R.A. Dickey: A Brief Tale of Consistency

Being a Toronto native, I had a fair share of complaints last season. Seeing hefty division leads evaporate with the blink of an eye stinks, as does Brett Lawrie’s 3rd failed attempt at a breakout. I could complain about a lack of financial commitments from management (on the field) and about the overall middle of the pack finish.

When Alex Anthopoulous acquired R.A. Dickey before the 2013 season, expectations were high. When initially reviewing his first season in Toronto, a Cy Young winner who puts up a 4+ ERA the following season is disheartening. Yet in March 2013, were you really expecting a fly ball pitcher in the Rogers homerdome of the AL to perform on par with what he did in the NL while throwing to the pitcher every other inning? The last two seasons have had disappointments, but R.A. Dickey has been consistent in a reliable and also amusing way.

Dickey ended 2013 with a 14-13 record, and coincidentally, this past season’s win-loss record was an identical 14-13. I am in no way soliciting win-loss records, and this is saying nothing about how he threw the ball. The identical records merely add to the interesting couple seasons the now 40-year-old knuckleballer has had with the Jays.

To achieve the identical 14-13 records, each of the last two years Dickey made 34 starts. While it may not sound impressive, only nine other pitchers made as many starts in 2014, and only “Big Game” James Shields has made the cumulative 68 starts since 2013 that Dickey has. Since 2013, he ranks 4th in innings pitched, trailing only Felix Hernandez, Adam Wainwright and Shields himself. While many Jays fans would infer that doom looms when Dickey jogs on for his 6th and 7th inning of a start, the overall results were at the very least, respectable.

Although eating innings is certainly an important quality, nobody is congratulating Edwin Jackson every five days. Our best overall performance indicator is probably WAR, and wouldn’t you know it, Dickey’s fWAR was 2.1 in 2013 and 2.1 in 2014. 2 Wins Above Replacement matches up with expectations for your average starting pitcher, so it is no surprise that Dickey’s number is in line. On a runs allowed basis, his bWAR is 2.0 and 2.5 in 2013 and 2014, respectively. To fuel the similarity fire, his strikeout percentage in 2013 was 18.8%. As you guessed, his 2014 figure is one Josh Thole framing blunder away, at 18.9%. And, without shock, the strikeout to walk rate budged a mere .15 percentage points from year to year. As you can see, if one tempers their Cy Young expectations, Dickey has been plenty useful and stable for the Blue Jays. If you buy that case, then the remaining wonder is whether he has value relative to the investment.

When last year ended, Dickey took home $5 million in salary, not including signing bonuses offsetting Canada-US tax discrepancies. With the price of a WAR being roughly $7 million annually nowadays, Dickey was a bargain at $5 million in 2013. His extension had him making $12 million this past season, so if we are auditing to the penny, he was slightly below market rate.

With regards to the initial trade, the package for Dickey included Travis d’Arnaud, the big Noah Syndergaard, a low end outfield prospect and John Buck, who was set to earn $6 million in 2013. Of course, the Jays also received two catchers in Mike Nickeas and Josh Thole (there were a lot of catchers in this trade). Although d’Arnaud was a major piece at the time, it is worth noting that come next season, he will be a 26 year old catcher with a grand total of 533 plate appearances at the MLB level. On the other hand, Syndergaard is still only 22, and has very good stuff. However, given the increase in the frequency of pitcher arm injuries nowadays, he remains miles away from being a middle of the rotation starter.

Blue Jays fans have seen Bautista and Encarnacion as the significant bright spots for the team over the last two years. With both of them only under contract for a couple more seasons, in addition to them having likely put their best years behind them, Dickey has certainly given the team a better chance to win – at the appropriate time. This was Anthopoulous’ thinking when he made the acquisition, and although the overall results have not been perfect, it was a reasonable gamble. Not to mention the positive return on investment the team yielded from Dickey himself.

The overstated reality is that R.A. Dickey has been a good pitcher. The guy had a better ERA- than Hisashi Iwakuma last season. He had a better ERA- than Francisco Liriano too, and the latter is likely to get nearly $40 million in free agency despite having not started 30 games since 2010. Dickey has given the Jays a good chance to win in a tough environment. Sure, nobody is happy to have Thole in the lineup once a month, let alone once every five days. But hey, at least we are fortunate enough to not have had Jose Molina and his 23 wRC+ (not a misprint) frequent the lineup card.



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LHPSU
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LHPSU

Money-wise, the Dickey contract is perfectly reasonable. But the Blue Jays also had to give up a top pitching prospect and a top catching prospect to get him.

Brian
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Brian

LHP, Dickey’s contract is beyond reasonable, which is why the Jays were willing to make the deal. At a time when most veteran deals usually wind up favoring the player, Dickey has provided quite a bit of surplus value to the Jays. Also, if I’m remembering correctly, both Sanchez and Osuna were more highly regarded than Syndergaard at the time of the deal, so the Jays were dealing from a position of strength by giving up their 3rd best pitching prospect. Mets also basically ate Buck’s contract. Though it could change, D’Arnaud has done nothing to make the Jays regret the deal. Two years later, this seems like a deal that neither party can really complain about.

Psy Jung
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Psy Jung

Man I remember wishing at the time that they’d sold high on Sanchez,
and I’m not so sure there was a concensus about his value.

also, d’Arnaud looked pretty good last year, almost as valuable as Dickey. Throw in his pitch framing and he looks like he’ll be a solid player going forward, and Syndergaard looks like he could be a stud this season. I’d say the trade tilts in the Mets’ favour pretty heavily, actually.

Psy Jung
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Psy Jung

nah, d’Arnaud was worth about the same as Dickey last year.

also when did projections become invalid? Syndergaard tore up AAA, there are no reasons to believe he won’t provide some value to the Mets over the next 6 years.

Mike
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Mike

but you are basing our comment on things that have not yet happened