R.A. Dickey and Cy Young Hopes

After yesterday’s 12-strikeout, no-walk complete game from R.A. Dickey, the league’s best knuckleballer moved into position with the MLB’s fourth-best xFIP, the MLB’s fourth-best ERA, and the 10th-best ERA-minus among historical knuckleballers.

Advanced stats can sometimes fail us with knuckleballers because they produce especially weak contact. In his most recent start, Dickey got 10 ground outs, 1 weak single that may get ruled an error, and 1 infield fly ball. So naturally, FIP and xFIP under-appreciate Dickey to a certain extent, but does that mean he should be in consideration for a Cy Young award?

Yes. Probably very much: Yes.

Well first of all: Matt Cain‘s perfect game last night certainly does not play in Dickey’s favor. Cain currently sports a better ERA and FIP than Dickey, plus he has one of the biggest badges a pitcher can earn in a single start, so if the San Francisco Giants pitcher can maintain his production and not totally Philip Humber before the end of the season, then he is probably the favorite.

There is also Zack Greinke, pitching like Zach Greinke is wont to pitch (1.98 FIP, 2.34 xFIP — both best in the NL). And Cliff Lee (2.67 xFIP) and Stephen Strasburg (2.42 xFIP) have been sharp NL pitchers too.

Dickey indeed can beat his peripheral stats, and even though he sports an excellent ERA right now, he still may have even more room to improve. Since 2008, Dickey has averaged an ERA 0.55 points lower than his xFIP, and since 2009, it has been a full 0.68 points lower:

As Dickey has improved, his gap between defensive-independent numbers and his ERA has expanded.

And it’s not like the Mets have had some line-drive-swallowing defense either. From 2009 through 2011, their pitching staff had a .296 BABIP — sixth worst in the NL. And so far in 2012, they have a .300 mark, good for 7th worst and near the middle of the NL.

Dickey now has 10 consecutive starts without allowing more than 4 runs — with four zero-earned-run starts (all at or under 2.02 xFIP) coming most recently. He is, as the kids say, on a fire.

But this is the summer, which is Springtime for Knuckleballs. When it gets cold, it gets hard to dig those fingernails into the seams and the knuckler gets straight and homered. Paul Swydan noted how astoundingly consistent Dickey has been over the course of the 2012 season — and how unusual that is for a knuckleballer. Not only is Dickey consistently getting low ER totals, he is also doing it the “right” way — lot’s a whiffs, lots of Ks, and nary a BB:

Can Dickey keep up his career-best strikeout rate? I’m not sure. When the weather turns cold and dry, Dickey may lose his remarkable consistency. If that’s the case, kiss the Cy Young goodnight.

On his career, Dickey’s worst numbers have come in July and Sept./Oct. Since becoming a knuckleballer, he has struggled almost exclusively in the season’s first and last months — the cold months. In 2012, he escaped Mar./Apr. with a 3.29 xFIP — the best opening month of his career. If he can repeat that success in the last month, then his numbers could be in a position for serious Cy Young consideration.

And there is also the matter of his age. At nearly 38 years old, Dickey would not be the oldest pitcher to win a Cy Young award — that distinction belongs to the now-embattled Roger Clemens (42 years old in 2004). But he would certainly be the first knuckleballer to win the award and one of the oldest first-time winners.

The merit of Story cannot be ignored when it comes to the voting for awards. And Dickey has quite the story. He was a failed pitcher who reinvented himself and is now — when most baseball players are putting out feelers for coaching careers — one of the best pitchers in the league. Plus he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro this past offseason and wrote an autobiography. He has a Disney-esque comeback story with a dynamic, adventuristic personality. Writers — i.e. voters — have a tough time resisting such things, so Dickey should have the peripheral peripherals, so to speak, necessary to allow him a Cy Young victory without the best numbers.

So paint some extra nail polish on those precious fingernails, Dickey, because these final months can put you in the history books.

Print This Post

Bradley writes for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. Follow him on Twitter @BradleyWoodrum.

36 Responses to “R.A. Dickey and Cy Young Hopes”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
  1. garik16 says:

    The years in the first graph are wrong.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. Anon says:

    1 weak single that may get ruled an error

    Not likely. How do the Mets like that karma.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Astromets says:

      That is not how karma works – the Mets didn’t mess up the call down the line in Johan’s no-hitter. May be poetic justice, but not karma

      +17 Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. baty says:

    Is he the only guy out there right now carrying this pitch? Steven Wright of AA Akron is the only other “up and comer” I can think of. We need to keep this pitch alive…

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • joser says:

      There is another. There always is. Out there, somewhere, some guy will be fooling with the pitch and use it to resurrect his career.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • steex says:

      Charlie Haeger is out for the season with an elbow injury, but every indication is that he still intends to rehab and come back. He’s extremely inconsistent with the pitch now, but he’s only 28 – he may be ten years away from his prime.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. vivalajeter says:

    What he’s done is simply remarkable. In his last 6 starts he has 58 K’s and 4 BB’s. He’s also only had one bad outing all year. How is that even possible for a knuckleball pitcher? My recollection of Wakefield is that his overall numbers could be pretty good by the end of the season, but on a start to start basis you had absolutely no idea what you’d get. Somehow, Dickey has been able to throw the knuckleball at different speeds, and he has a pretty good idea of where it’s going. He doesn’t just throw it to the middle of the strike zone and hope it moves.

