One of a Kind

Tim Wakefield celebrated his 41st birthday yesterday with his 150th win in a Red Sox uniform. He’s in his 15th year in the big leagues. It’s hard to call a starting pitcher for the Red Sox underappreciated — when he first arrived in 1995, his signature knuckleball was the subject of numerous newspaper articles. ("It’s actually thrown with the fingertips.") He’s consistently referred to as the consummate teammate, praised for his willingness to work in any role for which the team needs him; his charity work is less well known, but it’s known nonetheless.

Still, there’s a collective groan, it seems, when Wakefield’s turn in the rotation comes around, and for good reason. The unpredictability of the pitch he throws means he could be working on a no-hitter or getting shellacked all over the ballpark — sometimes in the same game. Yet there he is today, tied for the team lead in wins, likely to win 15 games for the fourth time in his career.

Make no mistake: It’s the characters, the trick pitches, the unique flavors of baseball that make this game great. Wakefield is the only successful practitioner of the knuckleball in our generation. So let’s take a moment, as we bask in the afterglow of another win, to fully appreciate the wild ride he’s given us since 1992.

  • With his win yesterday, Wakefield is just the 12th pitcher to win 150 games since 1995, when he debuted with the Sox — and the only pitcher to do it with one team (or with an ERA above 4.30). He’s the 14th to strike out at least 1,650.
  • Of course, he’s also just the third pitcher in that span to lose as many as 130 games, and is third in walks allowed.
  • No pitcher since the consistent recording of pitch counts has thrown as many in a game as Wakefield — 172 on April 27, 1993, when he pitched all 10 innings of a 6-2 win for the Pirates.
  • Second on that list? Wakefield again, with 169 pitches on June 5, 1997, pitching 8.2 innings in a 2-1 win.
  • Only three pitchers since 1990 have walked 10 batters and won the game — Wake did it in that 172-pitch affair.
  • On Sox lists, of course, Wakefield is prominently represented — third all-time in wins and strikeouts. And the all-time leader in losses and walks.
  • He and Ray Culp are the only two Sox pitchers to have struck out 10 and walked more than six in the same game.
  • The only Sox pitcher since 1970 to walk seven batters in a game more times than Wakefield’s four? Roger Clemens, with five.
  • Wakefield is the only Sox pitcher in the Retrosheet era to have won 10 straight starts.
  • Likewise, no Sox pitcher has lost more than Wakefield’s seven straight starts between 1995 and 1996.
  • Wakefield is one of only five Sox pitchers in 50 years to throw at least 90 pitches in at least 19 straight games (interestingly, Jon Lester is going for 18 in his next start).

(Source: Baseball-Reference Play Index)

16 comments… add one
  • How the hell do you throw 169 pitches and only give up one run?!

    SF August 3, 2007, 6:27 am
  • Its the Wonder of Wakefield! :-)

    Paul SF August 3, 2007, 7:57 am
  • Bravo to this. Every team should have a Wakefield.

    YF August 3, 2007, 8:45 am
  • great stuff, Paul. I agree with SF. The 169 pitch seems like an impossible feat. What’s interesting is that in more recent seasons Wake has seemed to be a lot more efficient with his pitch counts. I guess this suggests that he has gotten more command over his knuckler. But it could also suggest that hitters over the years have tried to take a more proactive approach to his pitches.

    Nick-YF August 3, 2007, 9:03 am
  • I’ve always hated the day’s Wake throws, but like you said, it’s because of the unknown each time out. He seems to go through these stretches where his ERA is insanely low for six or seven games, then he’ll get pounded for four or five games, and then back to low again.
    One thing is for sure: The Red Sox are almost certainly guaranteed a decision one way or the other with him.
    My problem the past couple years hasn’t been with him, but the extra guy he carries with him on the roster:(

    Brad August 3, 2007, 10:12 am
  • of course, yesterday aside:)

    Brad August 3, 2007, 10:45 am
  • I’ve wondered why more teams don’t try to cultivate guys like Wakefield and turn them into knuckleballers. Every organization has position players like him: good character, great work ethic, lots of baseball smarts, but just not talented enough to make it to the bigs. Usually, these guys are shunted off to the managerial/coaching track.
    If I were a GM, every year I’d look through the organization for those 2 or 3 guys who the minor-leage managers and coaches love for their attitude and hustle and have this discussion with them:
    “Look, you and I both know your chances of making it to the big leagues are next to nothing. You’re a great guy, but you’re just not going to get to that level. Take this year/off-season/winter-ball and learn to throw a knuckler, and you’ve got a much better chance.”
    Who knows how many of those guys would pan out, but it’s worth a try. You could wind up with several guys in your system who might make decent trade bait.

    Anonymous August 3, 2007, 11:42 am
  • I love Wake, but I hate to see him pitch for three reasons:
    1. I used to be a pitcher, and watching a knuckler is just plain boring.
    2. As many others have pointed out, the inconsistency he has shown in the last two years
    3. Dougie

    Atheose August 3, 2007, 1:09 pm
  • “I’ve wondered why more teams don’t try to cultivate guys like Wakefield and turn them into knuckleballers.”
    Anon, every spring I wonder the same thing about myself. Is this the spring I make a run at the bigs like that guy from the D’Rays (minus the blazing fastball). As I get ready for my team’s HS seasonI contemplate making a run as a knuckleballer. Then a week into practice that dream goes away when some 15 year old goes yard off a knuckler that didn’t knuckle. It’s such a difficult pitch to throw consistently. If it doesn’t knuckle and stays flat, it’s like an eephus.
    Atheose you, me, 2008 bigs? What do you say?

    John - YF (Trisk) August 3, 2007, 2:26 pm
  • Hey, I want in too

    Brad August 3, 2007, 2:38 pm
  • Someone should send this post to Wallace Matthews.

    SF August 3, 2007, 2:51 pm
  • That Anon comment was me, Trisk.
    The problems with knuckleballers is that when a pitch doesn’t knuckle, it tends to go a long long long way in the other direction. Also, knucklers aren’t impressive the way prime pitching prospects are- it’s hard for a scout to say “no fastball, no curveball, but lots of movement- let’s sign him”

    Ayuh - SF August 3, 2007, 3:44 pm
  • I have a 72 MPH fastball, just like Wake, I want in too.
    I’m not playing for the LA though, I hate LA.

    LocklandSF August 3, 2007, 3:44 pm
  • Atheose, I think you’re mischaracterizing the nature of both Wakefield’s seasons. This year, he’s been just as consistent as every other season — except last year, when he was injured for much of it.

    Paul SF August 3, 2007, 3:49 pm
  • Excellent post Paul.
    My thought on Wake’s recent improving efficiency is not that he’s gotten better command on the knuckler, but possibly has better command and location of his other pitches and doesn’t have to rely on it as much. I did no research in coming to this hypothesis.
    Why wait til 2008 to pitch, Atheose and Trisk? Go to Washington and demand to have your chance at the Nationals rotation.

    QuoSF August 3, 2007, 4:27 pm
  • Why wait til 2008 to pitch, Atheose and Trisk? Go to Washington and demand to have your chance at the Nationals rotation.
    or the Bronx for the Yankees…

    Brad August 3, 2007, 5:28 pm

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.