R.A. Dickey: More Than The Basic Numbers
The Toronto Blue Jays Opening Day starter, R.A. Dickey has gotten off to a rocky start to his season. Fellow starter Mark Buehrle has truly taken the role of stopper away from Dickey and many people are starting to get angry at the trade that landed Dickey.
While the Blue Jays may not ever truly win the trade, that is something that Blue Jays fans should stop holding against General Manager Alex Anthopoulos, as Dickey can still help this team during his tenure as a Blue Jay. The starting rotation is already better than last season, and the team in general looks much better than in 2013.
Despite Dickey’s 5.90 ERA and 1-3 record, he actually has not been as bad as people think he has been. One thing that looks good is the fact that Dickey’s FIP (fielding independent pitching) is 4.79. While that is not extraordinary or eye-popping, it still is a whole run and change below his ERA. I would expect his ERA to lower closer to his FIP and likely drop below 4.79 as the season continues.
What Dickey usually does well which is often overlooked is how he eats innings. Despite the fact he may get shelled from time-to-time, the Blue Jays should bank on six innings at minimum, night in and night out. Dickey going six or seven innings each start usually will give the bullpen much needed rest. The innings Dickey eats have been over-shadowed due to the runs he surrenders each start, but if he drops his ERA into the mid-to-low fours, he will do his job of eating innings and keeping the Blue Jays in a game. And that is what you want from your ace.
The sample size is small for these statistics however I am going to highlight them. An encouraging sign from Dickey is his swinging strike percentage is at 11%, extremely close to his 12.2% from 2012, the year he won the Cy Young. The 78% contact rate by opposing batters on pitches in the strike zone is down through five starts from 83.1% in 2013. 70% contact rate outside the strike zone is also down from 72.5% in 2013. Those numbers are down from 2013 and very similar to 2012.
A lot of those numbers in the previous paragraph are due to the fact Dickey’s knuckle-ball velocity is up to an average of 76.2 MPH, which is an improvement from 2013. He is also being able to vary the speeds of his knuckler and is able to throw the hard knuckle-ball up around 79-80 MPH, something he was not able to do until late in the 2013 season, which was a major reason for his second half bounce back.
While all these numbers are welcome sights and similar to 2012, there is one problem, and to be honest, only one problem that is preventing Dickey from pitching to the level he is capable of and have these stats take more light. Dickey’s walks ratio of 5.59 BB/9 innings is an absurd number and is the ultimate reason for his struggles.
People may point to the home run ball being an issue, but he has only given up three, a much better pace from 2013. Home runs are a given with Dickey, so they’re bound to happen, like with most pitchers but the difference is the walks. Instead of the homers being solo shots, the walks make them multi-run home runs. The hits and high BABIP (.306) comes back to bite Dickey. It would be a different story if he was allowing hit after hit after hit, but it is the walks that have come around to score on hits surrendered.
In his win against the New York Yankees, Dickey only walked one batter and threw a gem in 6.2 innings. In losses to Houston Astros, and Tampa Bay Rays Dickey walked a total of 14 batters in 16.1 innings and 16 runs. His last start against the Baltimore Orioles, Dickey surrendered a three run home run to Nelson Cruz which would have only been a two run homer if not for a Nick Markakis walk. Dickey proceeded to walk two more batters and barely escape the sixth inning. Though it was a quality start, Dickey did have potential to go much deeper into the game with a great pitch count, but walks derailed that opportunity.
When you look at the basic statistics, Dickey is not having a good season. When you look at advanced statistics, Dickey is right around the levels of his Cy Young season. All Dickey truly has to do is stop walking an insane amount of batters. Dickey is close and we should begin to see a more dominant, consistent R.A Dickey.