Few can master the most difficult skill in sports: throwing a baseball about 60 feet with no spin in such a way that air resistance moves the ball on a changing and unpredictable trajectory while still hitting the strikezone often enough to induce professional hitters to swing.
R.A. Dickey can already accomplish this task. Since learning the knuckleball in his early thirties Dickey has pitched at or near the replacement level in the Major Leagues and he won an ERA title as a starter in the Pacific Coast League.
However, now that he's been optioned to the minors by the Minnesota Twins, it looks like Dickey has hit his ceiling.
But there is some hope the knuckleballer can find a way to keep a job in professional baseball.
It is the slow knuckleball.
Dickey throws a fast knuckleball. Typically his knuckleball is in the mid-70's for velocity. Normally the knuckleball is thrown between 55 and 65 MPH. This speed allows the ball to move up to 22 inches left and right, in up to four different directions.
Because of all this movement, the slow knuckleball is extremely hard to control. Dickey's fast knuckleball typically only breaks once or twice with nowhere near the amount of distance the slower pitch does. This allows him to get his knuckleball near the strikezone with less effort.
Unfortunately, Dickey's fast knuckleball can often become just a batting practice fastball, when it doesn't flutter.
At least when the slow knuckleball fails to move, it's still a difficult pitch to drive far. Without the energy of high velocity the batter must supply his own power to a slower pitch.
This fact helps the slow knuckleball be an effective pitch. When it works, it dances all over the place. When it doesn't, it acts like an eephus, forcing batters to hit it perfectly and extremely hard or else it stays in the park.
Learning to handle the slow knuckleball will make Dickey's 85 MPH fastball look that much faster, it will still give him the option to throw a fast knuckleball and it should extend Dickey's career a few years longer.
Since his demotion he's already be shelled once. It's time for him to try out the slow knuckleball.