Posts Tagged R.A. Dickey

The best knuckleballer over the past 25-30 years….?

In the Blue Jays’ 10-2 victory over the Mariners on September 23, knuckleballer R.A. Dickey pitched a five-hitter through seven innings to thwart Seattle’s fading playoff hopes (while Toronto hammered M’s ace Felix Hernandez for eight runs).

For Dickey, he improved his record to 14-12 with a 3.78 ERA, the third straight season that he’s won at least 14 games.

Well, I was asked recently on Quora.com: Who was the best knuckleball pitcher in baseball in the last 25-30 years?

A lot of fans are going to come up with the names Charlie Hough and Tim Wakefield. Some might even say Dickey, who won the National League Cy Young Award with the New York Mets in 2012.

I’m going to, however, go with former Indians and Dodgers knuckleball pitcher Tom Candiotti, who was the most consistent knuckleballer over the last 25-30 years.

2012-R.A.-Dickey-213x300While Dickey had his one big season with the Mets (as well as a couple of other solid campaigns in New York where he pitched well but didn’t get much run support), he has not been that great with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2013-2014. He hasn’t been able to duplicate his success from that 2012 season, which kind of makes him a one-hit wonder.

Wakefield will always be highly regarded in Boston because of his longevity and his being on two World Series championship teams with the Red Sox in 2004 and 2007, but he had some very ugly seasons where he pitched poorly. In his rookie year with the Pirates, he was nearly unhittable and was a postseason star as he nearly pitched Pittsburgh into the World Series. However, over his postseason career, he was hit very hard and compiled an overall ERA of 6.75 in 18 career playoff appearances. In his final four career postseason starts, Wakefield was 0-3 with a 10.47 ERA. He especially struggled against Cleveland in the playoffs, allowing at least five runs in each of his three career postseason starts versus the Indians. Yes, he wound up winning 200 regular-season games over a 19-year career, but his ERA was over 4.00 in 15 of those seasons. He had six seasons where his ERA was over 5.00. However, he always seemed to win because of good run support with the Red Sox, as he was 14-13 with a 5.14 ERA in 1996 and 17-8 despite a 4.58 ERA two years later.

As for Tom Candiotti, he pitched 16 seasons in the big leagues, and though he finished with a career losing record and “only” 151 victories, he had an ERA over 4.00 only six times. Candiotti nearly won the ERA title in 1991, finishing with a 2.65 earned-run average that was second in the American League only to Roger Clemens (2.62). Had he allowed just one fewer earned run over the course of that season, Candiotti would have won the ERA championship. In 1993, he finished just 8-10, but suffered from atrocious run support while pitching for the Dodgers. That year, he was the ERA leader in the major leagues, pitching to a 2.43 earned-run average entering September before struggling in the season’s final weeks to finish at 3.12. In fact, for a full decade from 1986-1995, Candiotti had a 3.44 ERA, which was one of the best earned-run averages in baseball during that stretch. He also averaged 30 starts and over 200 innings during that decade, proving to be a very dependable pitcher for his clubs. He and Mark Langston were the only pitchers in the majors to work at least 200 innings in each season from 1986-1993, until the 1994 strike ended both streaks. His career ERAs after the 1995 season were 3.51 in the American League and 3.38 in the National League. Of his 151 career wins, 70 came in starts where he allowed one run or none. Even though he threw the knuckleball primarily during his career, he consistently had a 2-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, meaning he consistently had twice as many strikeouts as he did walks.

Yes, R.A. Dickey was 12-1 with a 2.15 ERA at one point during the 2012 season, and Tim Wakefield started 14-1 with a 1.65 ERA in 1995. However, Candiotti had similar brilliant stretches of pitching…but not the gaudy won-loss records to show for them because the quality of his teams. In 1991, for instance, Candiotti had a 2.01 ERA in his first 19 starts…but only a 9-8 record and was left off the AL All-Star team. In 1993, he had a 1.53 ERA over a stretch of 17 starts, but was 6-1 with 10 no-decisions. The same summer when Wakefield made all the headlines in Boston with that 1.65 ERA in 1995, Candiotti had a stretch of 13 starts where his ERA was 1.74 for Los Angeles. Alas, the Dodgers gave him very little support, resulting in a 4-6 record in that stretch. Naturally, over time his accomplishments are no longer remembered.

