R.A. Dickey Is Really Alright


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.

Comments (28)

  1. Good piece.

    It’s nice to see that Dickey and Buerhle don’t both look like the god awful mistakes they appeared in be in April/May. I actually look forward to their starts at this point.

    Even if Dickey never has a year like 2012, if he can match the second half of 2013, he’ll be of good use.

  2. but I want TDA and Nose back… Life is suffering.

  3. He’s very much worth the 5mil, and he should only be better next year. But, is he also worth d’Arnaud and Syndergaard?

    • In a vacuum, no. In a world where your roster is setup to compete in 2013-15? Still probably no, but it’s closer.

  4. Kyle Kendrick?

  5. He hasn’t been fantastic – but at least of late he passes the eye-test for sure. He’s been much stronger and has really cut down on the big inning.

  6. “As you’re probably aware simply from having been watching this season…”

    Going to have to reject the premise.

  7. Thanks for this Stoeten.

    “If this feels like a bit of a tepid defence, that’s because it is, given where the expectations were last winter.”

    The problem was with the expectations. Speaking for myself at least, what we’ve been seeing recently is more like what I expected. I was obviously hoping for better, but this is what I expected.

    I’ll also predict that you’ll answer the above question differently a year from you. Closer to a full year of this type of performance, coupled with better infield defense, and I predict you’ll say it was worth what we gave up. Or, at least, he’ll be worth $12 mil and maybe even some surplus value, and it’ll be a fair deal.

  8. What was he throwing in 2011 that he hasn’t in 2012-2013, re the velocity range

  9. Lost all respect for Dick Hayhurst when he said on National television the jays should tank for top ten prospect.

  10. Dickey has grinded it out all year. I admire him and Buehrle for still giving a damn on the days they start. I think it would be cool if the Dickster could end up with 15 wins.

    • Agreed, pitcher wins are meaningless as a way of evaluating the pitcher but as the pitcher it sure is nice to get that W attached to your name.

  11. d’Arnaud has been hurt a lot since the trade and his first month in the majors has been pretty bad so far (34 wRC+, -0.3 WAR). SSS and yeah, it means squat, but he isn’t tearing the cover off the ball yet. If he was then that would be pretty sickening. Syndergaard is throwing very well in the minors though unfortunately. Much better than Sanchez. :(

  12. Who the hell said he wasn’t worth 5M there Dirk? If it isn’t the Garfoose, Toronto’s answer to a question nobody asked.

    Also, fuck off with the autoplay videos that can’t be turned off Sportsnet.

  13. fWAR is bad and even worse for knuckleballers.

  14. I think Dickey said he was intentionally throwing the knuckler slower more often(after his last start at Skydome) to try to limit the long ball.

  15. WAR and such are always had on knuckleball/contact oriented pitchers are they?

  16. I was so pumped for Dickey. But I really fucking wanted Cy RA Fucking Young Dickey.

    It’s hard to swallow and accept this is it, that this is what Dickey is. I’m not ready to be as pleased about it as you are Stoeten.

    I wanted back to back 1 hitter Dickey. Fuck.

    • So did I – but no one can say for sure what Dickey could bring to the table in 2014 being a) healthy and b) Skydome experienced.

      Dickey has looked much, much better in the second half, but I don’t think it is reasonable to assume that this is his new ceiling for performance. Call me an optimist, but I still think there is potential for further progress from Dickey. That said, I do have to concede the point that another Cy Young calibre performance is highly unlikely.

  17. To me the problem is AAs manifest preference for trades over FA signings which seems to have been a policy decision based on a warped sense of value.

    FAs are not good value in a WAR per dollar way over the life of the contract but in the early years they are and you have to write off the later years.

    The problem with trades for high price talent is you need to subtract the future excesss value of the traded players.

    With guys like darnaud who are not far from the majors. That’s ALOT of value that’s expensive to acquire

  18. There’s also some luck involved. Kept drabek and snider who were worth a ton at their peak and traded darnaud syndy and nicolino and they’re all looking like much better bets

    The wiki trade was a very strange one however.

  19. Wojo

  20. [...] While he certainly hasn’t been the same pitcher he was in his 2012 Cy Young season, has R.A. Dickey actually been kind of okay? [DJF] [...]

  21. [...] missed this one earlier in the week but DJF’s Andrew Stoeten takes a look at R.A. Dickey‘s splits using the non-arbitrary endpoint of his June 26th start [...]

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