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R.A. Dickey and his knuckleball will have a personal catcher

Feb 21, 2013, 10:47 AM EDT

r.a. dickey getty Getty Images

J.P. Arencibia is Toronto’s starting catcher, but it sounds like he won’t be behind the plate when R.A. Dickey pitches because the Blue Jays want to give the knuckleballer a personal catcher.

Last season Josh Thole caught 27 of Dickey’s starts for the Mets and he’s the leading candidate to fill the personal catcher role this year after coming along with Dickey in the blockbuster trade, but Henry Blanco is also an option if the Blue Jays prefer him in the backup role.

Manager John Gibbons explained the logic behind using a personal catcher by telling Gregor Chisholm of MLB.com: “They have to get the [side sessions] in, they have to spend a lot of time working with Dickey, because it’s an unusual and unique pitch. It takes a lot of work.”

And of course no catcher starts 162 games anyway, so having a scheduled day off for Arencibia once every five games could be a positive thing. Arencibia started 91 games last season and 118 games in 2011.

  1. cur68 - Feb 21, 2013 at 10:57 AM

    This seems like a good idea. RA’s KB moves around like a corkscrew, so the more expertise catching it the better. It certainly helps that AA covets catchers: he’s got ‘em stacked up like cord wood outside the bullpen.

    Pity you weren’t going to Florida, Craig. No snow there AND you might have scored an interview with RA.

    • cur68 - Feb 21, 2013 at 11:13 AM

      Well. Down Thumb for me, from me. Can’t tell one blogger from the other, eh? Sorry Aaron. Why don’t you go to Florida while Craig’s suffering in Arizona? This way your daily communiqués can feature you working on your tan while he works on his frostbite?

      • Old Gator - Feb 21, 2013 at 11:34 AM

        Heard a short interview with Biggeth Dicketh on a Toronto spawrts torque raydeeo show. He was talking about all the sideline work he’s putting in with Arencebia as well as working with Thole, and that he’s hoping to help the other catchers gain experience and proficiency with the knuckler as the spring and then the season progresses. Sounds like they’re going about this methodically enough.

      • cur68 - Feb 21, 2013 at 11:40 AM

        Now THAT is good news. I hope he’s working with the BP pitchers as well. Guys who’re looking for an extra pitch might be able to learn a few things from RA.

    • paperlions - Feb 21, 2013 at 12:39 PM

      I actually don’t think knuckleballs move at all (well, yes, the move mostly horizontal to the earths surface as they travel from the pitcher to the catcher, but I doubt they “dance”, “flutter”, “corkscrew”, or do anything else).

      Your brain translates the spin in an object to anticipate where the object will next be, when the brain’s guess does not match reality, it gives the appearance of movement when there was none. Because a knuckleball is thrown without any rotation, the slight movement of the threads as it flies toward the plate are constantly mis-interpreted by the eye, giving the appearance of movement where there is none because the brain can not properly guess where the ball will be when it crosses the plate….this is why a knuckleball that spins is crushed, because the brain can interpret where it will be easily.

      It is related to this optical illusion phenomenon: http://illusionoftheyear.com/2009/the-break-of-the-curveball/

      • cur68 - Feb 21, 2013 at 12:46 PM

        Ordinarily I’d take your word on this stuff. But have a look at this:

        http://www.sportsgrid.com/mlb/watching-r-a-dickeys-knuckleball-in-slow-motion-proves-how-difficult-it-is-to-hit/

        Is that an optical illusion or is that ball corkscrewing?

      • paperlions - Feb 21, 2013 at 12:53 PM

        I am willing to bet it is 100% optical illusion…your eyes/brain don’t even translate static information correctly…did you look at the border on the optical illusion web page an notice that it is not twisted, every block is perfectly square. If cameras that record movement say it moves, then I would believe it…but your eyes/brain simply are not reliable interpreters of particular kinds of information…even colors…as depending on context your eyes/brain with make you think the same color is quite different.

        Another possible way to remove the illusion would be for someone to replace the baseball with a solid ball of color. In any case, will all of the recent research on vision and illusion, I doubt knuckle balls do anything….they just look like they do a lot (not unlike many of my co-workers….yes, I get the irony of me posting on a baseball blog while saying that).

