickster?

These numbers reliably show one thing. Knuckleball pitchers do not show any significant drop off in their later years, specifically their age 38-42 seasons, which Dickey is entering now. Each of these men continued to excel and in some cases get better as they aged. R.A. Dickey is not a fluke. He has proven over three years he is an elite pitcher and all the evidence shows his best years may be yet to come.


No comments:

Post a Comment