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Padres Knuckleballer Provides Throwback with Recent Success

Matt Waldron stepped into this season fighting for the fifth spot in the Padres rotation.  A rough start had some questioning his abilities. But since early May, the knuckleballer has silenced those doubts and put together an impressive stretch of pitching. Waldron debuted for the San Diego Padres in June of 2023, providing the first glimpse of the knuckleball at the MLB level in two years. He was the first pitcher to throw it regularly in MLB since R.A. Dickey in 2017. Many wondered about its effectiveness since it had been so long since the pitch’s last appearance. Well, recently, Waldron has proven them wrong.  The knuckleballer has offered a glimpse of the past when knuckleballers were more commonplace, with a fresh twist. He uses the pitch far less than many of these knuckleballing legends like Tim Wakefield and Phil Niekro.

Padres Knuckleballer Provides Throwback with Recent Success

Waldron features a five-pitch toolbox, which already outpaces most of his predecessors. Aside from the knuckleball, he mixes in a four-seam fastball, a sweeper, a sinker, and a cutter. Waldron’s most significant tool is his wide range of effective speeds. His knuckleball flutters between the low-70s to low-80s, which contrasts greatly with the fastball topping out at 95 MPH. The sweeper averages 79 MPH, while the sinker sits around 90 MPH, and the cutter 87 MPH. The contrast between the heater and the knuckleball can be over 25 MPH, and pairing that with the breaking balls that bridge the gap between the two makes it almost impossible to predict the knuckleball. Well, outside of its normal unpredictive nature.


Waldron’s Slow Start To 2024

Waldron earned his spot on the Opening Day roster by posting a 1.35 ERA across 13.1 innings of work during Spring Training. He struck out 11 and did not allow a walk. But in his first start of the regular season, he would only make it through four innings while allowing four earned runs. Waldron would have mixed results throughout April, culminating in a three-inning, seven-run loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks on May 5. He had allowed 24 runs in his first 34 innings, and his ERA had hit 5.82. Many began wondering if the knuckleball experiment’s time in San Diego was coming to a close. However, with San Diego struggling to maintain a healthy rotation, trust had to be placed for Waldron to figure it out.

With the first start aside, Waldron used his knuckleball at around a 32% rate during this stretch. His four-seam fastball was hovering around 20%. He began featuring his sweeper more than his fastball, taking away from the effectiveness of the knuckleball. Waldron also featured a sinker and a cutter, which he mixed in a combined 20% of the time. So, what was the problem?

Waldron’s Recent Success

The problem was Waldron wasn’t using the pitch enough. This recent stretch of impressive performances from the knuckleballer began on May 11. In a start against the Los Angeles Dodgers, he had a solid outing, going 5.1 innings, allowing two runs on two hits while striking out six. He had used the fastball twice as often as before, accounting for 40% of his pitches. The knuckleball made up 34%. From there, the percentage keeps going up. He used it 43% during a start against the Atlanta Braves, in which he struck out 10 across 5.2 innings. His highest usage of the pitch was on a May 28 start against the Miami Marlins. He used it over half of the time, striking out eight batters en route to a scoreless seven innings of work, which earned him his third win of the season. Waldron’s usage seems to be averaging at around 40%, reaching that mark in all four starts so far in June.

In eight starts since May 11, Waldron has posted a 1.82 ERA and a 0.82 WHIP. That’s about as good as anyone in the National League, including the Philadelphia Phillies Ranger Suarez, who Waldron out-dueled during his most recent start on Wednesday. Suarez is a top NL Cy Young contender and is 10-1 with a 1.75 ERA. Waldron has only allowed 12 walks in nearly 50 innings of work and just 10 extra-base hits. That’s an impressive number for any pitcher, and once you add that Waldron has a largely uncontrollable pitch, it gets even more so.


It’s no secret that the knuckleball is one of the hardest pitches to use effectively. Despite that, Waldron has cemented himself into the Padres rotation. This recent stretch has been the best for a Padre pitcher this season, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. If Waldron continues this torrid run, he could find himself among the Cy Young vote-getters at the end of the season.

Main Photo Credits: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports


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