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.