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Monday, August 24, 2009
Charlie Haeger mixing 'em up

Dave Cameron wrote today about Charlie Haeger, our only real candidate to carry on with the knuckleball after Kid '66 finally hangs 'em up. Money quote: Does that seem right to you? Does it really matter much whether a knuckleball pitcher throws his fastball 85 (like Haeger) or 75 (like Wakefield used to)? I suspect that if a major leaguer knows the 85 is coming, he can blast it over the fence just as easily as he can blast a 75 (particularly when you consider that the 85 comes with more energy, and thus more bounciness).

Granted, if the goal is deception, 85 might work better than 75. Granted, too, Haeger certainly wouldn't be the first "knuckleball pitcher" to occasionally rely on other pitches. When Phil Niekro won his 300th game in 1985, he didn't throw a single knuckleball until the last batter. When Tom Candiotti arrived in the majors, he threw plenty of fastballs and curveballs with his knuckleballs.

But Niekro's 300th came against a lineup full of scrubs, and if he could have done that earlier in his career with any frequency, he probably would have. As for Candiotti, after struggling in his second season with the Indians, he returned to the minors to hone his knuckleball ... and returned to the majors the next year (1986) with Phil Niekro as his tutor.

Right or wrong, the standard take for some decades has been that a knuckleball pitcher has to rely almost exclusively on his knuckleball. Maybe it's because of that popular old saw that says you should never get beat with your second-best pitch. Either way, there's really only one big key in seeing how far Charlie Haeger can go, and that's how many bats -- and even more, how many sweet spots of bats -- he can miss with his knuckleball.

The rest is mostly details.