R.A. Dickey came into the season with more concerns than the typical reigning Cy Young. He did not have the long track record of elite success in the majors, and was moving to a more difficult league. Though age is not as important with knuckle-ball pitchers, there is always some reason for caution investing in a 38-year-old. Through two games, those worries have looked justified. At the same time, it’s foolish to overreact after 10.2 innings. While Dickey has struggled, things are not as bad as they seem.
One of the biggest reasons for Dickey’s success over the past three seasons has been improved control. Prior to joining the New York Mets, Dickey had a 3.6 BB/9. From 2010 to 2012, that dropped to just 2.2. The fact that he already has six walks in two starts is not encouraging. Command was a bit of an issue Sunday — more on that later — but there is some evidence Dickey was being squeezed in his first start of the season.
Using BrooksBaseball.net, we can isolate the results of his at-bats.
As the chart explains, the green squares represent at-bats that ended in a walk. At the bottom of the strike zone, there are three green squares, two of which are definitely in the zone. The third green box in just on the line of the strike zone, suggesting it was also a strike, though it’s not as egregious as the other two.
The chart also shows where Dickey has been vulnerable this year. Four of the five hits Dickey gave up that night were in the upper half of the zone. When he misses with the knuckleball up in the zone, or when it doesn’t knuckle, it becomes hittable.
This was evident in Sunday’s start against the Boston Red Sox.
The extra-base hits Dickey gave up were on balls left in the upper half of the zone. He was able to limit the damage when he kept the ball low, giving up one double and three singles. The double, and two of the singles, were hit by the first three batters of the games. All of them came off Dickey’s knuckleball.
Dickey must have been frustrated with the knuckler after giving up five straight hits to open the game, many of which were down in the zone. As a result, he started relying on his fastball more than usual. When your fastball averages 83 mph, this is typically a bad idea. Dickey needed to use it as he struggled to command the knuckleball. While he was able to throw the fastball for strikes, both of his home runs came off the pitch. A combination of early frustration and lack of control led him to throw more fastballs than usual.
Though Dickey struggled with control Sunday, he only gave up two walks. And since he was squeezed a bit during his first game, there’s no need to overreact to the free-passes just yet. Dickey has struggled to open the season, but he has also run into some unfortunate circumstances. The only reason Dickey’s sluggish start is bothersome is his unique path to becoming an elite starter. Forming your opinons about any player based on two games is foolish. Even with the added risks, Dickey deserves more time to figure things out.
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