Mission ’13: Isn’t a Dickey a Fake Turtle Neck?

RA Dickey has occupied my thoughts lately and Scott MacArthur did a nice piece about him at tsn.ca. It didn’t satisfy me, so I went to the usual sites for my fix. I know that I’ve voiced my fair share of complaints and exasperation about Robert Allen, and you’ve been very patient. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the interviews and opinions as being invaluable tools to help us assess a player. I just wanted to dig a little deeper than Mr. MacArthur did.

The Toronto Blue Jays’ #1 starter in what has been arguably the most disappointing season in franchise history has led the parade. It’s been disappointing because this isn’t the parade many of us anticipated. We all know the story: Roy Halladay (the ace of the past) was dealt to Philadelphia; the Jays received a package centered around Travis d’Arnaud (the catcher of the future) in return; and finally, 3 years later, d’Arnaud was re-packaged in the RA Dickey deal (the ace of the present). We didn’t need to get hyped up by the press: we could understand the value that the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner offered.

However, there was a disconnect between expectation and delivery. Overall, his numbers were up in a bad way (BB/9, HR/9, HR/FB, FIP, xFIP, ERA) and down in a bad way (SO/9, LOB%, GB%, WAR). But looking at his overall numbers is sort of like picking up a murder mystery and reading the chapter headings: the overview only tells part of the story.

Fair enough. Is it as consistently bad over the course of the season as the overview makes it seem? Not really. It’s not great, ace-style stuff, but the improvement is there, it’s noticeable, and it should be encouraging.

We all know that he pitched like a poor fifth starter in the early going, but he was also terrible in July. I decided to split the season into 2 chunks. Since normal seasons aren’t necessarily grouped into the bad months vs. all the good months, I separated it chronologically on the basis of when the good stuff began to happen with greater regularity. So what we’re left with is April-May and June-to-September. There, that ought to keep the Arbitrary Police off my back. That’s right, ALEastbound is stickin’ it to the man in its own little way.

Here’s what RA Dickey’s line looked like in April-May:

G

IP

ER

SO

BB

H

2B

3B

HR

GDP

ROE

HBP

BAbip

12

74.2

43

59

32

73

17

2

12

4

0

1

.281

But wait, there’s more. I took some of these numbers and altered their DNA just for you: Abraca-pocus!!

ERA

K/9

BB/9

H/9

xbh/9

HR/9

5.18

7.11

3.86

8.80

3.74

1.45

Okay I did it for me, too. Altruism is a lost motive anymore.

So, let’s summarize:

  • he wasn’t getting hit a lot but he was getting hit hard (I included a new-to-me stat, xbh/9, because I wanted a better idea about the quality of hits RA was yielding);
  • more than 2 of every 5 hits he gave up, on average, were for extra bases;
  • his K-rate wasn’t bad, but his walk rate was terrible: the ratio was 1.84:1;
  • GDP was included for 2 reasons: he put a lot of runners on base, and the defense was, um, substandard;
  • he averaged slightly more than six innings per start;

Perhaps you, like me, have bandied around the idea that they could have called up Noah Syndergaard for 12 starts and his performance would have been similar. The Jays were 4-8 in his 12 starts.

Okay, that’s the ‘bad stuff’ but we don’t want to dwell on it too much because it’s acid-forming. Here’s the rest of the season (June-September) cast into relief:

G

IP

ER

SO

BB

H

2B

3B

HR

GDP

ROE

BAbip

22

150

62

118

39

134

25

1

23

11

6

.258

And just in case you thought I’d forgotten, here are his rates for the last few months:

ERA

K/9

BB/9

H/9

xbh/9

HR/9

3.72

7.08

2.34

8.04

2.94

1.38

It’s not very close, is it? His K/9 is almost identical (which surprised me) but he excelled in almost everything else. In some cases, his performance is much better. The other thing that surprised me was how batters are still tattooing the ball. I was aware of the HR, since it’s mentioned every broadcast, but the doubles are a little disconcerting: 37% of the hits he gives up are for extra bases, and this is when he pitches well. At least it’s down from the >42% rate from the first 2 months of the season.

This man adapted. He was in a new league with a new team, and pitching in a new homer-friendly park. His early numbers showed that he struggled with the transition. What the numbers don’t show is that he was injured. A torn rhomboid muscle affected him adversely, ensuring that he wasn’t able to change speeds on his knuckler with his usual effectiveness.

The Blue Jays didn’t open the vault to extend the contract of a 2 WAR pitcher. They didn’t give up Wuilmer Becerra, Noah Syndergaard, and Travis d’Arnaud for a 4.21 ERA (4.33 in 104 IP against the AL East). A 13-9 team W-L record, 3.72 ERA and about 7 IP/start in the final two-thirds of 2013 is moving in the right direction, though.

There’s an additional consideration. RA Dickey’s contract extension doesn’t kick in until 2014-15, when he’ll make $12.5M AAV with an option year for 2016. This year, fans saw RA pitch to a 2.0 fWAR level for $5M. Given a rate of about $5.5-5.7MM/WAR, there was plenty of surplus value in his contract. At the risk of sounding hopelessly idealistic, it was a good year to learn the ropes.

He’s not Joe Blanton but I don’t think that RA Dickey is ace material. That said, he has the potential to be better than this, even though he’ll be 39 in a month. The Jays need to improve the rotation substantially—acquiring a top flight starter, and a healthy, effective Brandon Morrow would be 2 steps in the right direction—and several other upgrades need to be made in order to contend. No one will hand them the division crown or the World Series in 2014: this time they’ll have to earn it. And a healthy RA Dickey on the upswing of a steep learning curve is another step in the right direction.

Wes Kepstro

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1 Response to “Mission ’13: Isn’t a Dickey a Fake Turtle Neck?”


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