Dickey Stays With Mets

There’s a popular phrase that claims, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Last season, R.A. Dickey turned that phrase on it’s head. Dickey reinvented himself as a knuckleballer, and at the ripe age of 35 managed to post the best season of his career. Dickey capitalized on that success Saturday,¬†agreeing to a two-year deal with the New York Mets. The deal, said to be worth $7.5 million over the two seasons, also contains a club option for a third year. Dickey, however, doesn’t have a history of success in the majors outside of last season. With that in mind, the Mets are hoping Dickey has some new tricks up his sleeve this season.

Due to Dickey’s unique situation, it’s difficult to compare him to many pitchers around the league. After years of scuffling in the majors, Dickey decided to reinvent himself as a knuckle-ball pitcher in 2005. The conversion was anything but a success initially. Dickey washed out with four different organizations (Texas, Milwaukee, Seattle and Minnesota) before signing with the Mets last season. Although it took five seasons, Dickey appeared to make some nice gains in 2010.

Dickey finally was able to command his knuckle-ball last season. Overall, Dickey’s 2.17 BB/9 rate was the 13th best among all qualified pitchers. Dickey’s extremely reduced walk rate is a major reason he was able to experience success for the first time in his career. There aren’t many active knuckle-ball pitchers to compare Dickey to, but Tim Wakefield, for example, has a career BB/9 rate of 3.39. Even if Dickey’s command regresses in 2011, he is still capable of posting a solid season.

Throughout his career, Dickey has also been plagued by home runs. Those issues came to a screeching halt last season as Dickey posted a 0.67 HR/9 rate in 2010. While the move to Citi Field probably helped quite a bit, Dickey also posted a 55.1 GB% last season, the strongest of his career. Both of these factors likely contributed to Dickey’s severely reduced home run rate. As a matter of fact, Dickey really excelled when he pitched at Citi Field. In his home starts, Dickey surrendered only three home runs, posting a 1.99 ERA (compared to a 3.58 ERA on the road) in twelve starts. The fact that Dickey will once again pitch half of his games in Citi Field is beneficial to both parties.

Despite a career year, Dickey actually comes pretty cheap for the Mets. By comparison, Jake Westbrook will make $8 million in 2011, and Bronson Arroyo signed a deal for three-years $35 million this off-season. While Arroyo and Westbrook have a longer track record of success in the majors, Dickey was the most valuable pitcher of the bunch. By committing only $7.5 million to Dickey, spread out over two seasons, the Mets aren’t on the hook for much if Dickey is unable to replicate his success.

Dickey’s success will largely depend on how effectively he can command his knuckle-ball next season. Even if we expect Dickey’s command to regress this season, he should remain an effective pitcher. If Dickey completely collapses, and starts walking 4+ batters per game again, the Mets won’t get much value out of this deal. Regardless of the results, the Mets were wise to lock up Dickey at such a cheap price. Some may look at Dickey’s 2010 and exclaim “every dog has its day,” but barring a total collapse, Dickey should remain a valuable asset to the Mets over the next two seasons.

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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.

19 Responses to “Dickey Stays With Mets”

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  1. theperfectgame says:

    In order to pitch to his contract, Dickey will have to provide roughly 1.5 WAR over the next 2 years combined. This contract is some nice security for Dickey and a huge win for the Mets. Great work all around.

    (And sadly, that’s the first time in years I’ve been able to use the phrase “huge win for the Mets”.)

    Also, I wonder, does FIP hold up for knucklers? They tend to pitch to contact (and due to the pitch, it’s often weak contact), so I would think their baseline BABIP might be lower than the expected .300. (SSS Alert!) Dickey’s BABIP last year was .276 and Joe Niekro, Charlie Hough, and Tim Wakefield posted career BABIPs of .270, .250, and .274, respectively. Since FIP was built on the assumption that pitchers have little control over BABIP and can be expected to perform at league average levels on balls in play, I’m wondering if knuckler’s WAR are artificially low. I know that sample size is a major issue, and I don’t know how you’d go about adjusting knuckler WAR, but does that seem like a reasonable line of thought? Has anyone attempted to research it more thoroughly?

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    • Souldrummer says:

      Thanks for your insightful post. I’m just glad that they got this deal done, and I’m a Nats fan, not a Mets fan. You didnt’ want this to go to some kind of ugly arbitration hearing where a lot of this guy’s wonderful season has to get picked over. I think it’s a win for the Mets. In the next two years he’ll provide value. Shoot they’re getting two years of their best pitcher last year for a price less than one year of Mr. Oliver Perez.

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    • Scout Finch says:

      Great query. I assume batter’s facing knucklers often “hit to contact”. When a guy’s knuckler is doing a dance, the swing becomes mostly hands. Would that translate to the low BABIP you reference or is BABIP once again noise?

