Padres starter Matt Waldron's knuckleball resembles former Cy Young winner's pitch

Knuckleballs are in vogue — just ask Padres' starter Matt Waldron.
Miami Marlins v San Diego Padres
Miami Marlins v San Diego Padres / Orlando Ramirez/GettyImages

It's not often that MLB fans get to see knuckleballers anymore. Front offices have built development labs that churn out guys who throw 98 MPH with wipeout sliders, and oftentimes it feels like there's little room for variation.

Padres starter Matt Waldron is bucking that trend by throwing a knuckleball, and he's having quite a bit of success with it.

Thanks to Blake Snell's departure, Waldron has been a mainstay in the Padres rotation this year. He's made 11 starts, and in 57 innings has posted a 4.26 ERA with a 3.44 FIP while striking out over 24% of batters. That success is in large part due to the knuckleball, which batters haven't been able to square up.

Matt Waldron's knuckleball is reminiscent of Cy Young winner RA Dickey's famous pitch

Waldron's knuckleball resembles the one RA Dickey used to throw. It's more of a power pitch, which he throws in the high 70s. That comes in significantly hotter than the one Tim Wakefield threw, for example, which was typically mid-60s.

Both Wakefield and Dickey were able to carve out impressive major league careers by leaning on the knuckleball. Waldron is much less reliant on the knuckler than either of those two guys, but he's doing his best to follow in their footsteps.

One advantage Waldron has over them is that his fastball is a legitimate pitch. He sits in the low 90s with it, and can mix in a sinker and a slider. He's throwing the knuckleball just 38% of the time right now, although it's getting him excellent results.

Batters have hit just .209 with a .308 SLG against the knuckleball this year. They're slugging nearly .500 against the rest of his arsenal, which is part of the reason his knuckleball usage is up over 10% year over year.

H will his knuckleball usage rate change over time? It's clearly Waldron's best pitch and there's no reason for him to throw it less. If anything, he might be better off throwing it quite a bit more, as he did in his most recent start against the Marlins.

With Joe Musgrove struggling, this is the exact kind of contribution the team needs to keep pushing for a playoff spot in 2024. If Waldron is able to keep up this level of play, he'll be locked into the Padres' rotation for years to come.