      • cur68 - Feb 21, 2013 at 1:04 PM

        I’ll buy that explanation: it could all be down to an optical phenomenon. However there seems to be a certain amount of science backing up the notion that the ball corkscrews. To wit:

        “…knuckleball rotates only one half to one time on its way to the batter, so the airflow turbulence stays on one side of the ball for a while before slowly moving to the other. The ball drifts in the direction of the leading seam, which slowly moves from one side to the other.”

        The trouble is that BOTH explanations might have some bearing on KBs. Some KBers rely on illusion while some rely on actual movement. Some, and here’s where I think RA comes in, might have a component of both.

        In support of your contention of optical illusion we can have a look at Mike Nickeas’s face: he catches it with his eyes closed but with his glove in constant motion. If this was with some illusion of movement and some actual movement, then that’s how you’d have to do it. Pick out the pitch out the hand, give your brain a split second to track its path, close eyes to catch it, because you can’t trust what they see of the path. The path appears magnified, but the actual path is much tighter, hence a big mitt in the vicinity of the pitch’s path has a good chance of coming up with it.

        Regardless of any of this, its going to be VERY hard to hit a ball doing that.

      • Old Gator - Feb 21, 2013 at 1:32 PM

        Well then let’s put it this way: a pitcher who can skillfully transmit said optical illusion to the batters he faces often enough to win twenty games or so is still a pretty damned fine pitcher. Plus, the catcher apparently experiences the same illusion and has almost as much difficulty coordinating himself well enough to catch the ball as the batter does trying to hit it; thus, Biggeth Dicketh worketh with hith…er, his…catchers to help them process the illusion and respond accordingly.

        Howz dat?

      • cktai - Feb 21, 2013 at 1:40 PM

        Pitches are not just optical illusions. There is actual movement. On pitch f/x data, which is unaffected by optical illusions, knuckleballs are all over the place. Some knuckleballs have a curveball break, others have a screwball or fastball break.

        http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/butterflies-are-not-bullets/

      • paperlions - Feb 21, 2013 at 9:07 PM

        Okay, I found an article that actually investigated the question.

        The conclusions: Within the precision of the tracking data, knuckleball trajectories are just as smooth as those of ordinary pitches. The smoothness conclusion appears to contradict the popular belief that knuckleball trajectories are erratic and often experience abrupt changes of direction. Let me speculate that this belief is the result of the randomness of movement, both in magnitude and direction, giving rise to the perception of erratic behavior.

        Link: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=15919

      • cur68 - Feb 21, 2013 at 1:50 PM

        Gator, that’s my point, right there. No matter what’s going on with that ball, its going to be HELL hitting it.

      • shaneonbase - Feb 21, 2013 at 1:53 PM

        A few have shared this thought, but, at least for the curve ball…it really does curve. I am fairly sure the knuckle ball moves as well. Historically speaking, even into the 20th century there were a few physicists that thought the curve ball could be attributed to illusion, not understaning the mechanism by which it could deviate from classical motion. A famous pitcher, I can’t think of the name at the moment…may have been Dizzy Dean, but could easily have that wrong was quoted as responding to such allegations by saying something to the extent of “go stand behind that tree and I’ll smack you with that illusion.” The physical means by which the ball moves in the case of the curve ball is related to the spin of the ball creating a diffential in the velocity by which air moves past opposing sides of the ball. The differning velocity equates to diffent air pressures on each side of the ball, which equates to diffent forces on each side of the ball. I bet if you google physics of the curve ball you’d be able to find a similar explaination. As far as the knuckle ball movement, I believe this has a lot to do with the movement of the air itself. The lack of spin and the seams of the ball leave the ball more suspect to be battered around by the air. Kind of like turbulence in air plane if I had to bet. At any rate your guess that there is also some optical illusion involved may have some truth too.

      • paperlions - Feb 21, 2013 at 9:08 PM

        Okay, I found an article that actually investigated the question.

