Charlie Haeger presents an intriguing option for the Dodgers as a potential fifth starter, as one of the few knuckleballers left on the planet. A knuckleball can be both fascinating and frightening at the same time. A key to pitching is to upset the hitter's timing, and the best thing about a knuckleball is that once it leaves the pitcher's hand, nobody has any idea where the ball is going. Of course, the worst thing about a knuckleball is once it leaves the pitcher's hand, nobody has any idea where the ball is going. It's natural for a manager to want to control as many things as possible about his team. Which is why it's understandable that such an unpredictable pitch doesn't often endear a lot of trust.
Haeger signed a minor league deal with the Dodgers in January 2009 after three seasons splitting time between the majors and Triple A with both the White Sox and Padres. Haeger put up a solid season in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League last year, making the All-Star team, and putting up a 11-6 record 3.55 ERA, although his FIP (4.67) was in line with his 2006-2008 minor league numbers.
Haeger's 2009 revealed another potential benefit of having a knuckleball pitcher: the ability to eat innings. Heager made 25 starts between Triple A and the majors last year, and pitched seven innings or more in 13 of those games. He pitched six innings or more in 19 of 25 starts, and averaged 6.44 innings per start.
In 53 career major league innings, Haeger has a 5.26 ERA and a 6.03 FIP, but he is still just 26 years old. Perhaps he might find comfort in the fact that the most successful knuckleballers were all late bloomers:
- Hoyt Wilhelm: major league debut at age 29
- Phil Niekro: major league debut at 25, full-time starter at age 28
- Tim Wakefield: debuted at age 25 with the Pirates, but didn't find long term success until age 28
- Wilbur Wood: didn't start exclusively using the knuckleball until age 25, when teamed with Wilhelm
- Tom Candiotti: major league debut at 25, full-time starter at age 28
- Charlie Hough: got regular work as a reliever at age 25
Manager Joe Torre has said Haeger could pitch either as a starter or out of the bullpen, so he has a few avenues to make the opening day roster.
After just two seasons in rookie ball in the White Sox organization, Haeger retired in 2003, but came back to pitch the following year. In 2003, he attended Madonna University in Livonia, Michigan, and was a member of the golf team. Haeger's older brother Greg has been the head baseball coach at Madonna since 1996.
Haeger signed a one-year contract for 2010, presumably in the $400,000 range. He has accumulated 125 days of major league service time. He is also out of options, meaning he would have to clear waivers before being sent to the minors.
|2010 Projections - Age 26 Season|
|Thanks to FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.com|
I have to admit, I love watching a knuckleball pitcher work his (or her) magic. The game needs more variety, more flavor, so I'm rooting for Haeger to succeed. That said, I think he will put up a 4.74 ERA, 1.412 WHIP in 12 starts.
What is your guess for Charlie Haeger in 2010? Give us a prediction of ERA, WHIP, and starts.