The Mets Added An Indy-League Knuckleballer Last Week, Could Mickey Jannis Be The Next R.A. Dickey? | Astromets Mind

Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Mets Added An Indy-League Knuckleballer Last Week, Could Mickey Jannis Be The Next R.A. Dickey?

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Initially drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 44th round of the 2010 draft, Mickey Jannis is getting a second shot at the minor leagues, and this time he’s armed himself with a hard knuckleball.

            Considering the Mets recent minor league success with Indy-League imports, it’s not surprising to hear that they’ve added another arm from that pile, but it is surprising to hear that the minor league free agent they signed is primarily a knuckleballer. Mickey Jannis says he always threw the knuckleball for fun, but it wasn’t until the Rays let him go after the 2011 season that he decided he’d try a full-time switch to the pitch. He’d spend the next few seasons bouncing around the Independent Leagues as he mastered the pitch, alternating between the bullpen and starting rotation, as needed. Before signing with the Mets on July 2, Jannis had been one of the top pitchers for the Long Island Ducks of the Atlantic League this year, with a 1.18 ERA over 83.2 IP, thanks to only 53 hits allowed and a 67 K: 26 BB ratio.

            Jannis grew up in Nevada and attended 3 schools before being drafted out of DI Cal State Bakersfield, where he threw the first pitch in the schools history. Tampa Bay selected him with their 44th round pick in 2010, and he’d work his way to the Charlotte Stone Crabs of the Florida State League, which is the same league that he is starting his Mets career in. He had mostly been a reliever in the Tampa Bay organization, and Tampa would cut him after just 2 appearances for Charlotte in 2011. With nothing else to lose, Jannis starting throwing the knuckleball with the Lake Erie Crushers of the Frontier League in 2012, and it would seem like the pitch has become a weapon for him.
Knuckleball pitchers are a rare breed, because while anyone can learn to throw a knuckleball, few can actually pitch with it. It’s an unpredictable pitch, and it’s usually thrown with well below average speed, so if it’s not dancing, then it’s just BP. Because of this, successful knuckleball pitchers have become like a small counsel of advisors to up-and-coming knuckleball pitchers – you haven’t made it as a knuckleball pitcher until you’ve had a session with someone from the small counsel of knuckleballers. Prior to the 2013 season, Jannis was able to work on the pitch with Charlie Hough, who is one of the eldest members of the small counsel. Jannis said of Hough,

“He’s helped me out a lot. He showed me how to actually throw it. I threw it before, but I just kinda threw it as hard as I could near the plate. It was good, but he told me ‘this is how you throw it and get it more consistent.’”

            Shortly before signing with the Mets, Mickey’s fine pitching for the Ducks got the attention of Newsday writer Jordan Lauterbach, who talked to him about when he first started throwing the pitch. Jannis noted that R.A. Dickey’s success during the 2012 season, which earned Dickey a Cy Young award, was inspirational for him as he begun the journey towards becoming a knuckleballer. Dickey has been considered to have a fast knuckleball, sitting in the mid/upper-70’s with that pitch, but Jannis averages even more velocity on his knuckler. Also, while Dickey’s low-80’s fastball was considered serviceable, Jannis’s fastball could be a fringe-average pitch for him. Per the St. Lucie announcer, Jannis sits 78-83 MPH with his knuckleball (he called one as high as 85 in the first start), 88-92 MPH with his fastball, and he also throws a low 80’s changeup. 
            Obviously the knuckler is the most important pitch for him, as he’s going to throw that pitch about 80% of the time, but two average velocity secondaries means that he’s not just trying to sneak BP velocity past guys the other 20% of the time. Per Brooks Baseball, R.A. Dickey has a changeup, but he’s only thrown 8 changeups mid-way through the 2015 season, so it’s possible those were misclassified. Regardless, it's not something R.A. uses often, so hitters can identify the non-knuckler coming out of Dickey's hand and know it's going to be an 80 MPH fastball. Even though Jannis will only throw a few changeups per start, I think it’s smart to have something to keep hitters off his fastball, because a fastball looks nothing like a knuckler out of the hand.
            So should we be getting excited? Realistically, he’s a 27-year old trying to resurrect a minors career that ended with Jannis as a reliever in A+, and he’s trying to make it as a knuckleballer, so the odds are not in his favor. He has to prove that he can throw the pitch for strikes consistently (he has 8 walks over his first 2 starts (13 IP) with St. Lucie), and that guys won’t tee off on it (he’s allowed just 8 hits, all singles, so far for a .190 average allowed). He did keep his BB-rate below 10% in the Independent league, but let’s see him do that in AA before we even consider the possibility of him pitching in the major leagues in the near future. Still, I’m going to be a little excited if I get to start watching him on with Binghamton or Las Vegas regularly, who doesn’t love a knuckleballer? You can check out some video's of Jannis throwing the knuckleball below thanks to Mike Ashmore, who covers the Long Island Ducks.

From May 28, 2015, uploaded on Mike Ashmore's YouTube channel

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