One of my favorite actors, Denzel Washington, was in a flick by the above name recently.  No, I have not seen it yet, so I won't be giving you a Pelican Brief on it.

But it made me think of what can be an Equalizer in baseball? A guy lacking power can hustle, optimize his value stealing bases, etc., and maybe turn a non-career into a successful one.  But what can a pitcher do?

Not much really - work at his craft, mix his pitches better, study the hitters.  But a guy topping out at 87 has huge inherent disadvantage to the guy who busts it at 96.  You can't teach 96.

So are there any equalizers for the pitcher who is less physically gifted?  This question took on greater urgency when I saw that the Mets has 12 drafted pitchers from 2010's draft, namely McDowell, Mitchell, Frazer, Bennett, Carnevale, Pinera, Sheppard, Kountis, Birdwell, Weldon, Gould, and Winnick, who had a very fine combined 84-57 minor league record (.595), but with one key thing in common: all are now out of baseball!

So I thought, what if I were in a guy like Ryan Fraser's shoes, do I give up and go home, or is there another possibility, which has proven effective when all else failed, one hardly ever used?

My mind immediately flashed to RA Dickey: the knuckler!  And Wilbur Wood and the Niekro boys.  Oh, and Hoyt Wilhelm.  The latter 4 guys were in a gazillion games and won a combined 846 of them.  So the knuckler can be the key to success, if only rarely to date.

These were guys with the guts and determination to become sufficiently adept at throwing it in game situations so that they've had highly successful careers which otherwise would not have happened.

Such guys have undoubtedly been rare, but clearly proved to be highly successful in use of said pitch.

Dickey, since he returned to major league baseball with the Mets, has signed contracts worth (off the top of my head) $30 million.  And, oh yeah, won a Cy Young award to boot.

Is it not worth a floundering but solid prospect giving that pitch a full blown try to see if Dickey's approach can be emulated by them?  It takes guts, it ain't a macho pitch (the kind of pitch in fact that Ahh-nold would say would be thrown by a gurly man) and the failure rate would be high, but if the handwriting is on the wall for you, and you can't cut it with your conventional pitching weapons anyway, and potentially SO MUCH $$$ is at stake, is it not worth an earnest gambit into the land of the unconventional?  Better to have tried and failed than...

What say you readers on this?  Would you try it?  I sure as heck would. 

And I think famous poet Robert Frost, a special favorite of none other than R A Dickey, would have as well, for he wrote:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

But by all means, listen to Yogi: 
if you get to a fork in the road, take it!


Reese Kaplan said...

You would think that pitchers who seem to get Tommy John surgery as often as people get cavities filled, the prospect of using a knuckler or (even rarer) a sidearm delivery that put less stress on your arm would be appealing.

Thomas Brennan said...

I'd certainly think so, Reese, especially when some guys who have used it have had spectacular results with it.

It is a pitch associated with oddballs (Jim Bouton, for example), but man, if I was that close to a major leaguer in ability as many of these guys are, I'd give it a real shot at throwing it.

Dickey's career was marginal, and really over, when he took up the knuckleball to great success.

It must really have a stigma (sissy or weirdo pitch) for more guys to not do it, but a guy would forget that when he is cashing million $$ paychecks.

Steve from Norfolk said...

You're on the money with this post. Tom! Who do we hire for a special minor league pitching coach until R.A. retires (in 2030)? I say let's make Tim Wakefield an offer. I don't think he was ready to retire when the Sox released him.

Thomas Brennan said...

Sounds like a plan, Steve. Let's say you hire a roving knuckleball instructor, and he works with a bunch of guys. Let's say 1 in 5 can master it pretty well, 1 in 10 master it very well. Seems there could be a good return on investment there. I guess we're knuckleheads to think that way!

Reese Kaplan said...

What's Kent Tekulve up to these days? I seem to recall the Mets' Chad Bradford came from out of nowhere to have a great one year with the club throwing nearly underhanded. Jeff Innis was another.

Thomas Brennan said...

Tekulve's working on the knuckler, meaning i am notsure

Thomas Brennan said...

I see that Tekulve had a challenging time a few months back...heart transplant Sept 5 and threw out first pitch at Pirates' playoff game 26 days later. Amazin'!

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