Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Contemplating Tim Wakefield

Tim Wakefield is 45, and he went just 7-8, 5.12 last season.

The veteran knuckleballer hasn't had an ERA below 5 since 2009, hasn't qualified for the ERA title since 2008, hasn't had an ERA below 4 since 2002.

Tim Wakefield began
his professional career
as a third baseman.
 It's February, and the Boston Red Sox have not offered him a contract. He has had nibbles from other organizations, but he has long said he won't pitch for anybody other than Boston. It looks like the end for Wakefield.

If so, it's been an odd career, odd enough that it may be unique. He has 200 career wins (on the nose), but never won more than 17 games in any season. He hit the majors as a 25-year-old flutterball savant -- in his half season in 1992 with Pittsburgh, he went 8-1, 2.15, won a couple more games in the playoffs, and looked like he was set for a long run as a top-flight pitcher for years to come.

And then he crashed and burned and rose again: 6-11 in 2003, back to the minors in 2004, re-emerged with Boston in 1995 with a 16-8, 2.95 season.

He had two half seasons in his 20s -- 1992 and 1995 -- in which he had a case for being the best pitcher going. He wasn't. He was a durable utility pitcher -- he won 17 games for the Sox as a starter in 1998, then led the team in saves the next season -- and Boston rewarded him, but he was never an ace. He ground through his 30s and into his 40s as a back-of-the-rotation guy.

Knuckleballers, as a rule, mature late. It's a rare k-baller who shines in his 20s. It takes time to master the nuances of the pitch, and, I suspect, to master the emotional aspect of relying on the unpredicable. Knuckleballers also, as a rule, get their chances with bad teams. 

Wakefield is an exception to both rules. 

1 comment:

  1. Wakefield has only been around since 92? Seems like that should be 82!

    I wonder how well a nuckleballer could do if he also had a very effective fastball, slider, curve, etc. Seems to me like the nuckleballers rely too much on that pitch. I would think if it were to be in the mix with other great pitches, you'd have an unstoppable HoF pitcher.