The Blue Jays have made a variety of moves this offseason, but generally they’ve ranged from borderline insignificant to prudent, but boring.
On Sunday, the team confirmed they were inviting Ryan Feierabend to major-league camp in a move that’s undoubtedly intriguing. Now there’s a difference between intriguing and impactful, but you can’t knock the novelty factor of bringing in a left-hander who throws knuckleballs like Feierabend.
The summary of Feierabend’s career reads a lot like many guys who throw the knuckleball. He never had elite stuff and fizzled at the highest level (7.15 ERA in 113.1 MLB innings) and discovered the pitch later in his career (in 2017 at the age of 31).
Feierabend’s story has a couple of wrinkles, though. The first is that he’s a southpaw, which is rare in the already rare world of knuckleballers. According to Sung Min Kim’s excellent profile on him last year at FanGraphs, there have only been four big-league southpaw knuckleballers. He also doesn’t use his knuckleball as his primary pitch. It’s more of a primary offspeed offering for him, creating the kind of pitch mix we haven’t seen in a while in the majors. During his breakout 2017 season he threw the knuckleball 20.9 percent of the time.
Because this is a story about a pitcher who throws knuckleballs, I’m legally obligated to provide a couple of GIFs before we go any further:
From a statistical perspective, Feierabend is tricky to evaluate because you can more or less throw out anything he’s done before he deployed his knuckler. Here’s what his two seasons since adding the pitch have looked like:
Those are plenty respectable numbers considering how offence-friendly the KBO is. His 2017 clearly pops off the page, but his peripherals last season weren’t so different that one would assume he’s lost his magic.
Expectations for Feierabend should not be high by any means. He’s a complete dart throw, and one that may have looked more promising coming off his stellar 2017 season. It’s impossible to say how his unusual repertoire would play in the big leagues at this point.
There’s no doubt he’s an interesting story, though, and a name to watch. Despite the Blue Jays fans’ love-hate-but-mainly-hate relationship with the knuckleball (and J.P. Arencibia’s hate-hate relationship with it) thanks to R.A. Dickey, there’s no doubting the fascination it elicits.
For a team with compelling storylines in short supply, Feierabend could inject a dose of fun however things shake out for him.
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