dickeytowel

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.

Comments (38)

  1. It certainly couldn’t hurt.

  2. why not eh

  3. I recall hearing somewhere recently where it was stated that the Jays can’t just conveniently close the roof due to Dickey. The SkyDome is classified as an open stadium with a retractable roof. There are apparently some rules about when they are allowed to close it.

    I wish I could remember the details now, but it seemed pretty cut and dry that the Jays can’t play games with it to give Dickey an edge.

    • Jeff Blair was talking about this today– or perhaps it was yesterday– and a caller brought up this very point. He said that it was his understanding that they have control over the roof, but I’m not sure about that either. You’d think teams would possibly have an issue with it.

      • Here’s a link to the official ground rules for all 30 stadiums. This is the section for the retractable roof rules for the 6 stadiums with said retractable roofs: http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/official_info/umpires/ground_rules.jsp#ROOF

        Worth noting that according to this, Toronto is the only stadium where the roof can’t be opened “during the game”. I’ve been at games where the roof has started closed and then opened in the middle. So they break the rules already, and the umpires and/or opposing teams either don’t know the ground rule, or the opponents just don’t give a shit that the roof is opening and they never call the Jays out on it. Which means they could probably bend the rules a little more for Dickey’s starts and there’s a good chance nobody would notice or care.

        • Thanks Sharkey, that answers it.

          “The decision as to whether a game begins with the roof open or closed rests solely with the home club.”

          Close the roof for every Dickey start!

      • It raises a thought like why is ok for the Red Sox to sign/draft/acquire players who can easily hit home runs to RF? Shouldn’t all teams have players that are beneficial to where the layer will spend 50% off his games at?

    • Quite certain you’re right on this one. I worked for the Argos for a season and the roof was open for almost every single game, even when it started getting pretty cold out. Not sure if it’s a rule or a policy that’s above a single player but, unless rain is in the forecast, they keep the roof open as much as possible.

  4. I saw that documentary Knuckleball! and he has to manicure his fingernails perfectly in order for his starts to be quality ones. If his fingernail is too long/short in one place, that could cost him a win.

    If that’s the case, I could totally see the dome being a legit factor and not a coincidence. I say close it.

    Although this is coming from someone whose favorite ballpark of all time is the Metrodome. For me, baseball is just a game meant to be played in air conditioning under a non-retractable roof on artificial surfaces.

  5. I have no idea about this issue regarding whether or not the team has final say-so on whether the roof is open or closed. But if it is under team control, I’ve said for a long time that they should leave it up to the starting pitcher if they have a preference. I remember hearing the Doc hated pitching in the heat. Then close the roof for him! Why wouldn’t we milk that advantage — even if it only exists in the head of the pitcher — if we can?
    It’s certainly no man in white, and also not as bad as Jeter pretending every inside pitch has hit him. Take the advantages you can get.

    • I do believe they intentionally kept it open when they might otherwise have not when Tim Wakefield was pitching.

      • As they should. Doesn’t seem like it’s cheating, and our field should be used to our best advantage.

        • In the end, whatever the Jays choose to do with the roof is ultimately fair, unless they started opening the roof just for every bottom of the inning.

  6. Who was he playing in those open dome innings? That’s a factor too. And yeah that one Boston inning really made a difference.

    I think this is a case where the stats won’t tell you as well as Dickey himself can. He’ll know best (whether we’ll get to hear that or not is another matter). Personally I once sat row one, right by 3rd base. The air was pretty still down there. Even with the roof open, it is still a pretty wind protected stadium.

    • Indoors: CLE, BOS, CHW, SFG, KCR, LAA, NYY

      Outdoors: SEA, TBR, BAL, BAL, DET, MIN, TBR, HOU, OAK, NYY

      • Oh! I misread – the Boston disaster was with the roof closed. I see. Yeah then… this might be a real factor.

        Still think his statement on the matter would be interesting.

      • where are his last 2 starts of the year ?

        • If nothing changes, he’ll close out the Red Sox series in Fenway on Sunday, then open up the Tampa series at home a week from Friday.

