Can R.A. Dickey Succeed in a Dome?

Mike Stobe

As you all know R.A. Dickey has been traded to the Toronto Blue Jays. I immediately wondered how the presence of a dome would affect his knuckleball, or if it would affect it all. Michael Eder of The Yankee Analysts wrote a piece the other day, and gave some interesting insight as to whether Dickey's knuckleball could be affected.

If you’ve ever heard a baseball announcer talk about the knuckleball, you’ve probably heard that it’s random. They say it "dances" and "flutters" in different directions as it approaches the plate. They say the perfect knuckleball has no spin at all. They say that pockets of air and wind create the erratic movement. Not that wind or air pockets don’t exist inside a dome stadium, but the forces are definitely limited, even if the roof is opened. So why would the Blue Jays pay the Mets two top prospects to acquire a pitcher that will start half his games inside a dome?

I will admit, I am not an expert by any means when it comes to knuckleballs, and this has always been my belief when it comes to knuckleballers. When watching knuckleballs being thrown it does appear that they are dancing around, but this next paragraph essentially takes away that theory.

When Watts and Sawyer completed their experiment, they believed that a knuckleball that had little spin would have the erratic "dancing" movement due to the seams changing directions while spinning slowly. Thanks to new PITCHf/x data, earlier this year, Professor Alan M. Nathan of the University of Illinois studied the knuckleball movement from both Tim Wakefield and R.A. Dickey. The data calculating pitch break showed that the knuckleball did not have the erratic "fluttering" movement that’s commonly associated with the pitches’ success. Instead, he attributed the myth to the randomness to which the pitch moves. In other words, the the idea that a knuckleball moves in different directions during it’s movement is a myth, the pitch has the same smoothness in trajectory of any other pitch. He surmised that the idea of fluttering movement was likely due to the random movement of different knuckleballs, as first found in work done by John Walsh of The Hardball Times.

Interestingly, knuckleballs don't have any fluttering movement that we are so used to using when talking about them. Rather they have similar trajectory that any other pitch has, the the movement can possibly be associated to different knuckleballs that are being thrown by different pitchers.

Dickey only pitched 5 games in a dome in 2012, and that came out to 37 innings, but the results are certainly impressive. He had a 1.22 ERA, 24 K%, and a 5 BB%. He was still impressive outside, posting a 3.02 ERA, 25 K%, and a 6 BB%.

In April he had one start that was particularly awful. That game was a rainy outdoor game where the Mets were facing the Braves. In that game Dickey gave up 8 runs, and 3 home runs. That's only game, so it's hard to say if the outdoors, but it's at least mentioning.

Based on the findings, it's probably safe to say that the dome in Toronto should not have any affects on Dickey's knuckleball. Well it's possible that it gets hit more, it would not be due to playing indoors. One thing is for sure though, the Blue Jays got one heck of a pitcher.

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