For the pitchers of the modern era, a 20-win season is an aberration.
For R.A. Dickey, a knuckleballer, everything is an aberration.
Dickey’s Cy Young campaign was nine wins and 96 strikeouts superior to anything he’d ever done before in his career. As excited as Jays fans were that he was coming to Toronto, they had to know that, even if Dickey wasn’t closing in on 40, moving from the NL to the AL, with his worst numbers coming in domes, on artificial turf, the simple fact that he is a knuckleballer meant they shouldn’t expect anything to happen twice.
Honestly, I don’t think most Jays fans expected Dickey to deliver another 20-win season in 2013. That said, I don’t think most thought he’d post a mid-4.00 ERA with a career high in home runs, either.
So the question is, with all the hype and expectations that swirled around Dickey when he came to the Jays -- not to mention the $5 million he's making this year plus the $24 million he’s owed over the next two -- has he delivered, or has he been a bust?
Depends on how you look at it. Dickey is experiencing the lowest ground ball rate of his career, and Rogers Centre has not been kind to his fly balls as reflected in his home runs per fly ball totals.
His strikeouts-to-walks ratio is nowhere close to what it was last year, but, again, we’re comparing to a Cy Young season. If you believe Dickey was supposed to win 20 games for the Jays, well, it doesn’t matter what other stats I show you. You’ll think he's a bum, and you'll flinch every time you hear the names Noah Syndergaard or Travis d'Arnaud mentioned in a highlight package.
However, if you compare Dickey to the rest of the short-lived 2013 Toronto Blue Jays starting rotation, he's been a success by default since he's one of only two of those starters who remains in action -- the other being Mark Buehrle.
In fact, last week, in an attempt to test a supposition involving a starting pitcher's zone percentage, strike percentage and non-intentional walk rates as it correlates to getting injured (the theory by Billy Beane that pitchers who don't throw strikes get injured more frequently because of bad mechanics, more pitches thrown, inefficiency, etc.) I could only measure Buehrle and Dickey, as no other Jays pitchers had thrown more than 120 innings.
Esmil Rogers has, as of this Sunday, just passed the 120-innings mark, but he wasn't part of the rotation when the season started.
The rotation was supposed to be Brandon Morrow, Josh Johnson, Dickey, Buehrle, and J.A. Happ. Three of them were injured. Two of them, Morrow and Johnson, were supposed to be staff aces alongside Dickey. Of them, Johnson was to pitch so well he'd price himself out of the Blue Jays reach come the end of 2013. Johnson now has a 6.20 ERA and has given up a career-high 24 more hits than innings pitched and will most likely hit free agency without receiving a qualifying offer from the Jays.
If you've been following the Jays this season, you already know their rotation is a mess and they set the bar so low anyone who gets an occasional out and doesn't leave the mound with a broken arm while doing it looks good by default.
Even so, Dickey stacks up to the rest of the league rather well. Consider that his 197 innings thrown so far this season rank him fifth in all of baseball in innings thrown by a starting pitcher. He also ranks 30th in strikeouts against 150 possible starters comparisons.
Only Adam Wainwright, Clayton Kershaw, Cole Hamels and James Shields are on pace to throw more innings than Dickey.
That said, while those pitchers are only edging out Dickey by a few innings, they are beating him handily in almost every other category, including WHIP, ERA, strikeouts and WAR.
Yet, here’s the often missing factor in analyzing Dickey, or any Jays pitcher this season: The Jays are fourth in MLB in errors and tied for second last in fielding percentage (a-less-than-comprehensive stat, I admit, but worth noting here since the Jays have rolled out an inferior defence most of the year).
Finally, when you stop to consider that the Jays starting pitching ranks 3rd worst in all of baseball in innings pitched by starting pitchers, just above the Astros and Mariners, I think it’s plain to see that Dickey's performance this year has not been a bust for the Blue Jays. He’s gone less than six innings in only three starts this season, and less than five innings only once.
I also think the 200-plus innings he’s on pace to throw are worth his $5-million salary for this season. Actually, it’s a steal at that price considering the Jays are paying Rickey Romero $7.5 million for, to date, 4.1 innings of work with two losses. Dickey has won 12 games -- the most of any Jays starter so far this year.