Trying to correctly read into the numbers posted by R.A. Dickey when pitching either inside or outside at Rogers Centre this season is maybe not quite as tricky as hitting the “capricious animal” that is his bread and butter, but it’s pretty damn tricky.
Plenty was made, when the Cy Young winner was acquired by the Jays last winter, about knuckleballers’ affinity for the neutral conditions inside a domed stadium, which seemed to be borne out by Dickey’s incredible performance in a June 2012 start at Tampa, in which he struck out 12, walked none, and dazzled with his knuckler to a complete game victory. But as we all know, the pitcher has struggled badly in his home park, largely because of his propensity to give up home runs in it– he’s given up 21 of his 31 home runs this season at home.
We now have nearly a full season’s worth of data on how he’s done as a member of the Blue Jays, and I’ve used the game logs and box scores at Baseball Reference to go back through it, separating his starts into ones where the Rogers Centre roof was closed at the start of play, and those where it was open (whether the roof moved after play began is not noted). The differences are rather eye-popping, but for two key reasons that data is rather unreliable.
For one, this experiment forces us to parcel out the data into quite small samples, and naturally that’s going to make it much hard to claim that it demonstrates a pattern being established.
For two, the bulk of Dickey’s indoor starts came when he was at his healthiest– in April and early May, and again in late August and September. Almost the entire run of mid-season starts when Dickey was struggling with his velocity due to an ailing back is included in the data for his outdoor starts.
So, maybe this is pointless. But let’s press on, with those heavy, heavy caveats in mind, and have a look at the actual numbers:
To date, Dickey has thrown 43 innings in starts that began with the Dome closed, giving up 18 earned runs. He has faced 182 batters, striking out 42 of them and walking 15.
That means he’s been good for a 3.77 ERA, a 23.1% strikeout rate, and an 8.2% walk rate. And in those games he has given up six home runs– one for every 30.3 batters faced.
When it comes to games at the Rogers Centre with the roof open, Dickey has so far pitched 66 innings, facing 284 batters, and giving up a whopping 42 earned runs. In those games he has struck out 54 and walked 22.
His open-roof numbers, then, are a 5.73 ERA, a 19.0% strikeout rate, and a 7.7% walk rate. And in those games he has given up 15 HR– one for every 18.9 batters faced.
Quite clearly, then, Dickey has performed considerably better when the roof has been closed– as one should have reasonably expected from the outset. Even the lower walk rate with the roof open could suggest that the knuckleball just wasn’t dancing enough, or that Dickey was getting hit too hard to register as many walks as when the pitch was really on.
But I’m not sure these numbers ought to be convincing anyone that the Jays need to use any and every excuse imaginable to get the roof closed when he pitches. Though, I’m not sure they shouldn’t be convincing anyone of that, either!
Thing is, to illustrate just how small and volatile the samples we’re working with here– while, simultaneously, somewhat dubiously giving credence to the idea that Dickey is much better off with the roof closed– let’s think back to his start against the Red Sox on April 7th.
That game was played with the roof closed, and, you may recall, was an absolute disasterpiece, as Dickey went out and had seven earned runs (eight total) hung on him by John fucking Farrell’s boys, before being mercifully relieved by Dave Bush, who went ahead and coughed up five more himself.
What I remember about that outing, though, is that after throwing some extended batting practice to begin the game, Dickey settled down and was not wholly terrible for the rest of it. Obviously you can’t just give him a total pass on such a catastrophe, but it is pretty striking that, if you remove just that one aberration of an inning, with it’s five earned runs for three outs recorded, his ERA with the roof closed sinks to a 2012-like 2.79.
Two point seven nine!
Honestly, though, as if I haven’t made my skepticism clear enough, I can’t sit here and say that I actually believe this is as much of a thing as these warped numbers make it look. That said, uh… yeah, I’d be into sitting through a few extra impossibly humid mid summer closed-roof games if it meant giving the pattern a chance to keep playing out the way it has this year. Completely into it.
Like, real ridiculously totally into it.