    Whether he’ll win the CY Young is hard to say. There are always candidates in June that wind up with mediocre full-season numbers. But he’s been filthy since he came up with the ‘rising’ knuckleball a month or so ago, and his story is great (as mentioned in the article). It’ll be interesting to see what kind of contract extension he gets, given his age and production.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. Josh says:

    This story is really just incredible. I watched video of the game yesterday (can’t find video of the hit by Upton) and its awesome, the rays look like that old bugs bunny cartoon. Upton’s second AB I think it was he actually did nearly swing twice. Fun to watch.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. Eric R says:

    “When the weather turns cold and dry, Dickey may lose his remarkable consistency. If that’s the case, kiss the Cy Young goodnight.”

    From myforcast.com, here are typical average high/low temps and average afternoon relative humidity by month:

    April 60/44 51%
    May 70/54 53%
    June 79/63 54%
    July 84/69 54%
    August 83/68 56%
    September 75/61 56%

    So for the next 10 weeks it is actually going to get hotter and then cool back down to roughly June temps and it is only going to get wetter as the year goes on.

    Sure, he plays half of his games elsewherwe, but isn’t the general trend about the same in most US cities?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. joser says:

    This has to be the best run of games by a knuckleballer ever, in terms of things like K/BB.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. CBB says:

    League’s best knuckeballer? Only one IIRC. He is an American hero.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  9. Josh says:

    Was there an analysis on his lone bad start? I watched the game and thoroughly enjoyed my Braves crushing him, but I’d like to see the analysis on that game compared to the rest of the year.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Ben D says:

      It was raining during that game, and he <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YDOtpY1-MF0&t=0m50s&quot; title="said" it was "like throwing water balloons…it wasn't just the weather, it was poorly executed pitches too."

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Josh says:

        I thought I remembered rain but we hit some balls hard. I’m not blaming it all the rain. Sorry milli.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Eric says:

        There were definitely balls hit very hard; that’s the problem with rain (and to a lesser extent, wind) and the knuckler, it loses the unpredictable movement, and turns into a 60-80mph meatball.

        Which is why I’m not super surprised that Dickey pitched outstandingly in the Trop (a dome), and why Wakefield always seemed to do better in Toronto (ditto)… I do wonder why the dome teams haven’t made more of an effort to pick up reasonably promising knuckleball pitchers

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • AJS says:

        Wakefield actually had numbers worse than his career averages at the Rogers Centre (4.65 ERA, 1.50 WHIP), although he posted substantially better numbers (3.29, 1.22) at the Trop. Of course, it’s possible lineup quality played a factor (the Rays, after all, were pretty bad prior to 2008).

        And according to B-ref, when it comes to games played under a closed dome, (admittedly a small sample of Wake’s career) he had a worse ERA and WHIP than his career norms, although a better K/BB ratio.

        What is astounding is how much better he pitched during the day than at night.

        Day: 3.71, 1.22, 2.13 K/BB
        Night: 4.71, 1.41, 1.67 K/BB

        So that’s not enough to convince me that knuckleballers do better at domed stadiums, although perhaps is there something to be said for warmer temperatures helping.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Rich Johnson says:

      That snowman he put up against the Braves broke a streak of 14 straight QS in a row. Anyway, Dickey has been consistent/dominant since at least July 25th of 2011.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  10. Robbie G. says:

    These sorts of stories do not happen in the other two major American pro sports leagues (NBA, NFL). There is no equivalent in those two leagues of a 38-year-old journeyman knuckleballer who is legitimately in the discussion for the Cy Young Award. Seems like there are multiple “You’ve Gotta Be Kidding Me!” stories in MLB every single year.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  11. jorgath says:

    I mean, I love Dickey. And Cain. And I tolerate Zack Greinke. And I hate posts that are “but you didn’t mention my guy!”

    But you didn’t mention my guy. And I think he’s got a better chance at the Cy Young than Greinke, and at least as good a shot as Dickey, although I’ll concede the lead to Cain. So GRRR ARGH YOU DIDN’T MENTION MY GUY.

    Of course, neither have I yet. I suppose I should.


    Okay, fine.

    Gio Gonzalez. Not Strasburg, because he WILL get shut down (insert comments pro/con that here). So Gio’s the most likely National.

    Still, as I said, Dickey is awesome. So is Cain. Greinke can deal.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  12. dave g. says:

    Quick question, the article states his worst numbers were in July/Sept., but he “struggles exclusively in April/Sept.’ Didn’t get that. Great stuff otherwise, though.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • That’s the difference of career vs. his knuckleball days. He had about 2 MLB seasons without a knuckleball — where he was an exclusively bad pitcher.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  13. RA Dickey is a cult legend.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  14. The Frankman says:

    R.A. Dickey is good baseball person.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  15. Slartibartfast says:

    R.A. Fucking Dickey is awesome.

    Vote -1 Vote +1