In many ways, 2012 was a big year for the knuckleball. While Tim Wakefield and his career 30.4 WAR retired after the 2011 season, R.A. Dickey had a phenomenal year with the Mets and won the N.L. Cy Young. The Red Sox would also acquire another knuckleballer in a trade with the Indians in Steven Wright. For another knuckleballer, 2012 was not so kind, as Justin Ennis was released by the Pirates after a year in which he threw in just 16 minor league games between A and A -.
According to Tim Williams of Pirates Prospects, Ennis had just added the knuckleball this year and has a fastball in the 80s. Since being taken in the 33rd round of the 2010 draft by the Pirates, the left-hander has appeared in 61 minor league games, all as a reliever (98.2 innings). While he has a solid career 2.29 K/BB, along with a good .5 HR/9IP, it hasn’t translated to a good ERA (4.83). This year is much too small of a sample to read anything into (even 98.2 innings is a pretty small sample size).
Ennis has the delivery that you see in most knuckleballers, a pretty easy delivery that requires little effort (though I would say his takes more effort than Wakefield’s or Dickey’s). Weirdly, his landing point didn’t seem very consistent as he seemed to stride sometimes and other times lift his leg up but not get it out enough. His arm slot is somewhere between 3/4ths and sidearm as it really extends out. He is now throwing the knuckleball (more of a harder knuckleball like Wright’s and Dickey’s) along with his fastball. The look I got of him (mainly this video courtesy of Bullpen Banter) showed a pitcher with good knuckleball movement, but not much control of it. Most of his pitches clearly tail glove side, but his release point inconsistency leads to some pretty wild pitches (it isn’t just the unpredictability of the knuckleball). However, when he throws a good one, it not only knuckles, it tails. He gets legitimate horizontal and vertical movement. When things are clicking, he can throw it for a strike and throw it in the dirt, the best of both worlds.
Harnessing a knuckleball takes a long time. After Dickey was ran out of Texas (or more precisely, was bombed out of Texas), he bounced around the league, including being taken in the Rule 5 draft by the Mariners and then let go by them. He was 38 years old when he won the Cy Young. Marc at USS Mariner remembers watching Dickey pitch in AAA Tacoma and not thinking that he was anything special and that he didn’t see his knuckleball having much success in the Majors. Tim Wakefield was famously let go by the Pirates before having his great career with the Boston Red Sox. Steven Wright was 28 before he was finally added to a 40 man roster. I would love to see Justin Ennis get another chance on a no risk minor league deal. I am not saying he is or could be R.A. Dickey, but the knuckleball can be a powerful thing if harnessed.