Tom Candiotti never truly got any recognition because of the losing records he suffered while pitching for bad teams in Cleveland and Los Angeles. Had he gotten better support, he would have been better remembered. Or, if he had pitched today and gotten the same results, he would be talked about as a hard-luck pitcher because the baseball media now weigh more importance on other statistics and less on wins. During Candiotti’s time, it seemed that wins-and-losses were the be-all, end-all, and with his losing record he didn’t get as much press. Thus, he is forgotten today. On some lists on the Internet that talk about the best knuckleballers in baseball history, some bloggers cite Candiotti’s best season as 1988, when he was 14-8 with a 3.28 ERA. However, he won 15 games in 1990, nearly won the ERA championship in 1991, and from 1992-95 had the fifth-best ERA in the NL (behind only Greg Maddux, Jose Rijo, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz). People have forgotten that he was one of the best pitchers in baseball for a while, knuckleball or not.

To learn more about Candiotti and his career, check out his biography titled Tom Candiotti: A Life of Knuckleballs, which is available on Amazon.

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It’s throw-the-ball-away night in Houston!

How about those “contending” Toronto Blue Jays, falling for a second consecutive night against the lowly Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park?

I guess Brett Oberholtzer and his “mediocre” ERA – a term referenced on tsn.ca’s game preview – was better in the August 2 contest than counterpart R.A. Dickey, huh? (That’s the R.A. Dicky, who by the way had an earned-run average which is not that different from the Astros left-hander at the start of the day….but what does tsn.ca really know about baseball?)

Houston is mediocre

Anyway, the momentum in the game changed thanks to a pair of Blue Jays errors on a pickoff play in the middle of the contest.

With the score tied 2-2 in the fifth inning and Altuve on first base, the knuckleballing Dickey tried to pick him off but the throw instead bounced past first baseman Danny Valencia down into the foul territory in right field. With Altuve hustling around the bases, Valencia chased the ball down and eventually got to it, and then fired a throw to third base to try and get the Astros’ All-Star second baseman. Alas, the throw rolled away from Steve Tolleson, allowing Altuve, who had just slid into the bag at third, to quickly get up and score the tie-breaking run without a throw.

One big run on two errors (Dickey and Valencia), and DH Chris Carter homered moments later to give Houston a two-run advantage. The Blue Jays couldn’t recover, and the Astros’ four-run eighth inning put the game away, as Houston went on to the 8-2 victory.

This reminds me of a game between Oakland and expansion Tampa Bay during the 1998 season, with another knuckleballer involved in an error-filled play that gave the opposing team all the momentum it needed to pull out a victory.

On May 26, 1998 in Oakland, the Athletics had Tom Candiotti on the mound while the visiting Devil Rays had rookie Rolando Arrojo looking to improve to 7-3 on the season for the first-year franchise.

The A’s gave Candiotti a 2-0 lead in the first inning on a two-run homer by Matt Stairs, but everything fell apart for the veteran knuckleballer in the top of the third.

Devil Rays shortstop Kevin Stocker led off with a single, bringing up second baseman Miguel Cairo. With the count 2-and-1, Cairo dropped a bunt down the third-base line, and A’s third baseman Mike Blowers charged in to field the ball. Unfortunately, Blowers’ throw to first base went past Jason Giambi and rolled toward the Tampa Bay bullpen. Stocker, who was running from first base, scored easily.

cairoA’s second baseman Scott Spiezio finally tracked the ball down and threw to third base to try and get Cairo…only to realize nobody was covering. With the ball scooting away, Cairo scored the Devil Rays’ second run to tie it at 2-2.

