Over at Sporstnet today, Dirk Hayhurst looks at some of the numbers on R.A. Dickey, and finds himself convinced that R.A. Dickey has been worth the $5-million the Jays are paying him this season, and then some.
I can’t disagree, but I must admit, when I saw a tweet from Sportsnet promoting the piece, I figured on seeing some different numbers than the ones Dirk provided. Not that I’m about to quibble with his numbers, but there are ones not touched on that I think are just as impressive as the heavy innings total that Hayhurst mostly cites.
As you’re probably aware simply from having been watching this season, Dickey has steadily gotten better. Dig into the splits, and the differences are actually pretty eye-popping.
Dickey entered his first start after the All-Star break with a 4.69 ERA and has pitched to a 3.56 ERA since. And if you want to get even more arbitrary endpoint-y, he entered his June 26th start against Tampa with a 5.15 ERA and has pitched to a 3.42 ERA since.
And, frankly, that endpoint might not even be so arbitrary.
The day following Dickey’s start in Tampa, I posted a chart from Dave Cameron at FanGraphs, who had noted, I explained, that Dickey’s knuckleball velocity had “crept over 76 mph for the first time since Dickey left his fantastic mid-April outing in Kansas City with back trouble.”
“This seems to portend well for the pitcher’s health and the possibility of a turnaround actually coming to fruition, for whatever little a single game’s worth of knuckleball velocity data is worth,” I added.
You can see the difference quite strikingly on FanGraphs’ three-year chart of Dickey’s knuckleball velocity– which I’ve taken the liberty of marking up, noting the Tampa game in red, and the Kansas City one in blue [note: click to embiggen]:
On the whole, the velocity still isn’t quite where it was in 2012, or even 2011, but it has definitely improved since the back trouble-created trough, as have Dickey’s numbers– I think not coincidentally.
Looking at his splits, in 68.1 innings so far in the second half, Dickey has struck out 21.3% of batters faced, compared to 16.8% prior to the All-Star break, and his walk rate has come down over 2% as well, from 8.6% in the first half, to a tidy 6.3% in the second. His second half FIP and xFIP are 4.00 and 4.09, compared to 4.90 and 4.53 prior to the All-Star break. His K/BB has gone from 1.96 to 3.39, and his HR/FB rate has dropped too, from 13% to 11.1%.
So… this doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s been great. In fact, he’s just 51st of 103 qualified starters in terms of second half ERA, 40th in terms of fWAR, and his career worst groundball rate has actually gone down, from 41.6% to 37.7%. But he’s been quite a lot better than the unmitigated disaster we were staring at back in early June. And while the second half fWAR of 1.0 is somewhat low, it’s more than half of his season total (1.8), and was accumulated in just 10 of his 30 starts.
More importantly, because this year surely doesn’t effing matter anymore, they’re his most recent ten starts as well. And, while the sinking ground ball rate is clearly the worst bit of information gleaned from this digging, given Dickey’s ungodly troubles with the home run in his home park (17.5% HR/FB, and 20 allowed over 96.2 innings), he at least seems like he might be turning it around at Rogers Centre. Granted, the sample is smaller still– just 33.1 second half innings at home– but he’s pitched to a 4.05 ERA in that span from the Rogers Centre mound, compared to 6.02 at home in the first half, though he’s given up eight home runs.
The homer totals might always plague him while he pitches for the Blue Jays, but at least of late he’s been limiting their damage by not having quite so many runners on when they do happen. It won’t make him the ace a lot of people, the Jays included, hoped they were getting when they gave up Noah Syndergaard and Travis d’Arnaud to get him, but 200 innings of the guy Dickey has been for the last 103.1 is still a very nice pitcher, and not even ridiculously overpaid at the $12-million rate he’ll be paid in each of the next two seasons.
If this feels like a bit of a tepid defence, that’s because it is, given where the expectations were last winter. But at least, even though the sample size is a bit small, given the coinciding of his return to health and velocity and the improved results that followed, we can feel a whole lot more comfortable with Dickey going forward now than we would have a month or two ago. That, I’d say, is no small consolation in this mercilessly woeful season.