  7. In one of those Baltimore starts, BEFORE the game, Jim Palmer noted he had been on the field and there was a swirling wind around home plate. I don’t know, but it would not be surprising if the air currents in the dome are quite variable when the roof is open due to all kinds of random effects. What I noticed in the roof open games was that the counts were higher as if he was having more trouble commanding (if that even applies to a knuckler) his pitches.

    Small sample size and really, really wishing for more data as you state, it is not too strange to suggest that the closed dome presents him with fewer and less volatile variables which has got to help him.

    Let’s increase the sample size.

  8. Shouldn’t we leave it up to science?

    Why isn’t someone actually trying to figure this out? Shouldn’t we be interested in what’s actually happening to a knuckleball in an open/closed dome?

    What about other members of our staff?

    If evidence was found that the ball dances better, or Dickey can somehow control his pitches better with a closed dome, then shouldn’t we take that advantage? Why aren’t we doing something to find out if our chances of having a better starting pitcher at home is possible? Isn’t that important? I know it’s one guy, and it means nothing if the team doesn’t perform, that the season is not just played at home, but if there is a slight legal edge we can have going into any game why wouldn’t we try and find out?

    It could turn out that it makes 5% to no difference and we can all move on, but to let this just sit there in the 21st century seems dumb to me. I’ll pay double my Rogers bill for a blue jays advanced sciences department.

    Obviously Dickie was awesome last year in an open Citi Field, but comaaaaaaaaaaaaan.

    *adjusts tie and slowly walks out of room*

  9. I agree Dyl , get science involved.

    I do know that in cooler, less humid air the ball doesn’t carry as far. Maybe on some of those hot, humid summer Toronto nights when Dickey starts, crank up the air conditioning, give out free Blue Jay toques and call it Igloo night by the lake ?

  10. Let me throw this wrinkle into the equation:
    It’s a mid-July Saturday, gorgeous weather, with an AL East nemesis in town.
    What’s more important?
    A closed Dome for a Dickey start with *the chance* of a win, or the opportunity of a bigger walk-up crowd, putting more asses in the seats, consuming more concessions, etc. ?
    Seriously- given this scenario, knowing the Dome would be closed, I’m not going to the game.

    • So we haven’t had any 40k crowds with the dome closed?

      While I see your point; if an AL East rival is in town and we’re contending, people will show up. Just the hope of contending this year put more fans in the dome. Imagine if we were actually good.

      Totally get your point that they may never do it because they may sell more beers on a hot day.

      Double my Rogers Bill on Dickey night!!

    • I’d rather watch a win than sit in the sun

      • I’d rather watch Dickey making fools of opponents and winning games and throwing off the opponents timing and winning games or have Todd Redmond start all the games in the dome.

    • Then you’re not a true fan. You’re either going or you’re not. Roof open or closed probably does not make that much of a difference for the sensible population.

  11. I’m not real used too twitter but what do you think about a hash tag type campaign too get Rogers centre roof closed. I realize the stats are far from perfect but they pass the smell test at least which makes me want too try it at least. but it would be an uphill battle too close the roof on a sunmy summer day so he’ll need help. #lockupdickey? Or open too other suggestions

  12. Close it! That’s what I thought they were intending to do when they got him. You have to give a knuckleballer as much of an edge as you can.

  13. I just saw this recently, but that sidearm knuckler was a thing of beauty!

  14. Causation

  15. Has anyone bothered to check Dickey’s stats with closed/open stadiums in his previous three seasons? Because I’m pretty sure the best year of his career came when his home park was Citi Field…you know, not a domed stadium.
    Chalk up his bad run this year to a case of early-season arm & back shittiness and move on to 2014.

    • Citi isn’t as hitter friendly as Rogers Centre, and last year probably his best game was on the road in Tampa, so… thanks for being a dick, but you’re wrong.

    • ¡BOOOOOOOOM!

      YOU JUST GOT #DICKIEROOFIED, SON!

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