Unlikely Success for Dickey

R.A. Dickey has never managed to go an entire season without at least some time spent in the Minor Leagues. Perhaps 2011 will break that streak because the Mets certainly have to be a little regretful of the 60.2 innings they had Dickey spend in Buffalo to begin 2010.

Dickey wasn’t much different in Triple-A this season then he has been in the past aside from a reduced BABIP and a higher ground ball rate. Then again, Dickey has always been better than the Triple-A level and this season was no different with Dickey accumulating in the range of about 1.5 WAR if we extended the formula to the Minor Leagues. Called up to the big leagues and inserted into the Mets rotation as of May 19. It wasn’t an auspicious beginning with four walks and two strikeouts in six innings, but things only got better from there. In the 120.1 innings since that first start, Dickey has recorded 83 strikeouts and just 27 walks and one hit batter.

What’s working for Dickey? Not surprisingly, it’s his knuckle ball. Never before has he committed to it so fervently, throwing it over 80% of the time and getting good results. And despite the increase in knuckle balls, Dickey has halved his walk rate from last season and kept his strikeouts level. He’s even manged to keep more batted balls on the ground. Also despite the heavy use of a knuckler, Dickey’s wild pitch and passed ball rate (just one per 240 pitches) is merely 59th amongst all pitchers with at least 1,000 pitches in 2010.

Coming into play today Dickey is sporting a sparkling 2.64 ERA but more importantly, his FIP is a solid 3.44 and his 3.68 xFIP points to a pitcher not succeeding through luck alone. And that is before you consider that Dickey might deserve a discount on his FIP due to his knuckleball. His 2.5 WAR to date exceeds his previous career best of 1.9 with the Rangers in 2003. That’s a significant bounce back from a really poor 2009 season spent mostly in the Twins’ bullpen.

Even though he has bounced around the league for the past ten seasons, Dickey has yet to accumulate enough service time to qualify as a Major League free agent and thus the Mets still retain arbitration rights to him. It’s always fun to take heed of players such as Dickey who have found some, perhaps fleeting, success after years of struggle. Will he be able to stick an entire season in a big league rotation next season?

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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.

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