        The conclusions: Within the precision of the tracking data, knuckleball trajectories are just as smooth as those of ordinary pitches. The smoothness conclusion appears to contradict the popular belief that knuckleball trajectories are erratic and often experience abrupt changes of direction. Let me speculate that this belief is the result of the randomness of movement, both in magnitude and direction, giving rise to the perception of erratic behavior.

        Link: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=15919

      • paperlions - Feb 21, 2013 at 2:17 PM

        Oh, I agree….from a production stand point, it doesn’t really matter why it fools hitters (whether it really moves or if they just think it does)…that fact that it does is what is important….I just think it is cool how much is being learned about the difference between perception and reality…especially as it pertains to vision and memory.

        FWIW, according to pitchFX, Dickey’s knuckle ball doesn’t move at all:

        In order the numbers are count, % of total, velocity, horizontal movement (inches), vertical movement (inches)

        Fourseam (FA) 124 1% 84.69 -6.53 7.80
        Sinker (SI) 2273 19% 85.03 -9.21 4.92
        Changeup (CH) 69 1% 76.45 -8.91 3.88
        Knuckleball (KN)9506 79% 76.48 -0.19 0.63

        Yes, I realize that these data couldn’t measure a “corkscrew” well, but there is no evidence that it goes anywhere in there either….indeed, it moves far less than any of his other pitches, which may suggest it is illusion more than movement that makes it hard to hit.

      • anythingbutyanks - Feb 21, 2013 at 2:35 PM

        Lions- the text for the illusion that you shared a link for explains that a curve ball is a combination of physical effect (actual curve) and perception. The argument arising from the illusion is that perception increases the apparent curve, not that it creates it.

      • paperlions - Feb 21, 2013 at 2:52 PM

        Yes, I know. But the effect is the same, the brain is anticipating based on spin where an object will be, just like the brain is trying to anticipate where a knuckle ball will be based on the slow spin of the seams. It is nearly impossible for wind currents to manifest in quick succession in order to make a round balanced object corkscrew or repeatedly reverse direction…that is a lot of force for a very small amount of mass to quickly overcome.

        It would be easy to test. Give Dickey some balls with white laces and see how he does.

      • paperlions - Feb 21, 2013 at 9:08 PM

        Okay, I found an article that actually investigated the question.

        The conclusions: Within the precision of the tracking data, knuckleball trajectories are just as smooth as those of ordinary pitches. The smoothness conclusion appears to contradict the popular belief that knuckleball trajectories are erratic and often experience abrupt changes of direction. Let me speculate that this belief is the result of the randomness of movement, both in magnitude and direction, giving rise to the perception of erratic behavior.

        Link: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=15919

      • Francisco (FC) - Feb 21, 2013 at 2:59 PM

        More interesting reading:

        http://illumin.usc.edu/printer/41/curveballs-and-knuckleballs-engineering-principles-at-work-in-america39s-favorite-pastime/

      • paperlions - Feb 21, 2013 at 3:39 PM

        I wonder when that was written, everything they cite is pretty old, especially within the context of technological advancement.

        There are a number of more recent pieces that have more robust approaches to understanding pitches and movement version illusion/perception..

      • paperlions - Feb 21, 2013 at 9:08 PM

        Okay, I found an article that actually investigated the question.

        The conclusions: Within the precision of the tracking data, knuckleball trajectories are just as smooth as those of ordinary pitches. The smoothness conclusion appears to contradict the popular belief that knuckleball trajectories are erratic and often experience abrupt changes of direction. Let me speculate that this belief is the result of the randomness of movement, both in magnitude and direction, giving rise to the perception of erratic behavior.

        Link: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=15919

      • Francisco (FC) - Feb 21, 2013 at 3:00 PM

        BTW Credit goes to Sally for the article.

      • Francisco (FC) - Feb 21, 2013 at 3:47 PM

        So because it’s old its useless? At this point paper, I think it’s pretty obvious it’s not 100% optical illusion. I think it’s a combination of both.

      • paperlions - Feb 21, 2013 at 6:02 PM

        No, I just thought it was odd that they were citing such old sources for something apparently published this year….because there likely is newer research conducted with better technology, improving the precision and accuracy of measurements.

