Tim Wakefield is retiring after a lengthy career that saw him throw more than 3,300 innings and debut with the last Pittsburgh Pirates team that was any good. As Wakefield moves on, baseball fans will lament the loss of a knuckleballer, as Wakefield was one of the last of a dying breed. Indeed, Wakefield rode his knuckler to remarkable and sustainable success.
But Wakefield didn't throw his knuckleball 100 percent of the time. For a change of pace, he would mix in the occasional heater. Maybe not heater. Maybe more like lukewarmer. Wakefield's fastball topped out in the high 70s. The overwhelming majority of them were slower than that.
And here's the funny thing - it worked. Since 2002, which is as far back as our data goes, Wakefield's fastball has been as effective on a per-100 basis as Justin Verlander's fastball. It's been more effective than Tim Lincecum's fastball. It's been more effective than Josh Beckett's fastball. Tim Wakefield's fastball was bad, but Tim Wakefield's fastball was good. Tim Wakefield's fastball is all the proof you need that raw velocity is less important than relative velocity.
In honor of Tim Wakefield's fastball, then, here are .gifs of Tim Wakefield throwing his fastball and getting batters to whiff.
That's Ichiro. That's Ichiro swinging through a Tim Wakefield fastball in a 3-and-1 count.
That's Trevor Plouffe. That's Trevor Plouffe swinging through a Tim Wakefield fastball in a 3-and-1 count, and then swinging through a Tim Wakefield fastball in a 3-and-2 count.
Tim Wakefield will be remembered for his knuckleball. As he ought to be. Tim Wakefield was a knuckleball magician. But Tim Wakefield's fastball was a big part of his charm. Here's to Tim Wakefield, whose every encounter ended with someone looking ridiculous.