      Here’s another query: how do the teammates of a knuckler fare statistically when they pitch in a.) immediate relief b.) starting the following game of same series? How much does a knuckler affect the timing of hitters ?

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      • theperfectgame says:

        Yeah, I’m sure a hitter’s approach changes when they’re facing a knuckler (how could it not?) but I’m not sure exactly how, or (more importantly) how effectively they are able to do it.

        Speaking to your “b)”, this isn’t exactly what you asked, but a little while ago, I looked into the results in games following Dickey’s starts (against the same team).

        Overall, the Mets gave up 4.02 runs per game last year. Eighteen times, the Mets followed an RA Dickey start with another game against the same opponent they had just played. In those 18 games, the Mets gave up 79 runs, for an average of 4.39 runs per game.

        Not a ton of data, obviously, but it looks like the opposing team was ready for the next pitcher the day after Dickey pitched.

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      • Jono411 says:

        for b), I’m pretty sure someone did a study a couple years ago that showed that there is a “hangover effect” for the day after and two days after facing a knuckleballer. (ie hitters perform a bit worse than expected in the following two games) not sure where i read it, but i’ll see if i can find a link.

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    • Aaron Lehr says:

      Knuckleballers’ BABIPs have definitely been looked at. I know I’ve read stuff on it and I did a quick search and found this… http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=3932.

      It’s for subscribers only (I am not) but you can see as a non-subscriber bullet #3: “Knuckleball pitchers, as McCracken and other researchers have demonstrated, are an exception to DIPS theory, and do consistently post BABIPs lower than league average.”

      Just a quick nugget from a very reputible source (Nate Silver) talking about another very reputible source (Voros McCracken).

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  2. Guy says:

    It’s a rather large omission not mentioning the drastic change in Dickey’s usage of the knuckleball, using it around 80% of the time in 2010. I was hoping for something a bit more in depth from this article, Dickey’s an interesting pitcher and I’d love for someone to look deeper in to his stats.

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  3. hunterfan says:

    I’m confused. Wouldn’t Dickey have been eligible for FA after the 2011 season?

    The “security” aspect is overrated here, IMHO. Dickey would have gotten a significant guaranteed payout in arbitration (at least $3.35 mil.) Instead, he signs a two year deal with an AAV of $3.75, not a significant upgrade, when he could have reached FA one year sooner.

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    • The Ancient Mariner says:

      At his age, I suspect he finds the security worth quite a bit more. The calculation is different at 35 than 25.

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      • hunterfan says:

        I understand that in the abstract, but in his case it is just two years of security vs. 1 year of security with a potentially awesome payout and much more security waiting at the end of it.

        Unless you were extremely risk averse, I don’t know why you wouldn’t go for option 2 every time.

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      • theperfectgame says:

        There are also rumored to be incentives and a club option for 2013, the details of which are presently unknown. So the security may be more than you think. (Especially for a 36-year-old.)

        Anyway, Dickey’s a smart guy. Whatever his priorities are, I’m sure this deal is meeting them.

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      • vivalajeter says:

        Despite being in professional baseball for over a decade, he’s generally just made close to the league minimum. Having a $7MM guarantee is probably a huge benefit for him, especially since he’s only had 1 great season. This is the first time in his life that he’s signing a contract that will ensure a nice lifestyle until he dies. He might be leaving some money on the table if he has another good year, but I can see why he’d take the security blanket.

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      • hunterfan says:

        I’m not saying there isn’t a security aspect here to Dickey taking the deal. I’m just confused by it because the trade-off seems heavily weighted in the Mets’ favor.

        It seems like Dickey’s trading a LOT of potential value for a smidgeon more security. Trading security for potential value makes a lot of sense only if you are getting a reasonable trade-off, which I don’t feel this is.

        If Dickey had a 2011 comparable to his 2010, I could easily imagine a team giving him a 2 year/$16 million deal. Instead, he’s still going to be tethered for another year at the Mets for a relative pittance….with potential for another year after that, also at a relative pittance.

        The only way this deal makes sense for Dickey is if he feels there is a very real chance of him dropping off a cliff this year.

        If I’m a Mets fan, I’m cheering this deal, but I think Dickey got ripped off.

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  4. Llewdor says:

    I love Dickey. Any pitcher without a UCL is worthy of note, and he’s a knuckleballer as well.

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  5. Kazinski says:

    For a guy who’s missing an ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching arm, I would say he’s better off going for the security now, rather than taking any sort of a gamble.

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  6. Elwin says:

    Before last season, the only thing I knew R.A. Dickey for was giving up 6 home runs in 3 1/3 against the Tigers in his debut as a knuckleballer.

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