      • cur68 - Feb 21, 2013 at 3:50 PM

        Courtesy of Jonny5 we have additional points to be made about RA’s KB movement:

        http://www.brooksbaseball.net/player_cards/player_card.php?player=285079#tab1

        Courtesy of Stex’s information, searching has returned this NASA piece on the physics of ball movement;

        http://www.grc.nasa.gov/WWW/k-12/airplane/ballforce.html

        Those guys have vicious net-nanny restrictions at work, otherwise we’d here a bit more from them. At any rate, the information presented here indicates movement of the pitched ball, vertically and laterally. The Brook’s Baseball link is probably the most compelling with RA’s pitch movement. Looking down on the ball you can see it weaving side to side (near the bottom of the page). Adding the vertical component, you get the corkscrew effect.

        An optical illusion effect would of course enhance the movements, but we can’t pin it all to illusion. As Stex alludes too, high speed photography is not subject to illusion.

      • indaburg - Feb 21, 2013 at 5:04 PM

        I cannot change the laws of physics, Captain!

      • RussNeverSleeps - Feb 21, 2013 at 5:32 PM

        To quote paperlions:

        “FWIW, according to pitchFX, Dickey’s knuckle ball doesn’t move at all”

        This is completely incorrect. You can’t go by the average movement of the pitch, because the knuckleball doesn’t move in a predictable direction like other pitches. Take a look at Dickey’s movement charts from Brooks Baseball:

        http://www.brooksbaseball.net/player_cards/player_card.php?player=285079#HxV

        and tell me that the knuckle ball doesn’t move at all.

      • paperlions - Feb 21, 2013 at 8:01 PM

        You are right. The average is not a measure if individual pitch movement….but then neither is the scatter plot. All pitches move (especially horizontally), what the scatter plot on his player card does show is that he doesn’t know which direction is may go, which may have to do as much with the velocity the pitch is thrown as the grip necessary to throw it without spin. The scatter plot is still not evidence that an individual pitch moves multiple directions.

      • paperlions - Feb 21, 2013 at 9:08 PM

        Okay, I found an article that actually investigated the question.

        The conclusions: Within the precision of the tracking data, knuckleball trajectories are just as smooth as those of ordinary pitches. The smoothness conclusion appears to contradict the popular belief that knuckleball trajectories are erratic and often experience abrupt changes of direction. Let me speculate that this belief is the result of the randomness of movement, both in magnitude and direction, giving rise to the perception of erratic behavior.

        Link: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=15919

    • paperlions - Feb 21, 2013 at 9:06 PM

      Okay, I found an article that actually investigated the question.

      The conclusions: Within the precision of the tracking data, knuckleball trajectories are just as smooth as those of ordinary pitches. The smoothness conclusion appears to contradict the popular belief that knuckleball trajectories are erratic and often experience abrupt changes of direction. Let me speculate that this belief is the result of the randomness of movement, both in magnitude and direction, giving rise to the perception of erratic behavior.

      Link: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=15919

      I apologize for the multiple postings, just responding to each potentially interested party.

  2. Cereal - Feb 21, 2013 at 10:58 AM

    Personal catchers….such a novelty

    • missthemexpos - Feb 21, 2013 at 11:18 AM

      You could always look at this from a different angle and say that the catcher has a Personal Pitcher.

      • Old Gator - Feb 21, 2013 at 11:31 AM

        Carlton. McCarver.

        I remember – I remember it all now! This is wonderful!

  3. paint771 - Feb 21, 2013 at 12:44 PM

    JPA’s time will be better served by taking his reps at the “Don’t Strike Out” machine anyway. Lord knows he sees pitches coming in funny enough as-is.

    • cur68 - Feb 21, 2013 at 12:47 PM

      this^^^^

    • Francisco (FC) - Feb 21, 2013 at 1:55 PM

      Between this post and “SURPRISE BITCHES! throw to first.” paint will win the Cy Young Commenter award.

      • cur68 - Feb 21, 2013 at 2:14 PM

        I’ll vote for him.

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