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Knuckleball Pitchers and WAR

Anthony Gruppuso-US PRESSWIRE

Knuckleball pitchers can be tricky to evaluate, and if you want a quick statistic to see how they stacked up against the rest of the league you generally look at wins above replacement. Over at FanGraphs, Dave Cameron shows us why traditional FIP-wins may not be the best statistic to use when evaluating knuckleballers.

Because Dickey throws the knuckleball, and we already know that knuckleball pitchers outperform their FIP, you should lean more towards RA9-wins for Dickey than FIP-wins. Pitchers like Dickey are why we present both options here on FanGraphs. There simply isn’t one system that works perfectly for everyone.

No matter what kind of calculation you use, there are going to be guys who don’t fit perfectly into the model. We added RA9-wins to help show the differences between the two systems, and to give you an alternative way of valuing pitchers who don’t fit perfectly into the assumptions that FIP makes.

As Dave states, knuckleballers tend to outperform their peripherals, and Dickey is no exception. Here is his ERA and FIP the last three seasons:

  • 2010: 2.84 ERA-3.65 FIP
  • 2011: 3.28 ERA-3.77 FIP
  • 2012: 2.73 ERA-3.27 FIP

When looking at his RA9-Wins compared to his FIP-Wins, we can see that Dickey has actually been worth about 5 more wins.

  • 2010; 2.8 fWAR-4.6 RA9-Wins
  • 2011: 2.5 fWAR-3.7 RA9-Wins
  • 2012: 4.6 fWAR-6.5 RA9-Wins

This makes sense, since knuckleballers tend to induce weaker contact on balls in play, If you are trying to look at a knuckleball pitcher's value you are likely to get a better representation when you look at RA9-Wins, rather than FIP-Wins.

This is true for essentially all knuckleballers throughout history, if you are interested in looking at pitcher's who have thrown knucklers take a look at this leaderboard. It was created by Eno Sarris over at FanGraphs. Remember that you shouldn't use RA9-Wins for every pitcher though because defense as well as good luck can often be a big factor.

Questions for discussion:

1) Do you think there are better alternatives than WAR for knuckleball pitchers?

2) Is there anything that we could add to WAR to give it a better overall representation?