Mission ’13: Aces Wild: RA Dickey’s Mediocre Season

Perhaps nothing encapsulates RA Dickey’s season better than his own comment after the Jays beat the Astros 12-6 on July 26: “I picked a good night to be very mediocre, that’s for sure”. The problem is that RA has picked a lot of [games] to be mediocre.

The season began with high hopes.  RA was coming off 3 good seasons, culminating in a Cy Young Award. You may recall that he was the first knuckle ball pitcher to accomplish the feat. Star knucklers Wilbur Wood, Phil and Joe Niekro, Tim Wakefield, Charlie Hough, and Hoyt Wilhelm never won it. (Similar to RA Dickey, Joe Niekro also won NL Sporting News Pitcher of the Year, but he was never a Cy Young winner.) This campaign, however, hasn’t lived up to the promise of his past 3 seasons.

RA’s made 26 starts this year, twirling 168.1 IP. He’s well on his way to a 200+ IP season: ZIPS (50 IP) and Steamer (47 IP) both have him pegged for 215+ IP. This is perhaps the only facet of the game in which he hasn’t disappointed. If it wasn’t for the bewildering pitch count restriction imposed on him (and the rest of the rotation), he might have reached 200 IP already.

Excursus: Has anyone else noticed that the pitch count hasn’t worked? Starters are getting injured anyways (Morrow, Johnson, Ortiz, etc.), and now the ‘pen staff is overworked and dropping like flies (Delabar, McGowan, Perez, etc.). But I digress…

So, what’s gone wrong? In short: everything. His K-rate is way down, his walk rate is way up, his home run rate is way up, his ground ball rate is way down, his strand rate is way down, his ERA and FIP are way up and his WAR is way down. It’s hard to succeed when so much has gone awry. This table should highlight the difficulties he’s experienced:

IP

SO/9

BB/9

HR/9

LOB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

xFIP

WAR

2013

168.1

6.84

3.05

1.44

71.6

41.0

4.49

4.78

4.39

1.2

2012

233.2

8.86

2.08

0.92

80.0

46.1

2.73

3.27

3.27

4.5

Sure, 2013 is only partially represented but I ask you: will the next 45-50 IP make much of a difference? He’s not striking out as many batters or inducing as many ground balls. His fly ball rate is up, as is his HR/FB rate (13%). He’s giving up more walks, but he’s not stranding as many base runners. All-in-all, it isn’t really a formula for success.

What’s been the greatest culprit in his downfall? Here’s how he’s done against the AL this season:

Versus the AL East, 2013

Opp

W

L

G

CG

ShO

ERA

IP

H

R

ER

HR

BB

SO

HBP

WP

BAL

0

2

3

0

0

7.71

18.2

22

16

16

5

10

13

1

1

BOS

0

1

1

0

0

13.50

4.2

10

8

7

2

2

5

0

0

NYY

0

1

1

0

0

3.86

7.0

4

3

3

2

1

4

0

0

TBR

2

1

5

1

1

3.00

36.0

24

14

12

4

13

30

0

1

Total

2

5

10

1

1

5.08

67.1

60

41

38

13

26

52

1

2

Versus the AL Central, 2013

Opp

W

L

G

CG

ShO

ERA

IP

H

R

ER

HR

BB

SO

HBP

WP

DET

1

0

1

0

0

2.57

7.0

6

2

2

1

1

4

0

1

KCR

1

0

1

0

0

1.42

6.1

5

1

1

0

2

4

1

0

MIN

0

1

1

0

0

7.71

7.0

7

6

6

1

2

3

1

0

CWS

1

1

2

0

0

5.73

11.0

12

7

7

2

2

7

2

1

CLE

0

2

2

0

0

3.75

12.0

10

7

5

2

7

11

2

1

Total

3

4

7

0

0

4.36

43.1

40

23

21

6

14

29

6

3

Versus the AL West, 2013

Opp

W

L

G

CG

ShO

ERA

IP

H

R

ER

HR

BB

SO

HBP

WP

TEX

1

0

1

0

0

1.59

5.2

7

1

1

0

3

3

0

1

OAK

0

0

2

0

0

2.08

13.0

12

5

3

1

3

9

1

1

LAA

SEA

1

1

2

0

0

5.27

13.2

14

8

8

4

4

10

0

0

HOU

0

0

1

0

0

7.50

6.0

7

5

5

1

2

8

1

0

Total

2

1

6

0

0

3.99

38.1

40

19

17

6

12

30

2

2

Inter-League, 2013

Opp

W

L

G

CG

ShO

ERA

IP

H

R

ER

HR

BB

SO

HBP

WP

ATL/SF

2

1

3

0

0

3.54

20.1

19

8

8

2

5

17

0

0

Total

2

1

3

0

0

3.54

20.1

19

8

8

2

5

17

0

0

And just for the sake of comparison: his performance versus the NL East, 2012:

Opp

W

L

G

CG

ShO

ERA

IP

H

R

ER

HR

BB

SO

HBP

WP

ATL

1

1

3

0

0

8.80

15.1

21

15

15

4

8

12

0

0

MIA

5

0

6

2

1

1.80

45.0

35

9

9

4

7

36

2

2

PHI

1

1

3

0

0

3.43

21.0

25

9

8

3

4

22

1

0

WAS

2

2

4

0

0

3.25

27.2

30

12

10

3

7

22

0

0

Total

9

4

16

2

1

3.47

109.0

111

45

42

14

26

92

3

2

If Pitcher W/L is one of your pet peeves, don’t get too hung up on it in these tables: they’re used only for illustrative purposes.  It is interesting to note RA’s HR/9 numbers: ALE, 1.73; ALC, 1.25; ALW, 1.41; Inter-League, 0.89; and 2012 NLE, 1.16.  Neck/upper back problems, a new league, a new team, a new pitching coach, post Cy Young letdown, playing in the AL East, and playing at the Rogers Centre have all contributed somewhat to his struggles.

Also of interest are RA’s home-road splits this season:

Split

W

L

ERA

GS

CG

ShO

IP

H

R

ER

HR

BB

SO

HBP

BK

WP

BF

WHIP

SO/9

SO/BB

Home

4

6

5.79

13

0

0

82.1

82

56

53

19

28

74

4

0

4

356

1.336

8.1

2.64

Away

5

5

3.24

13

1

1

86.0

77

35

31

8

29

54

5

1

2

360

1.233

5.7

1.86

Perhaps you noticed what I did.  Most of the numbers are strikingly similar but 3 categories stand out immediately: ERA, HR and SO. These suggest 2 things: first, that he’s more aggressive at The Rogers Centre, but that he’s getting killed for it; and second, that The Rog is a good hitter’s park.

RA Dickey had 3 good seasons as he developed and mastered the knuckle ball. Now his circumstances have changed dramatically. He pitches for a new team, in a different league, in a new park, with greater expectations placed on him. Lately he’s mused about the changes he needs to make in order to succeed in his new environment. Blue Jays’ fans can hope that his late-career adaptations continue to be successful.  Given the adversity he’s overcome in his personal life and his professional career, my guess is that he’ll figure it out by 2014.

Wes Kepstro

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