Two errors on the bunt play, and Tampa Bay had two runs on the board.

Two innings later, Quinton McCracken homered off Candiotti to put the Devil Rays ahead to stay, and the A’s went on to a tough 7-2 loss.

The key play, according to Candiotti, was the bunt that the A’s bungled. “I haven’t seen a bunt turned into a home run before,” he noted afterward [1]. Wade Boggs, the Devil Rays’ third baseman who like Candiotti also threw a knuckleball, agreed with that last statement, saying: “It was more like my son’s Little League game, the way they were throwing the ball around.” [2]

“A lot of things happen with the Oakland A’s you haven’t seen before,” Stairs added [3]. Ahhhh, yes… those were the A’s from a different era, one that would finish last in the AL West in 1998 and also lead the league in errors.

Okay, the A’s misplays in the Tampa Bay game from 1998 were probably worse than what was seen in Houston by the Blue Jays on August 2, but hopefully Toronto will keep throwing the ball away and finish the 2014 season in disappointing fashion.

Getting back to tsn.ca, good job, by the way, with the headline of the following recap in the Mets-Giants contest:

tsn giants mets
[1] Steve Kettmann, “Errors Add Up to Loss for A’s,” San Francisco Chronicle, May 27, 1998.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.

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Knuckleball long balls

On June 27, Toronto knuckleballer R.A. Dickey gave up four home runs in a 5-4 loss to the visiting Chicago White Sox, falling to 6-7 with a 4.24 ERA this season.

A few things of note here: Dickey’s four dingers allowed gave him 10 surrendered over his last five starts, which accounted for 13 of the 14 runs against him in that span. The four homers by the White Sox – including two hit by rookie Jose Abreu, who’s now got 25 on the season and is more than halfway toward breaking Mark McGwire’s rookie record (49 set in 1987) – were the most Dickey had allowed since giving up six against Detroit on April 6, 2006. That game happened to be Dickey’s first big-league start as a knuckleballer.

Interestingly, in Tom Candiotti’s career, the most number of home runs he ever gave up in a game was three. In his first major-league start as a knuckleball pitcher in 1986 – in his first two seasons he wasn’t a knuckleballer – Candiotti gave up only one run, and that was a homer hit by Rick Dempsey. In fact, that home run was hit off of a Candiotti fastball; otherwise, he would have pitched scoreless ball that evening against the Orioles.

Also, June 27 was the anniversary of the Candiotti trade from Cleveland to Toronto in 1991. He finished with an undeserving 6-7 record with a 2.98 ERA as a Blue Jay. Dickey, of course, is 6-7 for Toronto right now with an ERA that is much higher.

One more point about the home runs: According to newspaper accounts during that 1991 season, almost none of the homers hit off Candiotti – he allowed only 12 in 238 innings – came off of the knuckleball. Nearly every one of them came on a curveball or fastball, in situations where he didn’t want to pitch around hitters, where he wanted to go right after the hitter with runners on base.

Among the homers Candiotti allowed in 1991, at least four of them came off of fastballs, with Joe Carter, Mike Greenwell, Kevin Maas, and Juan Gonzalez doing the honors. Robin Ventura hit a grand slam off of him on a slider (one of just three bases-loaded homers over 451 major-league games for Candiotti). Tom Brunansky and Carlos Martinez hit curveballs off of Candiotti out of the park as well. That would be a total of seven homers at least, coming off of something other than a knuckler.

The other home runs Candiotti gave up that season were not indicated in the newspaper recaps for those individual games.

Finally, here’s a neat video from 1993 featuring Candiotti pitching for the Dodgers in Taiwan:

“Tom Candiotti: A Life of Knuckleballs,” a biography of former big-league pitcher Tom Candiotti, will be released in July of 2014. You may pick up a copy either from Amazon.com or through the McFarland & Company website.

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